Mahalo, Kona Brewing…
As I mentioned last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a special “press junket” by Kona Brewing Company this past weekend. Along with nine other writers from different parts of the country (and different areas of expertise), I was treated to a fantastic time in Cocoa Beach complete with pau hana, stand-up paddleboarding, a coconut farmer presentation, and of course… beer. The event was – at its core – a kick-off for the release of Koko Brown Ale into the Florida market. The third in the “Aloha Series” that includes Wailua Wheat and Pipeline Porter, Koko Brown is a nut brown ale with toasted coconut. Its quite tasty, well balanced, and paired well many of the dishes we had.
We began the weekend on Friday afternoon with pau hana, or happy hour. Our host was the SoBe SUP & Surf Resort, located right on the banks of the Banana River in Cocoa Beach. Free flowing taps of Koko Brown and Longboard Lager were on hand, as well as some delicious “grinds” (food). I got to spend time talking to Mattson Davis, President and CEO of Kona Brewing, about the beer culture in Florida, the national craft beer scene, and even topics like sustainability, education, and business. The other writers on hand were from far and wide, representing publications like Edible Orlando, Gear Junkie, Modern Distillery Age, and Men’s Health. A diverse but fun group, and we all hit it off well. Later, we were joined by Candice Appleby, professional Waterwoman and Stand Up Paddleboarding champion, and her partner Anthony Vela, co-owner of Performance Paddling.
After some socializing and getting-to-know-you time, we all traveled on to dinner at Milliken’s Reef restaurant. A delicious menu followed, partnered with a selection of Kona Brews (Longboard Lager, Red Rock pale, and Koko Brown, naturally). I had the Bahamian style Mahi and paired it with the Red Rock. Dinner conversation was more beer talk, but also more discussions of our various industries, our publications, and personal stories as well. We were also joined by some local distributor reps as well as brand reps from the area. Afterwards was a jaunt to local waterfront establishment Fish Lips, where we were given the VIP treatment: our own alcove with our own two free-flowing Kona taps.
Saturday morning we got a late start, but with coffee in hand we headed back to SoBe for our Stand Up Paddleboarding demonstration by Candice Appleby, some instruction and background on the sport from our host Girard Middleton, and then we hit the water.
When one sees the casual Stand Up Paddleboarder gliding along the water, it looks effortless. Easy. So peaceful. When i visited Hawaii, I saw them all the time. Men, women, children. As simple as walking or riding a bike. I am not going to use the 50-degree weather as an excuse. Or the strong southeastern wind. Or my blasted high center of gravity. This sport is not easy. I fell. A lot. The water was cold, but I kept trying. And at long last – and long after everyone else seemed to have figured it out – I arose, triumphant, upon my board. And it was glorious. For a few minutes. Once I got up once, though, I knew I could do it, and the next time was easier. And it was a lot of fun. I could certainly see doing it again and again in the future. All you need is a board, a paddle, and some water. Hell, you could even practice in a pool if you wanted to. And supposedly, one hour of SUP can burn between 800 and 1000 calories! That’s a lot of Koko Brown Ale.
Legs wobbly and muscles tight, I came in and stripped off my wetsuit and enjoyed a nice lunch in the sun. I decided to forgo any beer in favor of re-hydrating. After some lounging, recovering, and talking, some returned to the hotel for a rest before the next pau hana, and a few intrepid souls ventured back out onto the water. Gods love ’em.
After a well-deserved rest, we reconvened at SoBe for some beers and a fire (it was 39 degrees outside!!). Hors d’oeuvres of coconut shrimp, spring rolls, and other delights were brought around as we gathered and chatted before dinner. Then is was time to eat, and we were served up in luau fashion. Pineapple mahi-mahi, Kahlua pork, roasted potatoes, asparagus, and of course more Kona beer! While we feasted, we got to hear a short “Beer 101” from Anthony (head of Brewing Operations at Kona), a presentation on coconuts and coconut farming from Florida grower Larry Siegel, and finally a thank you and company overview from Mattson Davis. As we drank the healing coconut water and laughed and talked, the show began: hula and fire dancers! Several traditional hula dances, a few suggestive and more… tribal performances, and then finally a group lesson on the finer points of hula.
Desert was a real treat: Pipeline Porter Floats! A scoop of vanilla ice cream floated in the dark malty brew made with real Kona coffee… well it is heavenly.
For one last hurrah, a handful of us braved the cold night and hit one last stop: Coconuts on the Beach. A couple of pitchers of Longboard and red Rock, as well as a bucket of Koko Brown bottles, some nachos, and great conversations. It was the perfect way to wrap up a great weekend.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the chance to talk to Mattson Davis and his team about the things that matter to them and to me: craft beer and sustainability. Kona’s efforts to promote and incorporate sustainable practices into their business are to be commended. From their 22o kW solar array to their water reclamation system, they are an example of doing business in the right way for the right reasons. It was a great feeling to be listened to seriously when I talked about my own involvement with sustainability at my job, and to feel like my opinions and views on issues and topics in the craft beer world were actually being heard. Mattson is a class act, and Kona Brewing put on a spectacular event that I was honored to be a part of.