We had a chance to sit down with Garrett Marrero, founder and owner of Maui Brewing Company. We discuss the state of his business, the state of the craft beer business, the craft can revolution, as well as his controversial words on working in the same state as Kona Brewing. This interview is a must read. Cheers, TFP
The Full Pint: How is business doing for Maui Brewing, and what good fortune did 2010 bring you?
Garrett Marrero: 2010 was another great year. We were up over 92% in revenue growth. We won several awards for various beers and completed yet another large expansion of tanks, silos, bulk co2 storage, new glycol plumbing, massive chiller, and a high-speed canning line. We also added some new integral team members to continue to brew great craft beer and have brought with them some great knowledge and experience. Additionally we’ve been on such a steep growth curve, management and organization has been a back-burner, this is now our number one priority. We look forward to new beers, both collaborations and “seasonals” going to cans. This year we also became Hawaii’s #1 Craft Brewery, we have been for some time now in terms of medals won but now also production and capacity wise, so I guess we can say we are Hawaii’s largest craft brewery too.
TFP: What challenges did MBC face when competing in the same market as Kona Brewing/CBA?
GM: That’s a hard question, mainly because we don’t really feel a great deal of “competition” with Kona in most of our markets. Their mission is far different than ours. We strive to make world-class, innovative beers and be true to our origin, Kona is set on building brand image regardless of true origin. Competing with CBA is far easier than most people make it out to be, it just means you need to make better beer.
In our local market in Hawaii, its more competitive as what the average tourist sees as “local beer”. Its disconcerting to say the least how acceptably deceitful the Kona labels on packaged product are. To me, and most of the world, local means made in the local area where the marketing makes it appear to be. For Hawaii, local would mean made in Hawaii. Can you image San Diego’s local beer being made in the Midwest? Wouldn’t/didn’t go over well. For us, it’s more about truth in labeling and origin. At least give the consumer the info and tell them on the package where its actually made rather than let them think its from here.
Truth is we don’t even discuss “competition”, we focus on what we do, not worrying about what everyone else is, that’s one thing that makes us successful.
TFP: As of press time, many breweries nation-wide are changing their packaging over from bottles to cans. What gave you the idea to do craft cans well before 99% of the other breweries that converted?
GM: It really is great to see the embracing of the can. When we started I think we were #11 now I think there are more than 70 or so. Our canning decision was really simple, we just asked ourselves “How can we best protect the beer we produce?”. Additionally, bottles have to be imported to Hawaii where cans are made here locally on Oahu. We also have an environment that is highly glass sensitive; you don’t want glass on the beaches, golf courses, in the marinas etc. As a “Green” business, the environment was also a big concern as cans are a far “greener” choice. My good friend Dale (Oskar Blues) was a big influence as well.
At the end of the day it’s simple; we work very hard to brew the best possible beer we can, we then of course want to protect it as best we can. Packaged beer mainly battles light, oxygen and heat. The more we can eliminate those, the better the beer will be at consumption. We shield from light with the can, have no issues with bottle crowns allowing oxidation due to the double roll seam, and we require cold storage from all distributors. We do a lot of educating of the consumer on benefits of the can and we see that having very positive effects.
TFP: Some folks see the price of craft cans and try to equate the product to a six pack of High Life. What has MBC done to educate beer drinkers on the drastic difference between the price and quality difference between a 4 pack of Coconut Porter and a 6 pack of Highlife or other college/old man beer?
GM: I’d just say that those folks aren’t our audience. Craft beer drinkers are willing to pay for quality, and what to buy is not decided by the 30-pack special. Greg Koch said it best, Craft beer drinkers “are craft beer loyal, not craft brand loyal”, which I think is awesome, that means that consumers are drinking better beer and “trading up”.
It’s funny though because I’ve never had any BMC drinker be able to “pick their favorite beer” out of a domestic lineup blindly. Without the label they just simply can’t tell the difference.
As far as price, I think the differential actually helps. It completely distinguishes itself from the cheaper, domestic beers. Even though they are cans they don’t look like your average beer can and are clearly priced higher (we like to think in terms of value not cheaper or expensive, i.e. a 4 pack of CoCoNut PorTeR selling for the price of a 12 pack of “High Life” brings 100 times the value. Not to mention, CoCoNut PorTeR uses about a thousand pounds of hand-toasted coconut put in every 100-barrel batch. This seems to easily explain the price difference; we won’t use extracts like large contract breweries do to cut corners. It completely distinguishes itself from the cheaper, domestic beers. There are a few new coconut beers out there, a couple using extract, you can tell from the first sip.
We hold a lot of tastings at various stores, we encourage the sampling in order to spread the word. We also take a page from the wine industry and encourage education on proper pouring and glassware. In our recent history beer was seen as something to wash your pretzels and pizza down; Homer Simpson is the model drinker for this mentality. Long ago beer was honored for it’s contribution to society and was a respected craft beverage. The large domestic beer companies worked very hard to remove competition, which led to cheap, lowest common denominator beer. Take one look at how poorly most international markets think of American beer, they only know the cheap beer from the big guys. The American Craft Beer movement is making the world notice our beers for the first time in history!
TFP: What is your take on the trends of Black IPA, Barrel Aged Beer and Limited/Rare release beers and will MBC capitalize on any of these trends?
GM: We love them. We’re fortunate to not need any longer to make decisions on what to brew by the margin involved. We choose to brew what we feel like. Locally especially our fans keep a close eye on the website to see what’s on tap and love trying all the different beers. In the mainland we are known for our original cans primarily. A good amount of lucky ones have seen us at various festivals where we send draft of our specialty pub beers and have always been surprised. We’re excited to announce (here first by the way) that we will begin rolling out some draft supply to the mainland in the coming months. These kegs will focus on our specialty beers. To give you an idea of the variety, we brewed about 46 different beers last year at the brewpub, not including the usual suspects from the production facility. Hibiscus Trippel, KGB Russian Imperial, Father Damien Abbey, Black Pearl, Lucifer’s Angel and his sister beer Heaven & Hell to name a few.
We do a Black IPA, it’s actually a black Belgian rye IPA called Cascadian Black. We do a bit of bourbon and wine barrel aging, however most of our aging is in Rum Barrels from a local distillery, like the Black Pearl (CoCoNut PorTeR aged in a rum barrel).
These trends just continue to evolve our craft collectively. It’s fun, innovative and sets us apart from the usual.
TFP: According to our data, it appears Chicago and Philadelphia are the two quickest rising craft beer metros. What is the time table for MBC entering those hot markets?
GM: I get the timetable question a lot. After CBC last year in Chicago I fell in love with that city. Chicago knows how to eat AND drink. I’m definitely looking forward to rolling out both these markets but I can’t say “when” just yet. Maybe 2012…ish.
Our next market is Texas, then looks like AZ. I’d really like to get an East Coast distributor soon and I’m partial to one but that’s my secret for now. We recently launched Colorado and the beer was so well received it became our best launch to date. Ran out of beer in about 5 days, that was 2000 cases!!! That pushed back plans for more areas as we like to maintain supply. We’re still growing so much locally in Hawaii, we were up over 58% in our local market last year, so we’re constantly juggling production and demand.
TFP: Would MBC’s canning line ever accommodate tall cans? The coolest thing not to be done yet in craft cans would be a limited edition strong ale tall can.
GM: I agree, and we wish we could. Our new canning line would require re-tooling, and our local can manufacturer only makes 12-ounce cans. Surly does a nice strong ale in a can. I’ve heard rumors of a few more. The guys at Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz do as well, Alec makes some very eclectic beers in cans.
We have another idea along those lines, just have to wait and see….
TFP: Why do you think Maui has done so well in the extra saturated So-Cal market?
GM: San Diegan brewers really understand craft and what that means from a relationship standpoint within the industry. We’ve been greeted with open arms from companies like Stone, Port/Lost Abbey, Green Flash, Mission, Ballast Point and Alesmith to name a few. Our beers do really well in San Diego because the local brewers do a great job of supporting our brand. Choosing Stone Brewing Co. to be our southern California distributor helped our success there.
There is clearly a lot of synergy between San Diego and Maui. I grew up in San Diego and have a strong connection and support network there. Our brand is known for high-quality, innovative beer. The fact that it’s from Maui is an added uniqueness. Oftentimes when I’m in San Diego having a brew with my friends they’re drinking my beers and I’m drinking theirs!
TFP: What are MBC’s goals for the next five years?
GM: Wow, that’s a long time. Five years ago we brewed 400 bbls; we did over 11,000 bbls in 2010. We’ll continue to develop existing markets, and increase production to open new territories. We’re also looking forward to diversifying our product line. This year solar power should be installed at both the pub and production facility. Employee appreciation programs are at the top of our list, as we plan to have additional paid time off, 401k matching and profit sharing in place by the end of 2011. We are committed to making our team the strongest it can be, part of that is the recognition and appreciation for the jobs well done. We’ll keep having fun and continuing to twist people’s minds about what beer is and what it can be.
TFP: What is your favorite non-MBC beer?
GM: Anything not made by Gordon-Biersch right now. Craft beer is about sticking together; you know “collaboration not litigation”. It’s sad to see they have gotten so big they’ve lost the brotherhood of craft beer, it’d be different if Gordon-Biersch made a beer called “Gordon” but they don’t, and are suing Oskar Blues because of the beer that is memorially called “Gordon”.
To pin down one beer…I’d have to say Lost Abbey’s Gift of the Magi 09. Just had it with a friend this weekend and it was awesome. Next week it will be something else.