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‘It’s crazy how far we’ve come’

Maui Brewing Co. opened in a 7-barrel brewhouse 15 years ago; now it’s producing 57,000 barrels a year

Maui Brewing Co. CEO and co-founder Garrett Marrero stands next to a row of spirit barrels that once were used to make whiskey, tequila, rum and gin. This photo was taken Tuesday, 15 years after the company first opened for business. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KIHEI — Garrett Marrero walked through the Maui Brewing Co. headquarters Tuesday with enthusiasm and pride, recounting the company’s rapid rise.

The CEO and founder celebrated the opening of the “sustainable, community-minded, philanthropic” restaurant and brewery in its original Kahana location 15 years to the day Tuesday.

He recalled what he could from a whirlwind of memories.

“It’s crazy how far we’ve come.

. . . I don’t remember opening day, but I remember a feeling of ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ I remember feeling that, but at the time, I had no time to worry about it because I just had to get the job done,” Marrero, 41, said Tuesday afternoon.

Maui Brewing Co. warehouse technician Jordan Ehresman is surrounded by tall stacks of beer cans, some empty and some full, as he moves a pallet of beer kegs Tuesday afternoon at the Kihei facility.

He looked back “with a sense of pride,” noting that the company’s beer has reached 23 states and three countries. Maui Brewing is “known for quality, known for innovation, but above all else, being known for authentic, local, craft beer,” he said.

With a smile, Marrero added that “it’s been a fun journey” and remembered events like his first-ever canning of Big Swell IPA on March 16, 2007, remodeling the restaurant, spending a summer designing a cocktail menu with co-owner Melanie Oxley, expanding the brewhouse, and adding new members to the team.

“You are forever consumed with the company,” continuing to nurture the recipe and making the “most consistent and highest quality of beverages we can,” he said.

Although distinctly known for its craft beer selection, Marrero said that Maui Brewing, which now sits on 8.3 acres off Lipoa Parkway in Kihei, recently launched “beyond beer” products, such as a lineup of cocktails, spirits, sodas, hard seltzers and wines.

On Sunday, the brewery hosted its birthday celebration for the public, marking the day that Marrero and Oxley opened their doors on Jan. 28, 2005, with their 25 employees in their seven-barrel brewhouse in Kahana.

Brewer Spencer Troutman oversees a “yeast dump” from a 250-barrel fermenter Tuesday at the Kihei brewery. “It’s good for the beer,” he said.

“We do things very differently now from when we first started. It’s a totally different world for us today,” said Marrero. “Back in the day, we were washing cans by hand, in the sink. Now we have this whole cleaning process, internal and external, and sterilizing.”

The “simple idea and vision” to start a brewery came when the then-San Francisco-native Marrero visited Maui a couple times, fell in love with the location, culture and the community — and realized there was a need for true local beer.

“My passion was to drink the local beverages, eat the local food, so when I found out that the beer wasn’t actually produced here, to me that was a little bit deceptive,” he said. “It gave me the idea that I needed to be the guy that should bring wine and beer to market.”

Although he had the vision, he acknowledged the brewing team, who “made the dream work” and always strived to build the best company they could.

As the demand for beer grew, the volume of production, equipment and staff also grew — and fast. Two years after its debut, Maui Brewing started operating out of a separate 25-barrel facility in Lahaina, producing and packaging 24 cans per minute, as well as selling beer in retail stores.

Maui Brewing Co.’s Kupu Spirit line includes canned cocktails of whiskey ginger, gin and tonic and whiskey cola. The company is expanding “beyond beer” products, said CEO Garrett Marrero.

By 2013, Maui Brewing was doing more than $10 million in sales and has continued an upward trajectory. Marrero and Oxley were named National Small Business Persons of the Year by the Small Business Administration in 2017. They posed for photos in Washington, D.C., with Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump at the awards event.

The restaurants and brewhouse have grown to upward of 800 employees statewide, with locations in Waikiki and Kailua, Oahu. The brewhouse produced about 57,000 barrels of beer last year, which is about 380 cans per minute, Marrero said. The company offers 36 craft and specialty beers on tap or in stores.

But the business hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

“You never know what’s going to happen next, so you’re almost apprehensive to celebrate because it might be premature, and it happens,” Marrero said. “That’s the reality of being successful, that you’re going to get knocked off, and you have to get back up and get back to work.”

“There were a lot of times when I was feeling good and then just get punched out of left field with something, whether that be cost increases, government, equipment, team, something,” he continued.

Customers enjoy the Maui Brewing Co.’s airy bar and restaurant Tuesday. On Jan. 28, 2005, the brewery first opened in a seven-barrel brewhouse in Kahana.

When asked if he ever felt like he couldn’t keep up with the rapid growth, Marrero said “every day” with a laugh.

“You know, I think that’s just what happens when you’re growing,” he said. “We’re blessed with growth, but at the same time, growth comes with an expense, not just financially but personally, professionally, all the ways. So it’s a challenge, and it’s how you handle those challenges . . . (that) defines you.”

After a tour of the brewhouse and restaurant, Marrero said he would tell his 26-year-old self to collect snapshots of the journey and to “take a moment to reflect, pause, and look at where you’re at more often.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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