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New owners bring life back to local brewery

About $1M infused into Kohola Brewery to restart company shuttered by pandemic

Peter Cumbo, former Maui Brewing Co. brewer, dry hops Lahaina Haze pale ale at the Kohola Brewery off Honoapiilani Highway in Lahaina. New owners of the local brewery and taproom are infusing the company with life — and capital — ahead of plans to reopen to patrons soon. KOHOLA BREWERY photo

Tapping into local support, the new owners of Kohola Brewery are busy infusing life — and capital — into the West Maui company after it was rapidly drained of revenue following pandemic shutdowns.

“It’s amazing to see the outpouring of support and feedback we have about opening back up,” Mary Anderson, Kohola Brewery president, said Monday.

“We have a great local following,” she added.

Anderson and husband Greg Lang acquired 60 percent of the company Aug. 20. The Lahaina residents, along with Big Island investors Julie and Greg Brown, are aiming to reopen the independent craft brewery and taproom off Honoapiilani Highway soon, possibly by the end of the week. The company has already started brewing fresh batches of its signature beers.

Anderson estimated they raised about $1 million to resurrect Kohola Brewery. Of that, about $30,000 to $40,000 is needed to improve the Lahaina warehouse facility for new COVID-19 measures required to reopen, such as signage and distancing alterations.

The amount of hops in Kohola Brewery’s Lahaina Haze — 7 grams per can — is shown. New owners saved local brand Kohola Brewery from permanent closure. Reopening plans will be posted on the company’s website and social media pages. KOHOLA BREWERY photo

Kohola Brewery is known for its Talk Story pale ale, Red Sand amber ale and Lokahi Pilsner, among other brews, and has won several state and national awards since it was founded in 2014.

“The amazing thing is it’s not just another local brewery, it’s a Great American Beer Festival award-winning beer,” Anderson said. “This product is best in class.”

Despite its successes, the company couldn’t plug the quick revenue drain from pandemic shutdowns. 

The state and county ordered in March that nonessential businesses close to curb the spread of COVID-19, and Kohola shuttered its taproom. Demand for beer dropped by about 90 percent, Anderson said. 

The company stopped brewing and laid off employees in May.

Kohola Brewing chairman Greg Lang works the forklift at the Lahaina facility Monday. New owners of the independent craft brewery and taproom are planning to reopen soon. KOHOLA BREWERY photo

“It was in trouble fast,” she said. “Local partners really stepped up to do everything they could to keep it alive.” 

Anderson said Kohola’s founders wanted to move on. Investors teamed up to address past debts, restart operations and keep a cash reserve to last through the pandemic.

“Several suppliers and partners contributed substantially to the recovery of the company,” she said in a news release.

Julie and Greg Brown said in the news release that they were “excited about helping Kohola recover and expand its presence to the rest of the state and beyond.”

“Our decades of experience doing business in the islands will ensure the company can truly scale,” they said.

About two weeks ago, Kohola Brewery began flowing back to life. 

The revitalized company brewed its first batch of beer — Lahaina Haze — more than a week ago. On Friday, a fresh batch of Talk Story was made.

Anderson said she got to work at about 7:30 a.m. on Labor Day and had planned to work until about 8 p.m.

“It’s not a small amount of work,” she said, laughing.

A small group has been working to extend the back bay of the brewery and readying lines for fresh beer. Preparing the taproom for reopening to residents has been the recent focus, and the room’s point of sale system and taps are being tested.

The company plans to bring back most of its employees eventually, depending on business demand. Initially, the taproom will have an abbreviated schedule and will expand with interest. 

“It will be slow at first,” Anderson said. “We hope to bring back everyone depending on the amount of business we get.”

Anderson directed people to Kohola Brewery’s social media and web pages for upcoming reopening information since dates are not yet final.

“I think the story we all have is to support our local businesses,” she said. “If you walk into the grocery store and buy a Budweiser, it is not supporting local business. Any chance we have to support local, let’s do it.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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