Kona Brewing Co. – Wailua Wheat

Paradise Found

Swimming in a fresh water pool at the base of a cascading waterfall is what we all imagine we would find in paradise. On Maui, follow the old Hana Highway and you will find such a place – Wailua Falls. This plunging cascade of clear water is the inspiration for our Limited Release Wailua Wheat Ale. This golden, sun colored ale has a bright, citrus flavor that comes from the tropical passion fruit we brew into each batch. Sit back, relax and enjoy paradise anytime. – Kona Brewing Co.

Bouquet – Unremarkable

Kona Brewing Co. claims Wailua is a wheat beer, and of course the malt foundation would define it as such. However, pop the cap, pour, and breath in the sweet, very faintly hopped fragrance of a Wailua, and it immediately becomes apparent that this is actually a fruit beer. In fact, like many fruit beers, there is something almost a little unsavory about the smell, as if the fruit were overripe. The sweetness does not completely overpower the smell of the beer, however, and I would say, in the end, that this is actually a rather pleasant smelling concoction, if just not completely my style.

Taste – Very refreshing but simple

That overripe passionfruit smell translates to sweet, flowery notes on the sides of the tongue. Very little bitterness or malt–Kona Brewing Co. has constructed as blank a canvas as possible, so that even the wheat sweetness is downplayed lest it occlude the flavor of the passion fruit. And I have to admit, the passion fruit tastes great in the beer. The sweetness actually seems to add an effervescence to the already light flavors of the grains themselves, and for that reason I can imagine few beers better to have on the beach on a 90 degree day. The beer’s great downside is that it’s drinkability makes it somewhat unremarkable.

Story

I lived for a time in Hawaii, by which I mean I was five when my parents decided to move to a small Washington community with much better schools. So I grew up with an intense distaste for temperatures above seventy degrees and all the swimming ability of a whale-fall. Lame, perhaps, but white as I am, and insistent as my parents were on applying copious amounts of SPF 5 x 10^5 sunscreen all over my body, I probably lucked out. Haoles are treated with disrespect proportional to their pallor.

However I do return to Hawaii now and then, and on a recent excursion my partner and I found ourselves in possession of a Wailua Wheat shirt, which we’d bought for her brother because he is a brewer like myself and because none of the other shirts stuck out like this one did. Here, have a look at some of the other designs:

Now, it should be made clear that these are the same designs as appear on the bottles of beer. The motif consistency of design is good, so that at a glance a beer drinker can tell the name of the brewery without actually reading it. You will notice if you shop their site (or, like me, visit the actual brewery) that the silhouetted palm/fern/flower frame reoccurs in all their newer beers, replacing a much more boring circular field in which all their designs used to be portrayed, like so:

Beer label connoisseurs might notice a similarity between the new design methodology of Kona Brewing Co. and the design methodology of Deschutes Brewing Co. Both draw heavily from the geography around their respective breweries to give visual fidelity to the narrative they wish to create for their beers. I do think Deschutes does a better job; Black Butte Porter is a fantastic example. The Oregon brewery’s “flagship” beer is portrayed as a monolithic, distinctively distinct black mountain rising like a pile of coal above the verdant, Oregon backcountry. After a few moments, the initial, striking coal-darkness of the mountain (exaggerated by the contrast with the green trees in the foreground) gives way to an evolving appreciation of the complexities of the mountain’s colors–like the beer itself, which is itself deceptively complex on the tongue but is also, as Deschutes tries to sell it, instantly distinct from any other beer.

And, were you to compare Deschutes’s various beer label designs against each other, you would discover that, while each remains quickly identifiable as a Deschutes beer, the variety of subjects and colors is large and stimulating. Kona Brewing Co., meanwhile, has a bit of a surfing fetish. Refer to the full list of beers and beer labels, and you’ll see why the Wailua label stuck out.

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