KAHANA - It's not often you see the word "beer" and "school" used seriously together in a sentence, and it's even rarer to hear that someone who "spent a lot of time in college with beer" went on to get a professional brewer's certificate from the University of California, Davis.
But as Maui Brewing Company amply demonstrated with their mid-day educational event on lagers, hitting the books and sucking up the suds are not mutually exclusive and can be a very enjoyable experience. This is especially true when explained by the enthusiastic team of Tony Ren, Kahana Gateway brew pub manager, and Darren Moser director of brewery operations in Lahaina. The pair preached the gospel of lager which, according to them, should be "crisp, clean, cold, fermented and flavorful."
Not only do they share a love of beer, they both have a youthful and easygoing way of imparting information. Ren said the decision to host an actual "school" on lagers was an outgrowth of employee training coupled with the sense that many local people who work in food and beverage and the hospitality trade wanted more product knowledge.
The crowd was attentive and interested in the debut session of beer school. PHOTOS BY SUSAN HALAS.
The first session on April 17 will be followed by a similar event on May 1 focused on ales. If the turnout for day one was any indication, this should prove to be a popular and ongoing event.
The class began at 11:30; it cost $15 per person and was by reservation. Ren said that seats quickly filled to capacity of 25 with a waiting list of another dozen. Guests were seated family style at a long table and at four tops. The event drew what proved to be a congenial mix of residents and visitors. Some dropped in from "across the street" while others drove from Wailuku, the North Shore and Kihei. The State of Washington was represented by several people from the Seattle and Tacoma areas who were already well-acquainted with craft beers.
What followed was a lively mix of solid information, five different lager beer samples each paired with a different cheese and a sixth bonus beer to preview the ales class. As the presentation went along, guests enjoyed the beverages, sampled the different cheese flavors and asked questions. With every pour, the noise level in the room steadily swelled.
Those attending found out that beer is a product with a long and glorious history, and it's a relatively recent development to be able to get the same beer twice. They learned that simple ingredients - including yeast, barley, hops and water - combined in different ways can produce an amazing diversity of outcomes. There are many technical and scientific milestones in the brewer's art. If lagers are your favorite, it helps to be German or Czech, and it also helps to have nice cool caves to store the products.
From the perspective of those who like to entertain, the pairing of the five different cheeses with five different beer samples was both instructive and delicious. Or, as Marie Baydan Druy of Haiku put it, "That turns it into more of a lady thing. I could get interested in this." Drury who recently traveled to Vienna and Prague, attended with her friend Della Nakamoto of Wailuku.
The trick of putting beer with cheese - as Ren explained it - was to match the intensity of the beer flavor with the strength of the cheese. The first pair was the company's popular Bikini Blonde, a Munich-style Helles beer paired with Munster cheese, a smooth mild and moist classic often used in grilled cheese sandwiches.
The Pau Hana Pilsner (a Czech-style pilsner and our favorite of the beers presented) was coupled with Tillamook and the Black Lager (Schwarzbier) teamed up with drier and firmer Asiago, which Ren said that has an extensive aging period.
Maui Maibock - so named because it comes out of the caves in the spring and is often associated with the first beer of the season in Germany - was teamed with Gruyere, best known as a flavorful member of the Swiss cheese family.
For those who like their beer flavors stronger, the final lager sample was the Red Cock Doppelbock, which left a strong taste in the mouth, and was a gangbuster companion to Gorgonzola, a spirited blue cheese.
Pickled pineapple slices were used to refresh the palate between samples. The sweet-yet-sharp fruit-flavored vinegar did the trick to get the mouth ready to appreciate the taste of the next round.
As 1 p.m. approached, the camaraderie became more pronounced, plans were made to attend the second installment and the tables were covered with glasses, bits of cheese and bread crumbs. Participants thought the event was a good value, and many said they'd learned a lot.
While presently beer school is limited to the company's West Side brewpub, Maui Brewing Company is expanding and hopes to open its new Kihei brewing facility later in the year and add a similar brew pub on the South Side soon.
For more information about the Maui Brewing Company, visit mauibrewingco.com/.
Their brewpub is located in Kahana Gateway Center at 4405 Honoapiilani Highway. Call 669-3474 for information.