WAILUA — As Kaua‘i’s newest craft brewery, Napali Brewing Company, released its first flight of beers this month, with its owners assuring The Garden Island they were only just getting started.
Long before Blake and Kati Conant formed the brewery, the two had spent much of their youth in Hawai‘i — Blake was born and raised in Wainiha, while Kati spent much of her life on Maui.
However, the two moved to the mainland for school, and later, job opportunities. Blake worked in IT corporate sales, while Kati both taught as an art professor and later worked at an investment banking firm.
In 2002, Blake’s company was bought by Hewlett-Packard Co. During this acquisition, he was offered a sizable compensation package to relinquish his position — a package he gladly took. With a wad of cash in hand, he and Kati quickly moved back to Kaua‘i.
“I knew I wanted to come home,” Blake said. “I just needed a reason to do that.”
Looking for a business venture, the pair noticed there were only a small handful of breweries on the island. With business backgrounds and a mutual appreciation for beer, the two decided to try their hands at a brewery themselves.
“The island is ripe for another brewery,” Blake said. “The industry has not matured here at all, by any stretch — in fact, it’s very virgin. And so our timing could not have been better.”
Initially, Blake attempted to brew his own beer using a small rig in his kitchen. However, he quickly found that making beer was much harder than he had imagined.
“I’ll be honest with you, I failed miserably at it,” he said. “We would go to sleep at night and hear bottles popping, and I knew something was wrong — I’d wake up in the morning and there’s beer everywhere, soaked. So I knew that to do this, we needed to get some help.”
He and Kati began traveling across the country, connecting with more experienced beer advisors to plan their next steps. Through this process, the two discovered Giuseppe “Juice” Cucurullo, an experienced brewer who matched their needs perfectly, and soon after hired him as the head of their beermaking operations.
Cucurullo and Napali released their first beer together, the Hamajang IPA, in late July. By mid-August, the brewery had aded four additional beers to its menu — the Poi Pounding Pilsner, Hele on Helles, Black Pot Lager and Local Boy Lager.
“We’re focusing on German-style beer,” Cucurullo said. “So mostly pilsners, Munich Helles, Vienna lager, Schwarzbier, and your IPA, because we need an IPA.”
Cucurullo added that while the brewery is sticking to these five beers for the time being, they plan to introduce seasonal releases as the year progresses — including an Oktoberfest beer in autumn.
“We just need to start first, and then afterwards, we’ll see what the people like and what the people don’t like,” he said. “But you always need a season.”
As for the front of the house, Kati took advantage of her experience in New York’s art world to craft an environment reminiscent of the brewery’s namesake coast, using long, rustic wooden tables and benches, and hanging dozens of plants around the dining area for a relaxing, natural feel.
“We just want you to feel so good when you’re in a space,” Kati said. “For us, it’s important to go to a place and feel happy there, to feel good when you’re sitting down and comfortable at a table — to feel like you can get your friends and your family together at one of these long tables and stay all day.”
In fact, the entire brewery was intentionally designed with socialization in mind. Blake told The Garden Island that his approach to Napali Brewing Co. has revolved around what he doesn’t want it to be — yet another sports bar.
“I’ve watched guys sit there with their heads (glued to the TV),” he said. “Now they’ve got their heads down, and they’re engaging, and they’re talking to one another. I see it every day, all day long. And to me, you take the TVs away, you take that stimulus away for the most part, and what you have is conversation. And I think that’s what we need.”
Kati added that while the brewery’s focus is not on sports, she and Blake do intend to show large sporting events, such as Monday and Thursday Night Football, league finals, and even the occasional MMA card at the bar.
Even without sports, Napali Brewing Company has no shortage of entertainment.
On top of an assortment of board games for patrons to use, the brewery hosts local artists seven days of the week to play live music.
“Right now it’s pretty much Hawaiian music intertwined with ’70s and ’80s pop, and people enjoy it,” Blake said. “But we’re not beyond having a small little jazz band in here.”
While the brewery is still in its infancy, Blake told The Garden Island his and Kati’s minds continue to focus on the next steps.
“How do you expand? Well, there’s several ways,” Blake said. “One is you can right here, and sell our own via canned retail. But more importantly, I see us opening tap houses throughout the island and throughout the state, and then eventually grow offshore — at least, that’s my vision.”
Kati added that the company plans to have their beers in every local restaurant and hotel, then expand to the rest of the state, before bringing Napali to the mainland.
For the time being, though, she stressed that the primary focus is creating a friendly, welcoming, sociable environment for residents and visitors alike to share a cold beer and talk story.
“Yes, we work hard,” she said. “Yes, we want to be the best. But most importantly, we are fun, and we want to have a lot of fun.”
Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island