LIHU‘E — Rice grower Jerry Ornellas said when the first batch of Jerry’s Rice Beer — the name assigned to the rice-based beer by the Kaua‘i Beer Company — went online on Monday, it was the first time in more than 60 years that Kaua‘i-grown rice was used commercially.
Ornellas, in partnership and collaboration with Rodney and Carol Haraguchi of Haraguchi Rice Mill, has been researching and growing rice in exploration of its potential as a commercial venture.
“The rice we’re growing is called Tsutomu Boshi,” Ornellas said. “‘Tsutomu’ is named after Rodney’s uncle who was able to get us seed. Rice seed is a highly proprietary item, and if you can get some, that is a feat.”
He was especially apprehensive on Wednesday night ahead of being invited to the Kaua‘i Beer Company to sample the first batch of beer using rice he produced on his farm.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Ornellas said. “I kept thinking about all the problems the beer producers could encounter while making beer using rice.”
Those fears never materialized on Thursday when Ornellas met up with Jim Guerber, Jim’s son Justin Guerber, who is Kaua‘i Beer Company brewmaster, and Larry Feinstein, a former Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau member.
“This is the first batch we bought from Jerry,” Jim Guerber said. “It’s also the first time Kaua‘i-grown rice has been used to make beer. We used the Kaua‘i-grown rice, Kaua‘i water. The only thing we can’t grow here is the hops. This is nearly 100 percent Kaua‘i made.”
Ornellas said the secret is not just the rice, but Kaua‘i water, because beer aficionados in Japan highly prize the water that’s used to make the beer.
“It’s not just rice we’re growing here,” Ornellas said. “You need to let them know it’s Kaua‘i water. Every Japanese visitor coming here will want to taste the Kaua‘i beer because of the water.”
Jim Guerber compared the taste of Jerry’s Rice Beer to those of other Japanese popular beers like Sapporo and Asahi.
“It has a subtle flavor of brown rice,” Jim said. “It tastes similar to the Japanese beers.”
Justin Guerber, the brewmaster, said the current batch uses brown rice being produced by Ornellas. However, Ornellas said he is working with aromatic rice in red and black. As the aromatic rice becomes more readily available, Justin Guerber said he is anxious to brew those into different beer offerings.
“This is not the first beer we brewed using rice,” Justin Guerber said. “We had ‘Rice Rice Baby.’ But this is the first time we’ve made beer using rice that’s grown here. And, hopefully, this won’t be the last.”
Jim Guerber added that using rice in beer production is important because Anheuser-Busch is one of the biggest purchasers of rice in the country.
“Rice is important in beer-making to where the founder of Anheuser-Busch had it in his will to use rice in making Budweiser,” Jim said. “Anheuser-Busch even had their own rice fields in California.”
Ornellas said at one time, rice was the second highest export crop on Kaua‘i, next to sugar.
The first rice plants came to Kaua‘i with the Chinese immigrants, who grew it locally until their labor contracts expired and they went into their own business, turning rice cultivation to the Japanese.
“Rice can grow well here,” Ornellas said. “Rice likes it on Kaua‘i.”
Jerry’s Rice Beer is available at the Kaua‘i Beer Company, which is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 808-245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island