San Diego native Garrett Marrero wasn’t satisfied with being a “stock jockey,” especially after visiting Maui, so he formed a plan for Maui Brewing Company and relocated from San Francisco. The company now has a brewpub in Kahana Gateway Center on the north side of Lahaina and a production facility near the center of town. In 2011, Maui brewed 18,000 barrels of beer, and they’re expanding to a larger facility in Kihei, which is closer to the port and keeps them primed for even more growth. We visited with Marrero at the Lahaina production facility right before the release of Liquid breadfruit, a collaboration with Dogfish Head that contains ulu and toasted papaya seeds and he shared several insights.
What were you doing for a living leading up to Maui?
I was an investment consultant, so I was a stock jockey/stock broker. I think the official title back then was financial consultant. I loved what I did, I just wanted more. When I came to Hawaii on vacation, I fell in love with Maui and felt like this is where I need to be. Long term, I’ll be there somehow. It slowly went from “when I retire” to, “How can I just go now and not sacrifice my standard of living and not necessarily work for another company?” I made the jump.
At what point did you know you’d work with craft beer for a living?
When I left the investment world. That was what I left to do, so when I started this company it was fresh off the heels of leaving that industry. I spent about six months putting this project together, just focused full-time on how I could make this work. I always loved craft beer, I always loved the local beer when I went out of town. When I went to school at Davis, it was Sudwerks, it was Rubicon, even Sierra Nevada, driving up to Chico. We’d go visit the city and there was Triple Rock in Berkeley or Thirsty Bear in San Francisco, 21st Amendment. Coming from San Diego, you had Pizza Port, Stone and all these others. I was fortunate to have grown up around beer, and going to a college like Davis, you actually do have access to a brewing college, so your education in beer is obviously something you can pick up by osmosis in some ways, if you’re paying attention. It’s a beer driven community in a lot of ways. Beer and wine are the two big schools up there. Of course Bud Miller Coors has always been present in the background, but something I’ve never been a fan of. I’ve had the beers, but never really identified with those beers. I wanted more out of my beer.
Is there anybody in particular who’s helped to drive your learning?
Getting me into beer in the first place was my step dad and my step grandpa. My step grandpa was head of purchasing for Scripps Oceanographic Institute in San Diego, so he would get beers from all over the world when these ships would come to port. They needed to buy SCUBA tanks or a pump or motor or something. He did the purchasing and would provision the ships, so they would always bring Bob back a case of whatever from this random place, and we got to experience that at home. My step dad has always been like, “Let’s go to Trader Joe’s and pick something else up.” Or, “What do they have at BevMo this week?” Even in my teens learning about beer, our family was very responsible about it, not so much that, “Hey, you’re 15, go ahead and have as much beer as you like.” It was something we were taught to treat responsibly as opposed to being very taboo and leading to other problems down the road. For us it was always about the responsible consumption of quality beverage. Of course I went to college too, so I rejected that idea plenty of times. I always came back to what I love: craft.
Maui Brewing Company has a brewery tasting room, where tasting flights are available, with core beers like Bikini Blonde, Mana Wheat, Coconut Porter, Big Swell IPA and Pau Hana Pils.
What was the first beer that you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
It was a nut brown ale, and it turned out okay. I didn’t get to try that much of it because it was one of those beer in a bag brewing kits. Brew your own. I think it was Sharper Image or Trader Joe’s or Cost Plus, something like that. What you do is boil the water, cool to a certain temperature after mixing the extract, your hops, etc. and then put it into this bag. That was your fermenting vessel. I remember saying to put it into a cool place, not cold, not hot, something around the 70-degree mark. This slot here in the kitchen should work well, so I put it in there and came back hours later in the day – of course I’m 16 – leave for the day, come back, and there’s beer all over the kitchen floor. Basically I didn’t account for fermentation, for the gases or anything expanding in that bag and eventually driving that fluid out the top of the pressure release. I had a huge mess to clean up, mom was not very happy, and that pretty much ended my brewing career until I started this business. I drank quite a bit of beer. I always joke that I studied beer from the consumption side. Although it’s a bit of a joke, at the same time it’s true in that you learn a lot about what you like and what you don’t like, and what makes a good beer a good beer, versus just ordinary. That helped me in creating recipes. Tom, my former brewmaster, and my current lead brewers, both John and Kim, they do all the recipe creation, but we come up with concepts for the beer. For instance, Aloha Baktun or Liquid Breadfruit, it helps me to understanding how recipes go together. I can dream up concepts. We’ll sit together as a team and create a beer. That’s what we love about it.
What are the common threads? What does a beer have to be for you to brew it at Maui Brewing?
Well the common thread for all beers at Maui Brewing, they have to be great. They can’t be so-so. Even when we say that, we don’t believe all the beers are perfect. We believe all the beers can be improved. As much as we have beer ADD and we are continually brewing something different, often times we have a core group that we’ll repeat brew at the brewpub, for example, we have a whole different series in addition to our flagship beers are regular mainstays, like our Freight Trains IPA, Wee Heavy, Father Damien Abbey, LA Peroose White, things like that are typically around, because we want to perfect – if you will – those beers, knowing the beer’s all about a constant pursuit, but never an attainment of perfection, at least in our eyes. We do like to be different, so innovation is huge there. We’re also serial collaborators. We are in a place that a lot of people like to come visit, and when Sam [Calagione] calls up and says, “Hey, I’m coming on a family vacation. Think we can brew something?” It starts out as homebrew, then we’ll do something with the pub and it’s national distribution, 100 barrels, 4300 cases. We tend to feed off each other’s energy pretty well. Brian Grossman [from Sierra Nevada] was here the other day. He left on Thursday night. Last week, during our beer dinner, we had a guy who used to be at Oskar Blues who’s now at the Wynkoop Breckenridge consolidation, he was visiting here as well. We get a lot of visitors and end up doing beers with them. At the same time, we have our own beers that we like to do, like the Aloha Baktun and the Pau Hana Pilsner’s another good example. We like to draw on the island and what the agricultural community provides, so whether that be mandarin oranges or coriander or coffee fruit or breadfruit, or star fruit, or pineapple or guava, mango, papaya, Maui onions, we like to see how that’s going to affect the beer, although we don’t believe all beers have to have fruit in them. We have very core German Old World styles of beer, at the same time, that we take some non-traditional approaches to those styles. Just keep it different.
What’s your top selling beer, and why do you think that’s the case?