(Brew day at Ono Brewing. Photograph by Chuck Triplett)

By Jefferson Evans 

In early August people across the United States and around the world watched in dismay as brush fires driven by hurricane force winds became uncontrolled wildfires that did damage across Hawaii. Especially hard hit was the Maui town of Lãhainã, part of a historic district which once served as capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii and which suffered major loss of life with many important structures destroyed or damaged. 

Well known figures such as Oprah Winfrey, The Rock, Jason Momoa, Floyd Mayweather and others have joined a groundswell of support to help those affected, and important among those efforts are those by Maui Brewing Company, headed by CEO and cofounder Garrett Marrero. The brewery founded in Lãhainã in 2005.

At the forefront of those in the NoVa beer community with strong ties to Hawaii are Scott and Cyndi Hoffman, owners of Ono Brewing Company. The name Ono means “delicious” or “tasty” in Hawaiian. Cyndi’s mother was born and raised in Kahuku on Oahu, and the couple spent their first years of marriage in Hawaii, learning local culture and traditions from Cyndi’s extended “Ohana” (family). 

The couple try to celebrate Hawaiian culture at their brewery in ways big and small, with the largest being their annual anniversary, celebrated with a big luau.This year was its sixth. 

Scott tells me the Ono Luau has a legit claim on being the biggest Hawaiian cultural event held in Washington DC, Virginia, or Maryland. Scott had always wanted to meet Garrett Marrero and finally did so a year ago at the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, TN. 

Scott reached out to Garrett after the fires and learned discussions were in place to do a collaboration beer as a fundraiser, inspired in part by the Resilience IPA beer project headed by Sierra Nevada after the destructive campfire that occurred in California in 2018.

Kokua is Hawaiian for “help in a selfless manner” and the Kokua beer project is headed by Maui Brewing VP Trent Tokos. As the project came together the Brewers Association put out the word saying “this is what we’re gonna do.” The beer recipe was provided by Maui Brewing, along with graphic art, and more. 

Scott and Cyndi immediately knew they wanted to participate. They weren’t alone. Before Scott could invite other NoVa breweries to join him, Ornery Beer Company owner Randy Barnette sent out an email saying essentially “let’s do this” and offered to host. 

In the end Ono was to brew the beer, in part because they could do so with a quick turn around to allow the beer to be ready by the anniversary luau and because of their strong ties to Hawaii. With that began an expedited plan to throw together an on-site party and fundraiser to benefit the fire victims, not to mention the brew day itself. The participating breweries include Ono, Ornery, Cedar Run, Quattro Goombas, Bunnyman, Lake Anne, Tucked Away, Mustang Sally, Settle Down Easy, Eavesdrop, and Sinistral.

On Sunday August 27, the event came together with  beautiful weather, a great turnout, amazing Hawaiian music by the Aloha Boys and others, and the full support of groups such as The Hawaii State Society and other members of the local Hawaiian community. 

Ono donated 50% of beer sales from the day and attendees were provided with multiple ways to donate, with donations going to the Maui Strong Fund. Ono’s donation came to over $5,000 and with on-site donations topping $13,000.

A video recorded by Maui Mayor Richard Bissen was played at the event, thanking Ono and all involved for contributing (visit the Ono Brewing Company Facebook page to view the video). On Wednesday August 30,  Ono head brewer Eric Ahlberg led a group in brewing a 15-barrel batch of Kokua, a session IPA. One participant, Frank Kuhns, owner of Settle Down Easy Brewing, mentions he and his wife honeymooned in Hawaii; he has a close friend who manages the Maui Hyatt, and “sometimes it feels like we in the hospitality industry are one degree from everyone. And it is so incredible how collaborative and supportive everyone in our local beer industry is.” 

Look for Kokua on tap at the participating breweries and donate to the cause at mauibrewco.com/mbcfire or hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/maui-strong