Cincinnati brewers ‘craft’ support for Hawaii wildfire victims

A group of beer makers from across Southwest Ohio have joined an international coalition of breweries working to raise money to support victims of recent wildfires that devastated parts of Hawaii.

More than 700 breweries have volunteered to take part in The Kōkua Project led by Maui Brewing Company, Hawaii’s largest brewery.

Breweries with local roots include 16 Lots Brewing Brands, BrewDog USA, HighGrain Brewing Company, MadTree Brewing, Rhinegeist Brewery, Streetside Brewery and Third Eye Brewing

As part of the pledge, each brew team is creating a variation of a session IPA called Kōkua. The breweries plan to donate sale proceeds to the Global Empowerment Mission, a nonprofit organization facilitating the Maui Brewing Company Fire Fund.

MadTree head brewer Ryan Blevins holds a pint of a Kōkua session IPA.

Money raised will go toward supporting recovery efforts related to a series of wildfires in August 2023 that engulfed major swaths of the island of Maui. The wind-driven fires prompted evacuations and caused widespread damage in the town of Lahaina on Maui’s northwest coast, not far from Maui Brewing Company’s taproom, restaurant and production area.

FEMA estimated that more than 2,200 buildings had been destroyed, mostly residential homes, as well as crucial infrastructure and many historic landmarks in Lahaina. The damage caused by the fire has been estimated at nearly $6 billion.

Kōkua translates to “extending help to others” in the Hawaiian language.

MadTree head brewer Ryan Blevins discovered the project while scrolling through content on Maui Brewing’s social media pages soon after the wildfires.

The Oakley-based brewery has been a fixture in the local philanthropic community since its founding in 2013. As members of 1% for the Planet, MadTree gives 1% of its annual sales to local environmental nonprofits. The company also supports the work of Greater Cincinnati community partners by requiring and paying employees to work 16 volunteer hours every year. 

Blevins views this fundraiser as an extension of that corporate responsibility.

“We’ve always strived to help out our craft beer community and when one of them is impacted by a tragedy this large we felt that we needed to do something to help out any way we could,” he said.

Greater Cincinnati beer lovers and those looking to support Maui’s relief efforts can find Kōkua on draft in many taprooms across Ohio, including HighGrain in Silverton.

Maui Brewing Company reached out to the HighGrain team to ask if they’d be interested in taking part. Austin Neal, HighGrain’s director of marketing, said his brewery didn’t hesitate to jump in, but knowing there was a list of other major breweries taking part “was inspiring.”

There are a total of 21 breweries across Ohio taking part in the fundraiser.

Maui Brewing created and shared a recipe for Kōkua, described as a refreshing wave of tropical hop aroma atop a delicate malt base. But the goal was to give each brewery the flexibility to put their own localized touch on the beer people couldn’t get anywhere else. 

HighGrain’s brewers decided to use a combination of Strata and Altus hops to create an IPA they “knew people would love,” Neal said.

Like the other breweries taking part, HighGrain’s Kōkua IPA is available on draft inside its taproom. It’s also selling six-packs available at local bottle shops, like Root Cellar and Cappy’s, and kegs have been sold to some local bars and restaurants throughout the region, Neal said.

“We saw this as an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, and help people in need,” Neal said. “It’s awesome to see the brewing industry come together for what really matters at the end of the day.”

MadTree also took its own approach to its version of brew.  Blevins credited MadTree’s malt and hop vendors for stepping up and donating the ingredients used to make the beer.

“This type of project continues to show how tight knit the craft beer community is,” Blevins said. “There are hundreds of breweries participating in this project and we’re all playing a small part in helping out in a big way to this community in need.”

The inspiration for the Kōkua Project stems from Sierra Nevada’s Resilience project to support the victims of the tragic Camp Fire in 2018, according to Garrett Marrero, co-founder and CEO of Maui Brewing Co. He described this new effort as being “one beer, brewed by many,” to support the people of Hawaii.

The goal is to raise at least $1.5 million to help build a new community of homes for displaced residents, Marrero said.

Recovery efforts on the island will continue throughout 2024 and beer lovers can support by grabbing a pint of Kōkua at their local brewery, Marrero said.

“Mahalo for supporting this collective effort to raise relief funds for our Maui ‘Ohana who have been affected by this tragedy,” he added.

Kōkua Project

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