More than 2,000 people packed the beach and luau grounds of King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel on Saturday for the 19th annual Kona Brewers Festival. Forty breweries from Hawaii and the mainland offered an assortment of ales and lagers served alongside food prepared by chefs from 40 of the Big Island’s top restaurants. Pupu ranged from sweet and savory island specialties such as fresh fish and barbecued meats to decadent desserts of chocolate and lilikoi.
This main event is the culmination of a three-day celebration that includes a Brewers Paina Dinner and Art Auction, a Suds and Sea Benefit Cruise, the Run for the Hops 10K and 5K races, and the Kona Brewers Festival Homebrew Competition.
“The best thing about the Kona Brewers Festival is that it’s a heartfelt community event,” Kate Jacobson, the event’s executive director, said. “Everybody on the ground is either hauling waste, they’re passing out posters, or they’re sorting T-shirts. It takes over 600 volunteers to put it all together and what’s unique about it, is that all these volunteers (benefit from) the funds that we will raise today. There’s a lot of money going back to nonprofits working on behalf of children, education and the environment.”
This year, Hawaii County recognized the festival and its organizers for having donated more than $700,000 in the past 19 years, and the Governor’s Office proclaimed March 8 as Kona Brewers Festival Day.
“This came about as a celebration of our first birthday in February of 1996,” said Mattson Davis, President of Kona Brewing Co. “In 1997, we moved it to March and we decided to keep it the second Saturday in March ever since. This year we had about 800 tickets available online and they sold out in about seven minutes. It was exciting, but also kind of a bummer because we knew we were going to have some disappointed people.”
The festival also has achieved the status of a “zero waste” event.
“As beneficiaries representing Innovations Public Charter School, we applied to be a beneficiary of the festival, and our part in it was to create the Zero Waste Program,” Krista Donaldson, the festival’s sustainability coordinator, said. “We’re now in our seventh year of zero-wasting. Last year we finally achieved our goal of 10 percent of our waste going to the landfill and 90 percent of our waste being biodegraded and recycled.”
“We’re trying to make smart choices with our resources,” she said. “Once we collect all the waste, it’s taken to Innovations Public Charter School where we do soil experimentation with composting and actually turn this discarded waste into soil, which we use to grow food.”
Also on hand for festival goers was an entertainment lineup that included music by Anthrophony, Ms Demeanor and the Felons, and Lorenzo’s Army, with the highlight of the evening being the Trash Fashion Show.
“We try to give different bands a chance to play every year,” Thayla Davis, entertainment coordinator for the festival, said. “It’s nice to have some fresh entertainment. We try to stick with Big Island entertainment. However, we might try to get a bigger act next year since it will be our 20-year anniversary.”
Plans are already underway for next year’s festival. “We’re trying to figure out some ways of how to really push the 20th anniversary event next year,” Mattson Davis said.
“The silence of everybody being here during the opening blessing is a very special moment,” Davis said. “I’m already excited about how we’re going to make the 20th anniversary happen and I’m already thinking about the 25th. I really want to jump up the financial benefits that we create from this event. We have a really good system of getting the funds we raise to good sources and we have very little overhead. It’s just a great set of events, and we’re now just looking for something to make it even better.”