LIHUE — Jim Guerber used to brew about 15 gallons of beer at a time in his Poipu garage. Nowadays, the president, owner and brewer of Kauai Beer Company said his business brews about 300 gallons a week.
“I was doing it in my garage, giving the beer away and doing fundraisers,” he said. “People said the beer was great. I’m not getting any younger — I wanted to do it for a long time — I should do it.”
He followed his dreams. In September 2013, KBC opened for business on Rice Street.
“When an opportunity presents itself, change your plans, change your dreams. It became much better than the old thoughts,” he said.
Guerber, who has been brewing beer since 1978, stresses the importance of quality.
“Our products are not pasteurized and it’s not filtered, so we have to keep it cold throughout the whole process — from us making it to the customer gets it,” he said. “All these old processes like making bread, making coffee, making chocolate, they’re all very involved but ancient. I’m just really into that kind of thing — fermentation — and getting it done right.”
Initially, the brew pub was only open two days a week as a tasting room — on Wednesday and Saturday.
“Then we added food trucks for Thursday night and gradually rolled out the kitchen for lunch and dinner,” said Larry Feinstein, KBC head of communications, marketing and sales. “Now, we’re open Tuesday through Saturday. We open at 11 a.m. The kitchen closes at 9 p.m. and we’ll serve beer beyond that.”
Thursday nights became a weekly celebration, Guerber said.
“Because we’re on Rice Street, we knew we had to become a destination,” he said. “It’s good for everybody. It really works for everybody.”
Inviting food trucks brought KBC into the public eye, Feinstein said.
“Our kitchen wasn’t built yet, so we picked a night for food trucks to be here,” he said. “It’s a new idea here, but all over the world, food trucks are in abundance. It just made a lot of sense to open on the food side.”
Feinstein met Guerber about 10 years ago. Feinstein said he was “one of the happy people who would visit Jim’s garage.”
“I am happy to be a part of this, Feinstein said. “It started off a friendship. It’s not a business relationship in addition to a friendship. I now get to drink beer for a living.”
KBC carries eight beers on tap. Patrons can expect two or three beers to always be available: Lihue Lager, Black Limousine and Tropical Armadillo. Other beers are seasonal.
“Lighter beers in the springtime and October means Oktoberfest,” Guerber said. “Interspersed into all this, we’ll have beers that we’ll try one time and see how it works. Right now we have a red beer and there’s one coming out soon (that) we haven’t even named yet.”
Safety, quality and consistency are the most important things for a brewery, he said.
“We’re destined to be the biggest, best brewery on Kauai,” Guerber said. “Every bar should have our beer. Eventually, we’ll get to canning so once we sell cans, grocery stores can sell it.”
Serving about 70 percent locals and 30 percent visitors, KBC is also involved with the Lihue Town Core Revitalization Project.
“We believe that our future is based on Rice Street starting to change,” Feinstein said. “The most important thing that will resonate with people is that it’s going to create jobs. If you’re not taking care of your customers, the likelihood of success is slim. We’ve really been instrumental on how a lot of people see Rice Street. It will grow up and down.”
Part of that revitalization is a future project to refurbish Kalena Park.
“We formed a nonprofit called Kauai Cares,” Guerber said. “Its reason for existence is to take care of Kalena Park. We feel that we shouldn’t just depend on the county. If we do it ourselves and show the community that we can do it together, it’s just much better. We’re all in this together. Larry’s the chairman of the board.”
Feinstein said the project is still in the early stages. Discussion with the county have been informal, but Guerber and Feinstein said the county have so far been supportive of the idea.
“We’re going through all this work and expense to really improve life on Rice Street,” Feinstein said. “A park is really screaming for attention to move along with the growing effort. We have enough from an architect that we can look for some funding. When it looks like we have a plan in place, we can have our discussion with the county.”
Moving forward, Guerber said there’s a possibility of a beer garden and pizza joint next door. For now, however, Guerber wants to focus on great service and quality beer.
“We are world-class beer,” he said. “The dream calls for us to cover the island with beer. I don’t want to go much further than Hawaii. It’s a fine market.”