Hilo Brewing Company
Edna Ching | September 4 , 2020
Marcus Bender, founder of Hilo Brewing Co., is no stranger to the global beverage industry. He has been an influential figure for over 40 years. Bender has been involved in all facets of the beverage business from importing Hinano Tahitian beer to Hawaii in 1981 to establishing the first natural bottled water brand, Hawaiian Springs Water in 1992. He then took the opportunity to be a restauranteur with the purchase of Brew Moon. As an owner of a 300-seat microbrewery restaurant, Bender was able to learn about the on-premise side of the business firsthand. After seven years running Brew Moon, he left that role to focus on his spirits brand Kai Vodka which has gained international praise.
Bender’s entrepreneurial spirit has driven him to take on his most recent venture with Hilo roots – a place he holds dear to his heart for decades. The owner of two brands, Hawaii Nui and Mehana, was looking for a buyer. At the time, Bender was formulating a plan to open a beer garden on his Keaau property just minutes from Hilo. When the opportunity to purchase Hawaii Nui and Mehana’s equipment and their trademarks surfaced, he immediately seized it. With equipment and trademark in possession, his vision of a beer garden took a grander path. Bender was now laser focused on re-entering the beer market with a local brand supported by local staff, beer that is 100% produced in Hilo and elevated taste profiles using authentic beer recipes.
Bender started with the name change. He opted to go simple and straightforward. He landed on Hilo Brewing Co. The name is significant in many ways. First and foremost, Bender wanted to have a hometown beer that residents of East Hawaii Island can enjoy and be proud of. His daughter Amy Bender, VP and Director of Sales, stated “my father wanted to give Hilo a place at the table when it comes to craft beer.” He also wanted the name to tell the consumer exactly where the beer is made.
Once Bender settled on a name, he immediately went to work on building a new team, new recipes and new packaging. He was adamant about putting Hilo on the craft brewing map. He made sure to stay lean with a local team. All his employees reside on Hawaii Island – none were hired for relocation to East Hawaii Island. He wanted everyone to hit the ground running. He brought on board Brew Master, Sebastian Bach who worked previously at another Hawaii brewery and had a long history with breweries, both domestic and international.
All of Hilo Brewing’s beers are 100% locally brewed. Bach is diligent about not cutting corners to maintain the level of integrity and quality that the brand promises. Influenced by both his studies in Europe and his experience in the U.S. West Coast, he makes sure that ingredients are sourced relative to the beer style. He does not allow for any substitutes. Hilo Brewing’s current portfolio of beers includes Humpback Island Lager, Volcano Red Ale, Mauna Kea Pale Ale, Tsunami IPA and a selection of seasonal offerings.
Bender’s team encourages visitors to explore all that Hilo has to offer including its tasting room located at 275 East Kawili St. The tasting room serves as Hilo Brewing’s hub of business. While there, visitors can enjoy brews readily available in the market. But what makes it a unique experience is the ability to taste exclusive craft beers you cannot get anywhere else. Recently, they received its type 18 license which allows them to pour spirits. The license gave way to an expanded beverage selection with drinks like their Bloody Mary made with the Hawaiian Crow Porter (exclusive, seasonal). Whether it be at the tasting room or in the comforts of one’s home, Bender’s mission is to bring Hilo to as many people as possible. As he always emphasizes, “Hilo is at the heart of Hilo Brewing Co.”
For more information, visit www.hilobrewingco.com.