Lāhainā was an idyllic town of around 13,000 people (Data USA and U.S. Census Bureau); a place of history, royalty, and visitors. With resorts up and down the coast, Lāhainā served as the meeting place and favorite stop for travelers from around the world. In August 2023, a deadly wildfire destroyed more than a touristy façade—businesses, breweries, homes, and futures in addition to over one hundred lives. The world was in disbelief, but neighbors and families rushed to help in whatever way they could. Donations of money, food, water, clothing, and hygiene goods started immediately and have not stopped. Even the beer industry pitched in to help, starting the Kōkua project to raise funds for disaster support.

The town will be rebuilt when ready, but it has a long way to go.

Hawai‘i lost two breweries that day, plus the jobs and income that went with them: Koholā Brewery and Waikiki Brewing Company’s Lāhainā Brewery simply vanished.

According to the Brewers Association for 2022, Hawai‘i ranked forty-third in economic impact with $355 million across only twenty-eight breweries. In an already small state with few breweries per capita, the loss reverberates.

Maui Brewing Company (MBC), the largest and oldest brewery on the island, quickly emerged to help, both with “boots on the ground” initiatives and the Kōkua project.

What Is the Kōkua Project?

maui brewing co kōkua project
Graphic courtesy of Maui Brewing Company

An initiative started by MBC, “the Kōkua project will be one beer, brewed by many, to support our Maui ‘Ohana who have been affected by this tragedy,” according to the official website.

“It’s no secret MBC is dedicated to the community; we answer calls of need,” says Garrett W. Marrero, CEO of and co-founder of Maui Brewing Company. “Before, Kōkua Beer was unique to MBC; this time, it’ll be open worldwide. So far, more than 650 breweries around the world have signed on, so hopefully, it’ll be significant.”

Anyone able and willing can brew the session IPA, donating one hundred percent of the proceeds to local charities where it will help the most.

Those like Mahalo Aleworks. “We’re the only other remaining brewery on Maui, so brewing Kōkua was a no-brainer, “says Ben Kopf IV, founder of Mahalo Aleworks. “I don’t think people not on Maui realize how bad it was—literally a third of businesses and things to do is just gone.”

According to the official website, MBC “partnered with the Global Empowerment Mission to raise funds to assist with needs on the ground following the Maui fire disaster.”

Any participating brewery can download the Kōkua recipe along with the pledge form, marketing information, merchandise kits, and list of the participating breweries, homebrew clubs, homebrewers, and beer-adjacent industries.

So far, breweries that have signed on represent all fifty states, with international ones in Canada, Japan, Germany, Philippines, New Zealand, and Switzerland also on board.

Merchandise will also be available at breweries who have chosen to participate.

Tell Me More about the Kōkua Beer!

maui brewing co kōkua project
Photography courtesy of Maui Brewing Company

In 2017, MBC brewed the first Kōkua beer as a golden ale benefiting the major flooding on the island of Kauai.

This time, they chose “a session IPA due to that style being big in flavor, low in calories, which should help to sell a lot,” explains Marrero.

“Session IPAs are always consistent movers in tap rooms across the nation,” says Steve Haumschild, co-founder, CEO, and head grewer of Lanikai Brewing Company and Lanikai Spirits in Kailua, HI, and one of the first breweries to jump onboard, noting though that “the formulas are open for interpretation via each brewer. We are not all trying to make an identical clone that tastes the same no matter what corner of the earth you are on like a Big Mac does.”

Overall, Haumschild believes that the underlying mission of the beer will drive interest. “It is a beer for a cause, so the most important aspect is the cause, and the beer is there for the discussion,” he says. “I think some that are more in tune with the beer community will purchase the beer specifically for the cause. While we cannot expect everyone to be akamai (an expert, knowledgeable) of what is going on in our beer communities, we do have a chance to let people know that sales for this beer go towards Maui relief projects and have the opportunity to spread awareness that way.”

While MBC will be doing a limited release of cans in Hawai‘i and beyond, the brewery asked all participants to make this a draft-only offering.

The idea?

For beer lovers to encourage their favorite local breweries to participate so they can enjoy it fresh there.

“For us, it was about doing as much impact as quickly as possible and raising as much awareness as we could,” says Haumschild. “The framework was already in place, and we were there to support it. While our islands are all connected by water, Maui is not our primary community, so we decided to support the project for those in Maui taking the lead.”

Early Signs From the Kōkua Project Show Success

maui brewing co kōkua project
Maui Brewing Company’s Kōkua – “Maui Strong” Session IPA brew day | Photography courtesy of Maui Brewing Company

The first appearance of Kōkua succeeded, albeit on a small scale. The larger roll-out can potentially raise significantly more money for the selected charities.

Already, breweries are pouring their versions. For example, Mahalo Aleworks, Hermosa Brewing with California’s Kōkua pale ale with fresh Cascade hops, Side By Each Brewing Co. with Maine’s Kōkua Maui Relief Beer, and False Idol Brewing with Texas’ double dry-hopped version with Mosaic and Waimea hops. Also Russian River’s Kōkua “Maui Strong” Session IPA, available on tap at both their Santa Rosa and Windsor pubs.

The initiative hopes to take cues from similar projects such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Resilience IPA, All Together Now benefiting hospitality workers, and Black is Beautiful for the National Black Brewers Association. All met with overwhelming support from the beer world—industry professionals and beer enthusiasts alike.

“We’re not alone in this,” says Marrero, who’s hopeful the initiative will raise $1.5-2 million to help build a new community of homes for displaced residents. “Many have answered the call to action to help; people that live locally have survived the fire and immediately started helping.”

How Can You Support the Kōkua Project?

maui brewing company kōkua project
Photography courtesy of Alexander Gates

Look for the many versions of Kōkua Session IPA when visiting breweries this autumn. You can find a full list of participating breweries here.

But more importantly, ask your favorites to participate or put your own dollars into the community.

“Maui could really use the return of tourism to support the local businesses and families,” says Haumschild. “Visitor numbers are down, hotel reservations are down, and restaurant reservations are way down. It’s the unfortunate truth that our island depends on tourism, so we need people here.”

Haumschild asks, though, that you approach your visit with care. “Please come with respect to the people and the land that really needs to heal,” he says. “I would encourage people who do travel and have the chance to explore our beautiful islands to find a way to pitch in for a day to help in the community. If not, consider donating to causes that specifically go towards helping the ’Ohana (family, community) of Maui directly.”