Crafting Hawai‘i’s First Hard Kombucha

Roadside café, new products, and planned tap room keep Pauwela brewers on their toes...
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Kyle Fleming and Cady Cox are a busy pair these days. In addition to their fledgling kombucha and water kefir brewery, the Haʻikū power couple are partners in a booch café and espresso bar that specializes in blending rich organic coffee with coconut cream to make delicious vegan lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos. As if that’s not enough, they also introduced a new line of coconut yogurt to local stores this summer and earned their license to brew the first hard (alcoholic) kombucha in the state. A tasting room with 16 of their Pauwela Beverage Company products on tap is in the works. 

Brewers Kyle Flemming and Cady Cox were childhood pals before falling in love. Photo by Dan Coolins

The two were next-door neighbors growing up in Jackson, Wyoming, where as childhood playmates they never stopped having fun together, eventually falling in love a dozen years ago and getting married in 2015. That playfulness is still very much a part of their relationship, personally and professionally. After all, what is a brewery but a playground for experimentation? 

“It’s fun learning to do that,” said Cox of honing their senses. “In the beginning we’d try it and go ‘I don’t know, is it ready yet?’ and now I can just smell a bucket and I’m like, ‘That one’s ready.’ There are just sensations that you develop from doing it every day.”

Brewing is an imperfect science, combined with a considerable amount of artistry. Fleming learned this when they moved to Portland, Oregon together, where he took a deep dive into the fermentation arts, learning from the grain up and eventually earning an online degree in brewing. He won a number of awards for his ales and developed a reputation locally as a skilled home brewer, specializing in IPAs.

Cox shares her husband’s enthusiasm for beer, but she prefers Belgian-style ales to his IPA. “I’ve never been the brewer of the beer, but I’ve always loved craft beer and Belgian beer—and European beer in general,” she said. “So we had a shared passion for that, for sure.”

They eventually returned to Jackson Hole, where Fleming helped to open Roadhouse Brewery, now one of the Rocky Mountain region’s dominant craft brewers. After rising through the ranks to head brewmaster at Roadhouse, he agreed to come to Maui—where Cox had spent time in her youth—to brew beer. 

“My dad’s a big surfer, so we’d come here every year when I was little,” she said. Disenchanted with the long winters in Wyoming, they decided to leave. “We just wanted to change it up and we thought Maui would be great.”

They settled in Haʻikū near the Pauwela Cannery. Both surf Ho‘okipa Beach when they have the chance.

Hard kombucha is the newest product in the Pauwela Beverage Companyʻs line. Photo by Dan Collins

Their initial plans to brew beer fell through when their business partner passed away unexpectedly before the project got off the ground. So they took jobs opening and managing the small, tidy Pauwela Store. It was there that they met “Big Wave Dave” Smithey, owner of Big Wave Kombucha, who learned that they were into brewing and showed them the commercial space where they are now located, behind Kazuma Surfboards across the parking lot from the cannery building—just a stone’s throw from the couple’s front door. 

They immediately wanted to rent the space, but lacked the resources to invest in a full-scale beer brewery. “At the same time, hard kombucha was just sort of hitting the market and I was intrigued,” said Fleming. 

About then, Boochcraft, a popular brand of hard kombucha, suddenly disappeared from liquor store shelves islandwide as the California brewer temporarily cut distribution to Hawai‘i.

So, when Smithey told them he was packing it in, shutting down his brewing operation and moving back to California, they negotiated to purchase his assets—kettles, kegs, and a live scoby included—and suddenly had just about everything they needed to start brewing kombucha. 

Cady Cox isnʻt affraid od the scoby, a colony of bacteria and yeast that kicks off fermentation. Photo by Dan Collins

They launched their brand in February 2020 and promptly began selling at the Upcountry Farmers’ Market and getting their products placed in local stores. A month later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The following month, orders dropped to zero. But the new business owners persisted, using the downtime to master the tricky process of making kombucha, and its less acetic cousin, water kefir. 

Stumbling into brewing kombucha has been a lifesaver, because it enabled them to establish their brand and master the fermentation process while they waited almost two years for their liquor license application to be approved. Meanwhile, they partnered with farmers’ market friends and fellow vendors Matt and Jayla Blanco of Ke’o Ke’o Coconuts to open Booch + Coco, a tiny kombucha café and espresso bar located at Maliko Country Farms. In addition to kombucha, water kefir, acai bowls, and savory snacks, they make all kinds of espresso drinks featuring fresh coconut cream, pressed on site. 

Mature coconuts are opened and shredded, then run through a hydraulic press to create the rich coconut cream that is then diluted with water to make the right consistency to add to coffee drinks. The coconut water is frozen to be made into shave ice. The “rubber meat” from young coconuts—which can’t be used to make the coconut cream they stir into their drinks—is cultured using lactobacillus and made into a creamy coconut yogurt, now sold at local markets in three flavors. 

Even with their products in distribution and the cafe keeping them busy, they show up at the Upcountry Farmers Market every Saturday to supply their loyal customers—and to shop for new flavors. 

Much of the fruit as well as the ginger and turmeric they use in their brew is sourced locally, and they choose organic options whenever possible. Seasonal fruit, like dragon fruit, is bought in bulk, portioned out, and frozen for use year round. 

The couple’s hibiscus-lychee flavor was a finalist in the “drinks” category at the 2022 Good Food Awards in San Francisco, ranking among the top six kombucha producers in the nation. 

The bottling is all done by hand by Kyle and Cady and their tiny staff, rather than on a mechanized bottling line, which would be a huge expense and difficult to maintain.

ʻOi Longman handles the tedious job of bottling by hand. Photo by Dan Collins

“The logistical side of business is really tricky. The bottles, the labels, the caps—especially during a pandemic,” said Cox. “The prices going up, the supply chain breaking down. That’s such a challenge.”

Still, they persevere. And their patience was rewarded in July when they received their license to brew hard kombucha, the first in the state, and a craft producer pub license so they can open a tap room and tasting lounge inside the brewery. Three flavors of their hard kombucha hit store shelves within weeks.

Foodland, Safeway, Mana Foods, Down to Earth, Pukalani Superette, Hawaiian Moons, and a variety of mom and pop stores now stock Pauwela beverages. Distribution takes four days a week, partly because they deliver to several locations in Hana. 

And the fun? It’s still the key to their success. They hold open mic nights at Booch + Coco on the second Saturday of the month, hosted by rasta musician Ed the Dread. Sign-ups start at 5:30 for a 15-minute time slot to play music, recite poetry, or try your hand at stand-up comedy. Everyone’s welcome. Check out their Instagram for arts and crafts classes and other fun activities, @boochandcoco. And look for their hard booch in stores—and now on tap at Mahalo Brewery upcountry—and check out all of their products at pauwelabeverage.com. 

Dan Collins

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