Many things have changed at Makai Brewing in Ocean Isle Beach since the pandemic, and all for the better.
A lot of water has burbled under the proverbial bridge since I last wrote about Makai Brewing, a Hawaiian-themed brewery in Ocean Isle Beach. That was in April 2019.
A lot of water — and a lot of wort — indeed. For one, COVID has come and gone, leaving behind a lot of detritus — including the dreams of many small business owners — in its wake. Fortunately, Makai wasn’t one of them. And that’s due largely to the single-minded focus of its tenacious owner, Lowell Puckett, who refused to let his dream slip away. Working extra-long shifts and days after having to let long-time employees go to reduce costs, Puckett kept the brew kettles running.
Of course, he had some help, namely in the form of his current brewer, Jim Hill, a home brewer of 40 years. Apparently, Hill knew what he was doing because while Makai’s old iteration made some good beers (like Fire Knife and Carolina Tropical), many were deemed just OK by the local beer drinkers. And some just did not work at all. And with masks, six-foot safe zones and other restrictions imposed by the state, the customer base dwindled. But Puckett was undeterred.
With a depth of commitment usually reserved for zealots, the driven owner steadied the ship and stayed the course. And today he’s been rewarded with a production output that keeps him and his 12 employees quite busy.
His beers are offered in many well-known places, both big and small. Oyster Rock in Calabash, always a dining mecca for Brunswick County and Horry County residents, is an example of the former, and The Brew House, a one-room operation on the cusp of OIB and Sunset Beach is an example of the latter. The demands of 25 new accounts keep everyone — pardon the pun — hopping.
Part of the reason, certainly, is that Puckett and Brewer Hill have dialed in the recipes of many of those beers. While the aforementioned Fire Knife, an 8.7% DIPA, has always been good, the one I enjoyed recently was even better than I remembered it. And while Vermont’s Heady Topper may be the Holy Grail for NEIPA nuts, Makai’s Kamanawanalei ‘ya will definitely satisfy the NEIPA urges in any hop head.
The Pay It Forward Beer Board is still in full vigor.
That’s where anybody can buy a beer for anybody else, using an actual name or a description, like a NYPD officer, a Vietnam Veteran or even a Magazine Publisher.
You’ll also discover that the once-convenient doorway between Makai and its butcher neighbor has been permanently closed off. It was apparently too convenient for deli customers who just wandered in to find a table — even when Makai was closed. And that’s a no-no when it comes to the governing body of alcohol sales. So now you must go outside and into the butcher to get your food. You can always bring it back in to consume it with a beer — when Makai’s open.
Thanks to bar gal Missy, who came out from behind the bar after her shift to join me, I was alerted to the fact that some blessed soul had bought a beer for The PubScout. Since I didn’t have to show Lowell my bona fides, he plopped a can of Kamanawanalei ‘ya in front of me.
While I usually only have one beer while on two wheels, I was not turning down this NEIPA after 100 miles on the Green Dragon — my Harley. So I savored it, waited a good long while, chatted with another geezer at the bar and eventually mounted up and headed home.
While many things have changed at Makai — and all for the better — one thing has not.
It’s still less than three miles from my home.
Which means if I absolutely had to walk home, I wouldn’t. The missus could come get me.
Want to go?
5850 Ocean Highway W. #1, Ocean Isle Beach