Married couple Jillane and Brian Bosscher and their friend Jake Parcels fostered a love for beer in their hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., known as Beer City USA for boasting more craft beer per square mile than nearly anywhere else around the globe with 80-plus breweries.
The friends, who now all live on the Big Island, love sampling beer and making brewery-hopping part of every trip. The last time the Bosschers went to Denver to see their son, they stopped in at 25.
The Bosschers also love making beer, experimenting with flavors to create home brews for nearly 20 years. After they moved to Hilo, they hosted a brew club that met in the garage at their Piʻihonua home on the banks of the Wailuku River — where all the magic happened.
The Bosschers, Parcels and another beer-loving friend and Big Islander John White are now taking the home brew, and their joy for making it, to the masses. In July, they opened Wailuku Brew Works, a brewery and taproom in the Shipman Business Park in Keaʻau.
Last Thursday afternoon, the taproom was nearly full with customers saddling up to the bar or sitting at tables to imbibe with some of the quartet’s creative concoctions.
Jillane Bosscher said: “We make beer we love to drink.”
The place has 24 taps, with 18 of them currently serving craft beers, sours and mead. The menu includes red and white wines as well, and they will be starting a cocktail program featuring mules and bourbon and scotch flights. They also make their own ginger beer, which will be available soon.
“There’s always something new,” Jillane Bosscher said.
Menu options can change daily; it just depends upon when kegs run empty.
“When they’re gone, they’re gone,” she said. “Then we’ll put something else in.”
That’s part of the fun at the Kea‘au brewery.
Jillane Bosscher is a certified chef and Brian Bosscher is a doctor and director of the emergency department at Hilo Medical Center. So between their food and science backgrounds, the Bosschers can come up with just about any flavor combination.
The three men of the partnership are the brewmasters, with Parcels and Brian Bosscher doing the majority. Parcels, who previously owned his own mechanical business, is also the brewery’s chief of operations.
He and Jillane Bosscher work full-time in the taproom and brewery. White is also an electrical engineer at Gemini Observatory.
Wailuku Brew Works is always experimenting. Inspiration comes from what the owners eat and drink, fruit they get from friends or Big Island farmers and other beers and drinks they come across on their travels.
“We have something for everyone,” Jillane Bosscher said.
The brewery is on the other side of the taproom and is equipped with one-, three- and five-barrel brewing systems, a long way from the single pot in which they used to make beer.
On Thursday, Parcels and Brian Bosscher were working on new flavors coming soon, some just in time for the Christmas season. Jillane Bosscher worked front of house with bartender Cecilia Cafiero.
Customers can choose from three cost and alcohol content tiers, each with its own unique group of beers. Or they can try multiple brews by ordering a flight of four sample-size glasses.
In tier 1, there’s the Detroit Malt City, a malt-forward pale ale that pays homage to Detroit and the owners’ Midwest roots, that comes in at 5.5% alcohol by volume, or ABV. Others in that tier, ranging from 4.4% to 5.5% ABV, include Au Pau Pale Ale, Stay Golden and Honey Girl Kolsch.
Tier 2 kicks it up a notch with ABVs ranging from 5.5% to 6.7% with Rosie’s Boathouse, a tribute to those who remember the iconic Hilo restaurant.
The hibiscus and rose hips ale not only refreshes your palate with its floral flavors, but it also keeps you dreaming of another sip. Their seasonal Oktoberfest is also included in this tier, along with the Baywater Brown and Wicked Wahine Indian Pale Ale, or IPA.
If you’re looking for something even harder, tier 3 has you covered with brews ranging from 6.4% up to 10.2% ABV.
The Wookiee, a big, hairy “Chewie” triple IPA, was created to be featured on May 4, 2024, at the Boonville Beer Fest in Boonville, Calif., playing off the “May the 4th Be With You” Star Wars Day tagline. Be careful though. It’s so smooth you might not notice you’re being taken to a galaxy far, far away.
Tier 3 also includes the seasonal special Drunken Pumpkin. The 9.8% ABV imperial pumpkin ale tastes just like a piece of pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Nutty Professor, another limited release, is a decadent twist on a robust porter that tastes like peanut butter and dark chocolate, and then there’s the Day Trip’in Tripple, a big, bold Belgian triple IPA.
The Wailuku Brew Works menu also currently includes a strawberry mead and another made from a fruit called abiu, which originates in the Amazon in South America and has a pear-like flavor. There’s a watermelon sour, too, made from watermelon Sour Patch Kids candy.
“People have developed their favorites and we tend to roll the menu a little bit,” said Brian Bosscher. “The favorite they had two weeks ago is not on the menu now and there’s something else that they need to try and explore a little bit.”
The best part is watching people go, “Hey, wait. This is different. This is all different,” and they have to explore again.
Keep an eye out for the Elf Yourself spiced Christmas extra special bitter, or ESB, ale that isn’t anything like your grandmother’s fruit cake.
The owners get true joy out of sharing their love of beer and making it and they’re excited for the Big Island to come try out what they brew up. The flavors might not be what you’re expecting or used to, but the experience is about trying something you’ve probably never had before.
“I love seeing people’s reaction and them coming in and being overwhelmed by 18 taps,” Brian Bosscher said. “They look at the menu and their eyes are like, ‘I don’t know where to start.’”
Wailuku Brew Works is located at 16-205 Wiliama Place. It is open from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The brewery also has beer flavors featured on tap at three bars in Hilo: The Hidden Nēnē, Jackie Rey’s ʻOhana Grill Hilo and The Temple Bar.
The brewery doesn’t serve food, but there are nearby restaurants and food trucks that park outside. You can also bring your own food to eat while you imbibe.