Kona Brewing Accused Of Misleading People Looking For Hawaiian Beer

What do the words “Liquid Aloha” bring to mind? Swaying grass skirts and leis, or the frigid New England coast? You’re likely thinking more “Hawaii” and less “New Hampshire,” which is why two beer drinkers are suing the parent company of Kona Brewing Co., accusing it of misleading consumers into thinking they’re swilling Hawaiian beer when it’s actually made thousands of miles away.

A potential class-action lawsuit [PDF] filed earlier this week in a California federal court alleges that Craft Brew Alliance, the parent company of Kona and other beer brands of intentionally misleading beer buyers into believing that the brand’s products — with names like Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale, Wailua Wheat Ale, and Hanalei Island IPA — are local beers made in Hawaii. Kona Brewing Co. itself is not named as a defendant.

Instead, the complaint notes, the bottled and canned brews sold in grocery stores and restaurants, as well as draft beers served in the U.S., are actually made in Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, and/or New Hampshire.

The lawsuit claims that Craft Brew Alliance is trying to capitalize on the Hawaii brand image of Kona in order to maximize its profits.

“The entire brand image of Kona Brewing Company – including the name itself – revolves around its purported Hawaii origins,” the lawsuit says. “Craft Brew ubiquitously uses Hawaii imagery, references, metaphors, and outright misstatements in order to cultivate this image.”

Though the phrase “Made in Hawaii” is not anywhere on the products, the lawsuit contends that language like “Liquid Aloha” and “Always Aloha,” hula dancers swaying on the beach, and imagery of a surfer preparing to paddle out into the water on labels and packaging, as well as an image embedded on bottles in the shape of the Hawaiian island chain lead consumers to think of the beers as Hawaiian.

Kona Brewing Co.’s website says that its Kailua-Kona brewery does make 12,000 barrels of beer every year and sells it in Hawaii, but the company produces its bottled beer and the draft sold on the mainland in the four states mentioned in the lawsuit.

While Kona says its partner breweries adjust water mineral levels at each brewery to replicate the water used in Hawaii, and samples of each batch are sent to the home brewery for sensory evaluation, the plaintiffs contend that that’s not enough, and that customers “are still being deprived of what Craft Brew has promised them and what they have paid for — namely, a Hawaiian beer.”

“Plaintiffs and other consumers purchased Kona Brewing Co. beer because they reasonably believed – based on Craft Brew’s advertising and labeling – that this beer originates from Hawaii,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result, plaintiffs and other consumers have been deceived and have suffered economic injury.”

They wouldn’t have purchased the beer or would have paid a lot less for it “had they known the true origins of the Kona Brewing Co. beer they purchased,” states the complaint.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status, which would include anyone who bought Kona Brewing Co. beer throughout the country in the past four years, and exclude those who bought Kona draft beer in Hawaii.