©Jason Kempin / Stringer / Getty Images 

Is the beer really brewed in Hawaii?

Elisabeth Sherman
April 19, 2017

Deceptive food labels have gotten another company in trouble: This time it’s Kona Brewing Company, which is being accused of deceiving customers by claiming it’s produced in Hawaii. 

A new lawsuit alleges that Craft Brew Alliance, the owners of Kona Brewing Company, which was founded in Kailua-Kona, “[exploits] strong consumer sentiment for Hawaiian-made products.” The plaintiffs in the case claim that the labeling on Kona’s beers are misleading: Most of them feature overt references to their Hawaiian origins, and bare names like  “Liquid Aloha” and “Catch A Wave.” But even though the company began in Hawaii, and does produce beer for that state, none of the beer Kona sells in the continental United States is actually brewed in Hawaii—it's produced in several states throughout the U.S. According to Forbes, the plaintiffs say they “would not have purchased the beer, or would have paid significantly less for the beer, had they known the true origins of the Kona” (a six pack of the Longboard Lager is about $9 by the way). 

The suit may not have much to stand on, though: the Kona website clearly states that that their brewing facilities are located across the U.S.

Kona joins the ranks of Fosters, Becks—which had to admit it’s not actually a German beer—Guinness, and Kirin Ichiban, which have all faced mislabeling lawsuits. In March 2016, a lawsuit was filed in Florida against Coors Light alleging that the brand deceptively markets the product by advertising that the beer is “brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water.” In the truth, Coors Light is usually brewed nowhere near the Rockies, except for one facility still located in Colorado.  

Recently, cases like these have been dismissed. Take the case of Red Stripe, which was sued for leading drinkers to believe it actually comes from Jamaica. A judge ruled that it’s slogan “The Taste of Jamaica,” in no way states that the beer is brewed there, noting that the company clearly identifies itself as being based in Pennsylvania. 

It’s common knowledge that plenty of companies invoke traditions and slogans that are supposed to stretch the imagination of consumers. Kona is no different. Sure, it’s probably true that food manufacturers should be more upfront about where their products come from, but in this case it doesn’t seem like Kona lied outright. Most reasonable beer drinkers aren’t in it for the surfboard stamped label anyway. But if the people who filed the suit end up convincing a judge that they really were confused by those labels (which seems unlikely) maybe they’ll be able to finally afford the real thing