Written By Rebecca Amelia Arechiga
Photos courtesy of MIEKO HORIKOSHI
“The Garden Isle” of Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi has something spirited growing. It’s best enjoyed over ice. Perhaps while listening to a slack-key guitar, toes in the sand. During sunset, if possible. Kōloa Rum Company was the first licensed distillery on the island of Kauaʻi, bottling their first single-batched, craft distilled premium rum in 2009. But the history of rum in Hawaiʻi is much older, long predating Western contact. Sugarcane, a primary ingredient in rum, was first brought to the Hawaiian islands by ancient Polynesian voyagers, alongside the staple foods of taro, sweet potato, and breadfruit. Commercial sugarcane production in Kōloa on Kauaʻi began in 1835 and rum production on the island began around the same time with the first harvest of raw sugar.
Kōloa Rum is born from the rainwater of Mount Waiʻaleʻale and other nearby mountain peaks which filters down through a volcanic layer in the earth and gathers in underground aquifers. Only pure Hawaiian “tall cane” sugarcane is used. The rum is distilled in single batches in a vintage 1,210-gallon copper-pot still, over 70 years old.
“Pristine aquifer water, rich volcanic soil and perfect year-round weather combine to provide ideal conditions for Kōloa Rum Company to thrive on the island of Kauaʻi,” says Bob Gunter, CEO. They pay tribute to Hawaiʻi’s long history of sugarcane production by supporting the local agricultural industry, partnering with farmers and producers. The Kauaʻi Coffee Company supplies a special blend for Kōloa Rum’s Kauaʻi Coffee Rum, which is cold brewed and blended with Kauaʻi White Rum and pure cane sugar. Kauaʻi’s Lydgate Farms supplies cacao nibs for the Kauaʻi Cacao Chocolate Rum. The nibs are steeped in Kauaʻi Gold Rum for up to 18 days then drained, blended, and bottled for premium rum perfection.
There’s a rum flavor for every mood and occasion: White, Gold, Dark, Spice, Coconut, and even a 12 Barrel Select Kauaʻi Reserve Aged Hawaiian Rum. Kōloa Rum also produces popular, ready-to-drink bottled cocktails such as a Rum Punch, a Pineapple Passion Rum Cocktail, and of course the most popular cocktail in Hawaiʻi, the Mai Tai.
“The best Mai Tais feature real ingredients, and perfectly balance the flavors of fresh juices and quality rum,” says Gunter. “Our Hawaiian Mai Tai Cocktail is precisely blended to reach the exact combination of sweet and tart to mix perfectly with our Kauaʻi Gold Rum.”
The future of the company is looking sweet. As part of their upcoming distillery expansion, Kōloa Rum will be planting and cultivating 18 acres of more than 40 varieties of sugarcane, including a “heritage cane” that pre-dates Western contact.
“Cultivating and using our sugarcane is a big part of our history on Kauaʻi, and that’s very important to us,” says Gunter. “We look forward to growing and processing cane on site to make our rum, and we are actively partnering with local farmers to increase sources of cane sugar on the island with the goal of one day being able to use only Kauaʻi-grown cane in our products.”
Kōloa Rum is also building a new 45,000 square-foot distillery in their new headquarters of Kōloa Town that will more than double the size of their current operation. This includes a tasting room, a company store, and a cafe. They also plan to refurbish the old plantation camp structures on the property into a museum that will recount the rich history of sugarcane in Hawaiʻi.
And although the company is growing, it remains firmly loyal to the community of Kauaʻi, the sustainability of the land, and Kōloa Rum employees, which are referred to as ʻohana, or family. By sourcing local ingredients, increasing cultivated acreage on the island, and preserving open space, Kōloa Rum gives back to the ʻāina, or land, which provides them with all the components of a premium rum.
And while Kōloa Rum may be ideally enjoyed on Hawaiian sand, it also carries the spirit of the islands within the bottle across the ocean. Now a national brand, Kōloa Rum distributed in 27 states, plus Washington D.C., as well as in Japan, New Zealand, and western Canada, with further expansion on the horizon. It is also available nationally online through third-party partners. The “Spirit of Aloha” can be poured straight from the bottle, if the bottle is Kōloa Rum. Simply add ice to be transported to paradise.