Distillers giving new meaning to 'aloha spirit'

KoHana Distillers on Oahu has introduced a rum aged in native Hawaiian koa-wood barrels.
KoHana Distillers on Oahu has introduced a rum aged in native Hawaiian koa-wood barrels.

Hawaii visitors that like their liquor of the "hard" variety and cocktail connoisseurs who can't resist a well-balanced, tongue-tingling libation will find a fresh slate of new options coming to the Islands in the new year.

Along with the craft beer scene, small-batch distillers are proliferating in Hawaii. While rum has always been popular, given the abundance of sugarcane, more varieties of vodka and other spirits are being produced in the Islands, as well. Early in 2019, the Koolau Distillery introduced a new Hawaiian-made whiskey, Old Pali Road, which blends whiskey made from Hawaiian corn with Kentucky whiskey, with plans to gradually produce 100% Hawaii-sourced bottles in a few years. Maui's Haliimaile Distilling Co. has also expanded in recent years, offering a vodka made from pineapples, as well as blended whiskey, gin and rum.

The 2020 additions include expansions of popular existing liquor distilleries in the Aloha State and respected veterans of Hawaii's growing craft cocktail scene branching out to tackle new projects with spirits at the forefront.

On Kauai, the Koloa Rum Co. has started construction of a new headquarters located in Koloa town. The expansion more than doubles the size of the current facilities and will include a tasting room, company store and cafe. Hawaii commercial sugar production first launched in Koloa town 1835, and the project also includes the planting and cultivation of up to 12 acres of sugarcane fields. Old plantation camp structures are being refurbished into workforce housing and a museum that will share the history of sugarcane production in the area. The project is scheduled to be completed in September.

Some of the hottest names in Honolulu's trendy Chinatown dining and nightlife scene are teaming up on a new cocktail lounge in the city's Kakaako neighborhood. Tom and Justin Park, brothers and co-owners of Bar Leather Apron, a James Beard Award finalist, are joining forces with Chris Kajioka, chef and co-owner of Senia, on Bar Maze. Justin Park, who won the 2018 Don the Beachcomber's Mai Tai competition, is taking the lead on the cocktail program, which will include traditional, new and bottled concoctions. Kajioka is crafting a food menu highlighting ingredients sourced largely from Hawaii farmers, ranchers and purveyors.

The other co-owners of the lauded Senia, chef Anthony Rush and general manager Katherine Nomura, are opening Bar Podmore in downtown Honolulu in 2020. The new establishment will serve brunch during the day and evolve into a cocktail lounge at night and will be located in the historical Joseph W. Podmore Building in downtown Honolulu. The Podmore Building was constructed in 1902 using lava rock and is included on the National Register of Historic Places.

KoHana Distillers on Oahu has introduced a rum aged in native Hawaiian koa-wood barrels.
KoHana Distillers on Oahu has introduced a rum aged in native Hawaiian koa-wood barrels.

Oahu-based KoHana Distillers is launching KoHana Koa, the first spirit aged in barrels made with native Hawaiian koa wood. The inaugural batch of KoHana Koa became available at the KoHana Tasting Room in the central Oahu town of Kunia in December. The rum is made with heirloom Hawaiian sugarcane, first aged in oak barrels and then finished in KoHana's custom-designed koa barrels. The whole process lasts more than two years and results in a red-tinted spirit. Koa trees are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, predating Polynesian settlers, and were traditionally used for canoes, surfboards, ukuleles and other items. As part of the inauguration of the new Koa-aged rum, KoHana is planting 50 koa trees to support reforestation programs.


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