Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tasting Kauai’s Sugarcane Heritage at Kōloa Rum Company

Award Winning Koloa Rum Company Rum Kauai Hawaii
Kōloa Rum Company's award winning lineup.
The sugar era of Kauai ended when Gay & Robinson, established 1889, announced the shutdown of their sugar operations in 2008.  Sugar has been an important part of Kauai’s history since 1835 when the first sugar plantation opened in Koloa.  Kōloa Rum Company is continuing Kauai’s sugar heritage, but in a slightly different way.  Kōloa Rum Company was established in 2008 and purchased the last 90 tons of granulated sugar from Gay & Robinson to start their line of Kauai rum.  Today Kauai’s first distillery provides rum tastings in their tasting room located on another property with sugar plantation ties, the Kilohana Plantation.

Koloa Rum Company Tasting Room & Company Store Kauai Hawaii
Who's ready for some rum tasting?
Kōloa Rum Company’s rum tastings are unique in that guests use their tastes to create a miniature mai tai.  The instructional drinking session starts with a shot glass filled with Kōloa Rum Company’s mai tai mix and another with a taste of Kauai White Rum.  Kauai White has a very clean taste and is very smooth.  It is perfect for mojitos, mai tais, and jungle juice.  After taking a sip of the white rum and a sip of the mai tai mix, we dumped the rest of the white rum into the mix. 

We next tried the three time gold medal winner Kauai Dark Rum.  The dark rum is not aged and gets its color from caramelized sugar and proprietary flavors.  Kauai Dark has a clean vanilla taste with a hint of chocolate and a dry finish.  Kauai Dark can be used in a dark and stormy made with ginger beer and is also good with eggnog.  After taking a taste we tested our bartending skills by slowly pouring the rest of the Kauai Dark in an attempt to float it for a mai tai sunset.  We then downed our cocktail shot to get a taste of a Hawaiian mai tai.

Koloa Rum Company Kauai Dark Rum Kauai Hawaii
Tasting Kauai Dark before testing our bartending skills.
Kōloa Rum Company also makes spiced rum.  Since they use cane sugar instead of molasses, the rum is sweeter than other rums.  Kauai Spiced is also stronger than Kōloa Rum Company’s other rums at 88 proof.  Kauai Spice does not mix with many things, but does mix well with chai tea and vanilla coke.  Rome likened the taste to that of a good cigar.

Kauai Coconut has only been around seven months and is the baby of the company.  Kauai Coconut is all-natural coconut rum.  The slight green hue comes from natural coconut flavors.  The coconut flavor is crisp with a warm burn at the end and a fantastic coconut aroma.  On its first run it won a silver medal.  Kauai Coconut can be used in a mai tai instead of Kauai White for an extra touch of Hawaiian island flavor.

As Kōloa Rum Company can only legally serve one ounce to visitors, Kauai Gold is not included in the tasting rotation.  However, during my food tour with Tasting Kauai, I had a chance to taste Kauai Gold as part of my mai tai at Gaylord’s Mahiko Lounge, also on the Kilohana Plantation property.  Kauai Gold Rum is a sweeter version of Kauai White with a buttery finish.  Kauai Gold gets its color from the mixed in caramelized sugar. 

Koloa Rum Company Casks Kauai Hawaii
Bottle aging casks.
Since Kōloa Rum Company is so young, they do not yet have any aged rums.  They have created small casks visitors can purchase to individually age their bottles of rum.  Kauai Dark and Kauai Spice are best for aging, and one month in the small cask is equal to two years of regular barrel aging.  Kōloa Rum Company plans on releasing aged rum in five years or so.

There is no tourism at Kōloa Rum Company’s distillery, which is located on the grounds of the Kukui Brand facilities in Kalaheo.  However, Kōloa Rum Company will be building new production and retail facilities in Koloa in the next several years.  The new headquarters will be situated on 18 acres.  Ten acres will have sugar cane, interactive gardens and a small museum.  The other eight acres will house the warehouse and buildings where visitors will be able to take tours of the distillery and jam factory and visit a tasting room and café.  Koloa was the location of Kauai’s first sugarcane mill and was the first town to have electricity and a street light, which is still blinking yellow. 

The sugar Kōloa Rum Company purchased from Gay & Robinson will last about two more years.  While Kōloa Rum Company plans to grow and harvest sugarcane and currently has 10 acres growing, they will not have use of a sugar mill.  They will purchase raw crystal sugar from Maui to continue their current line of rum.  They will also be creating a new line of rum which will be sweeter and made with fresh pressed cane juice from their sugarcane crops instead of sugar.  They will also be releasing Kauai Coffee liquor and two additional flavored mixes in the near future.

Koloa Rum Company Bottles Kauai Hawaii
Kōloa Rum even comes in carry on size.
I highly suggest including a stop at Kōloa Rum Company’s tasting room during a visit to the Kilohana Plantation for a taste of the newest version of Kauai’s sugar heritage.  The tasting room is open every day starting at 10:00 a.m., and tastings occur every half hour.  Kōloa Rum Company’s rum can be purchased in the adjoining company store.  Since I can never leave a tasting without making a purchase, we brought home bottles of Kauai Gold and Kauai Dark so we can make our own mai tais, and a bottle of Kauai Coconut for a friend.  While Kōloa Rum is available elsewhere in the United States and other countries, bottles of rum cannot be shipped outside of Hawaii from the company store, so be sure to save some room in your luggage.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.