PHOTO: The Tasting Room at Koloa Rum Company's Kilohana Plantation Company Store, just outside Lihu'e. (Photo by Scott Laird)
Malama ka ‘aina is a phrase frequently used in Hawai‘i. Translated, it means to care for and nurture the land. In these islands, land is precious and limited, and when the only alternative to the lush, verdant Islands of Aloha is thousands of miles of ocean before any inhabitable land mass, caring for the small, previous sliver of paradise you’ve been gifted with is of the utmost importance.
But even in paradise, you have to make a living. I’ve written much over the years about how Koloa Rum has rebooted sugar cultivation on Kaua‘i in support of their premium rum products, and how they’re doing so in a way that is sustainable, and, well, malama ka ‘aina. In 2012, I was just getting acquainted with the quality rums that make up their core product line. The following year, they rolled out a Coconut Rum that reinvented Coconut Rum.
The year after that it was a stupendous Pineapple Passion bottled cocktail, and this year it was a new coffee-flavored rum made with coffee also grown on Kaua‘i. It almost requires return visits to Kaua‘i every year (which I do anyway) to discover what new delights the company has cooked up over the past twelve months.
Seriously, you’ve never tried rums like these before. Each has its own special quality, and a top note that strikes a bold theme that mellows and melts into subtle, comfortable complexities. The Kaua‘i Coconut Rum is a rum-lovers coconut rum—not a saccharine-sweet liqueur like most of the coconut rums on the market. The Kaua‘i Coffee Rum yields an extracted coffee flavor more pure than anything that can be got by straining hot water through grounds. The Kaua‘i Dark Rum hits with the aroma of vanilla blossom in an antique wooden box weathered by generations of rainfall—almost the exact aroma of Koloa Town itself.
One translation of the name Koloa, in fact (Hawaiian was an entirely oral language until the 19th Century and many words carry multiple meanings, making the language’s place name etymology a confounding set of contrasting theories) is that it refers to the sugarcane grown in the area since before Western contact. Ko for “sugar cane” and loa for “length, height, distance, or tall”—literally, “Tall Cane”. Sugarcane, while not endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, was carried onboard the canoes carrying Kaua‘i’s first human inhabitants, who are believed to have first migrated from Tahiti or The Marquesas sometime at the end of the first millennium CE.
Visitors to the Garden Isle can enjoy Koloa Rum at the Company Store and Tasting Room at Kilohana Plantation. Local liquor regulations limited the company from giving out more than a shot glass-full of samples each day, but there’s no rule preventing visitors from visiting for a free sample every day. Because there are now more rum types that can be fit in a single shot glass, the flavors on offer vary each day. The tasting also includes some of their fabulous rum cake (which are sold in the shop and make great omiyage – a Japanese tradition of returning from traveling with gifts, also popular among Hawai‘i residents).
For those who want a proper Koloa Rum cocktail, stop into the bar at Gaylord’s, next door, where an expert mixologist will mix you a rum cocktail and “talk story” with you about Kaua‘i. For those who run out of their purchases and are unable to return to Kaua‘i for more rum, Koloa Rum is available at retailers in several states, and via mail order in most states without brick-and-mortar retail sales.
In addition to great tasting rum, knowing that you’re partaking in a product grown with care in the island’s rich volcanic soil, nurtured with the precious fresh water from the island’s rivers and streams, and distilled into a spirit that stays with you long after you’ve finished your drink and left Kaua‘i is the kind of connection that savvy vacationers have come to love about travel. The knowledge that Koloa Rum is also doing its part to malama ka ‘aina through sustainable agricultural practices makes it all the more enriching.
The Details: Check the website for the Company Store to find out more about store and tasting room hours. Kilohana Plantation is just west of Lihu‘e and is convenient to most of the island’s major resort areas.
The Drink Suggestion: There are several great mai tais and other rum drinks to be had at various resorts around the island made with Koloa Rum, but my personal favorite is Kaua‘i Coconut Rum with soda and a splash of pineapple juice.
Note: Some Hawaiian Language diacritical marks, such as the kahako (macron) have been omitted from this story to ensure web browser compatibility.