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The Koloa Rum Company

Koloa Rum Company’s Pioneering Spirits

Koloa Rum, the distilled essence of Kauai. Daniel Lane photo

Koloa Rum, the distilled essence of Kauai. Daniel Lane photo

Initially, the roots of Kauai’s sugarcane industry were planted when the Koloa Sugar Company began production in 1835. By 1907, Kauai had nine sugar plantations, and over 70,000 acres dedicated to sugar. In the midst of this thriving economy, plantation workers learned how to turn molasses into rum.

These pioneering spirits inspired a line of four premium Hawaiian rums designed by the Koloa Rum Company: Kauai White, Kauai Gold, Kauai Dark, and Kauai Spice. Aiming to keep Kauai’s sugarcane roots alive, the company’s goal is to contribute to Kauai’s economy in a sustainable way.

(From left) President, Bob Gunter; Director of public relations Jeanne Toulon; tasters Elizabeth Oceguera and Eric Fischer; assistant manager Danny Good, and rum slinger Jason Lagmay. Daniel Lane photo

“We are working very aggressively to continue to grow cane to make our rum,” says Bob Gunter, president of the Koloa Rum Company. “Sugarcane (on Kauai) is important, because it’s part of the fabric of the island.”

Currently, the Koloa Rum Company uses raw crystal sugar from the final harvest of Kauai’s Gay and Robinson Plantation. The sugar is blended with the pure waters of Mt. Waialeale, one of the wettest spot on Earth. These uniquely local ingredients are twice distilled in single batches by Kauai’s first commercial distillery.

A 50-gallon copper still for demonstration at the Tasting Room. Daniel Lane photo

A 50-gallon copper still for demonstration at the Tasting Room. Daniel Lane photo

Gunter and his team ferment the sugar crystals for up to seven days before adding the mixture to a 1210-gallon vintage copper pot still. The distillation process uses seven plates to capture the essence of fermented sugarcane, or rum. “The beauty of having the column with the plates,” says Gunter of the “reflux” process, “is that we have a higher proof, better quality alcohol.”

In a non-stop operation, major rum companies constantly push fermented liquid into a still. Extracting all the liquid, they bottle what’s called head, tail, and heart.

“We don’t take the first little bit of alcohol that comes through,” says Gunter, explaining a step in their proprietary process. “That’s known in the business as ‘heads’. We separate the heads and the tails and we capture the heart, that’s the best part.”

Eliminating the harsh tasting “head”, and the dregs of the “tail” could be why the Koloa Rum Company has been winning awards since they have been up and rumming.

The four rums; spiced, dark, gold and white. Daniel Lane photo

The four rums; spiced, dark, gold and white. Daniel Lane photo

In September of 2009, they began distilling their White, Gold and Dark rums. Less than a year later, they won four awards at international rum competitions.

May of 2010 brought them to the Rum Renaissance Festival held in Miami, Florida—the largest rum event in the western hemisphere. Competing against 80 rums, they took two awards for their Kauai Dark Rum including a Gold Metal Best in Class, and a Gold Metal. They also won a bronze for their Kauai Spice Rum, which launched just two months before the competition.

Gaylord's Mai Tai with Koloa Rum. Daniel Lane photo

Gaylord’s Mai Tai with Koloa Rum. Daniel Lane photo

In April 2012, at the San Francisco  World Spirits Competition. The competition included 1,215 premium spirits from 61 countries, including the U.S., Kauai Spice and Gold rums garnered Silver Medals, and Bronze Medals were awarded to their Kauai Dark and White rums.

Eventually, the Gay and Robinson sugar supply will run out. Gunter is working with local farmers to ensure sustainable sugarcane production, and will experiment with making rum from cane juice, extracted right in the field.

“Starting next week we are going to begin some very serious trials,” says Gunter noting that using cane juice will leave a minimal carbon footprint. “We are very excited about the prospects of using cane grown on Kauai to continue to make our rum.”

The Koloa Rum Company is located at the historic Kilohana Plantation in Lihue. Daniel Lane photo

The Koloa Rum Company is located at the historic Kilohana Plantation in Lihue. Daniel Lane photo

If you’d like to try some before you buy some, stop by for free daily tastings at the Kilohana Plantation in Lihue. It’s a spirited way to spend time together, and their Kukui Brand Mai Tai mix (now with Koloa Rum), Guava Jelly, T Shirts and rum make great souvenirs. But, if you need to stock up your personal stash, Costco carries their rum for significantly less. Koloa Rum even has recipes crafted by Kauai’s bartenders, so you can make a refreshing cocktail.

“We’re really happy that we can play a role in bringing sugarcane back,” says Gunter. “One of the reasons we wanted to start this business was to keep cane growing, employ local people, add to our economic diversity, and to create products that local people can be proud of.”

Spreading the seeds of Aloha,
Marta Lane
Real Time Farms, Summer 2012 Food Warrior


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