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Lauded rum maker resurrecting Kauai sugar cane

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 04:16 a.m. HST, Oct 28, 2012


For centuries, rum has been associated with tales of adventure, romance and intrigue. The rum-loving pirate Blackbeard terrorized ships around the West Indies and eastern coast of the American colonies between 1716 and 1718. Fearsome and fearless, he sprinkled gunpowder into a flask of rum, ignited the drink and guzzled it while it popped and burned.

Before Paul Revere galloped on his famous midnight ride during the American Revolution, he stopped at the home of Isaac Hall, owner of a rum distillery. There, Revere fortified himself with several cups of Hall's rum, which was reportedly so strong it "would have made a rabbit bite a bulldog."

KOLOA RUM

» Address: Kilohana Plantation, 3-2087 Kaumualii Highway, Lihue, Kauai

» Hours: See the website.

» Phone: 246-8900

» Email: info@koloarum.com

» Website: www.koloarum.com

Notes: Complimentary tastings of Koloa Rum, rum cake and rum fudge sauce are offered daily (see the website for times). Those who sample the rum must be at least 21 years old.

 

RUM & DINING EXPERIENCE

The 60-minute Rum & Dining Experience is offered Monday and Wednesday (check in at 5 p.m.). It includes a look at the sugar cane plot beside Koloa Rum, a brief history of Hawaii's sugar plantation era, an explanation of the rum-making process and tastings of Koloa Rum.

At Gaylord's bar, participants learn how to make Gaylord's Signature Mai Tai, using vanilla and sugar cane grown on property. After sampling the drink, they can enjoy dinner at Gaylord's, starting with a complimentary mai tai or Koloa Rum cocktail.

Cost of the Rum & Dining Experience is $15 per person (minimum age requirement is 21), including a logo shot glass, coaster and recipe for Gaylord's Signature Mai Tai. 245-9593.

 

Prohibition banned the sale, manufacture and transport of alcohol in the United States from 1920 to 1933, but that didn't stop mob kingpins such as Al Capone from smuggling Cuban rum into the country. Rumrunners loaded the illegal cargo onto fast boats in Havana, sailed across the Gulf of Mexico and landed on Mississippi beaches. Waiting there were men who drove the rum to Chicago by way of Memphis and St. Louis.

Hawaii's rum story begins in 1835, when Koloa Plantation, its first commercial sugar cane plantation, opened on Kauai, marking the birth of an industry that was a mainstay of the islands' economy for 130 years. As the years passed, however, the increasing cost of growing and processing cane made it difficult for local plantations to compete with those abroad. Today, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. (HC&S) on Maui is the state's last remaining sugar plantation.

Rum is made from a derivative of sugar cane — i.e., molasses, cane juice, cane syrup or crystallized sugar. Several Kauai investors incorporated Koloa Rum Co. in 2006, when HC&S and Gay & Robinson (G&R) on Kauai were the only two sugar plantations still operating in Hawaii.

"Initially our plan was to use raw sugar from Gay & Robinson, but shortly after we began operations in 2008, they announced they would be harvesting their last crop at the end of 2010," said Bob Gunter, president of Koloa Rum. "Fortunately, with two years' advance notice, we were able to negotiate an agreement that would provide us with enough sugar from their last harvest to keep production going for about four years."

SINCE that supply is being depleted, Koloa Rum is supplementing it with HC&S sugar. The company is also exploring the feasibility of producing rum on a commercial scale with fresh-pressed juice from cane grown on Kauai.

"During the past year we've conducted numerous small-scale experiments that have yielded promising results," Gunter said. "We're working with several landowners who support our efforts to resurrect sugar cane cultivation on Kauai."

In August, Koloa Rum planted its first crop of cane less than a mile from the old Koloa Mill, on land that was part of Koloa Plantation. When that cane is harvested in eight to 10 months, 75 percent will be saved as seed for future plantings. The rest will be used for rum production.

"We'll crush the cane in the field and transport the juice to our distillery in Kala­heo for fermentation and distillation," Gunter said. "The crushed cane will be tilled back into the soil for nutrient replacement, or it may be composted for use elsewhere. The harvested fields will regenerate and produce successive crops of cane without having to replant. This cultivation and production concept will be sustainable, efficient and leave a very small carbon footprint."

Visitors can taste Koloa Rum's four award-winning products in its free-standing store at the 105-acre Kilo­hana Plantation, which, built in 1936 by sugar baron Gaylord Wilcox, is one of Kauai's major attractions (see sidebar).

In March, Koloa Rum received its latest accolades — silver medals for its Gold and Spice rums and bronze medals for its White and Dark rums — at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. "Our rums were up against entries from longtime, highly regarded producers from Barbados, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands," Gunter said. "The awards we've won in multiple international competitions validate the quality of our products and serve as a wake-up call to the rum industry that Hawaii now has a seat at their table."

ALSO AT KILOHANA PLANTATION

Unless otherwise noted, call 245-5608 or visit www.kilohanakauai.com for more information.

Shops
Browse in 10 boutiques selling fine art, jewelry, clothing and more in Kilohana's mansion and on the grounds. Hours for most of them are Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Gaylord's
The restaurant is open for Sunday brunch and daily for lunch and dinner. Menu highlights include blackened and kiawe-smoked prime rib on Friday and Saturday nights. Live music is an additional draw for brunch and on Friday nights. 245-9593.

Luau Kalamaku
The luau is held on Tuesday and Friday nights. Prices are $99 for adults, $69 for youths 12 to 18 and $49 for children 3 to 11. Kamaaina receive a 25 percent discount. 877-622-1780. The Plantation Owner's Evening includes a champagne greeting, four-course dinner at Gaylord's and VIP seating at the luau's show. Cost is $140.62, including tax and gratuity.

Train Ride
Pulled by a 1948 diesel electric engine named Nui (big), the train takes passengers on a 40-minute ride around Kilohana, including a stop to meet the resident animals. It leaves on the hour between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily; an additional ride is at 5:30 p.m. on luau nights. Fares are $18 for adults and $14 for children 3 to 12. 245-7245, www.kauaiplantationrailway.com.

Train-Hike-Lunch
This four-hour activity includes the train ride, a walk into adjacent Kahunanui Valley, a picnic lunch and a stroll through Kilohana's garden, where more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables are growing (pick and sample whatever is ripe). Cost is $75 for adults and $65 for children 3 to 12.

Mahiko Lounge
The new Mahiko (sugar cane plantation) Lounge will be unveiled sometime in November. It will be open daily except Sunday beginning at 4 p.m.; enjoy drink and pupu specials during happy hour from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Gaylord's full menu will be available during dinner hours.

 

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.






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