Kauai's tasty, mai tai-ready Koloa Hawaiian Rum now award-winning, too

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In the January/February 2010 issue of HAWAII Magazine, we brought you a feature article on Koloa Rum Co., whose quartet of premium rums are the first and only distilled liquor ever produced for retail on Kauai.

Having sampled a fair share of the Lihue-based distillery’s gold, white and dark rums—you know, for research purposes and all—before putting the feature together, we’d become instant fans. In particular, we came away impressed with Koloa Rum Co.’s Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum, with its deep coffee coloring, inviting vanilla and caramel nose and luxuriously smooth taste. 

“Every mai tai should have this,” we thought. And apparently, we weren’t alone.

Recently, Koloa Rum Co. took home the gold medal in the dark rum category at the 2010 RumXP International Tasting Competition—a prestigious honor for rum in its first year of production. The competition, held at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, was judged by a panel comprised of rum experts from around the world, sequestered for two days in a room for a blind tasting of 100 rums. (Tough job. The line to apply forms right in back of us, by the way.)

There were eight rum categories. Koloa Rum Co.'s Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum won gold in the dark rum category.

Headed for a Kauai vacation soon? You can enjoy free samples of every one of Koloa Rum Co.’s rum varieties (including its new spiced rum) at its tasting room and company store. Just pull in at Kilohana Plantation, just outside of Lihue at 3-2087 Kaumualii Highway. If you’re a rum aficionado, we can’t imagine you walking away without a bottle to take home.

Before you go, however, check out the feature article below on Koloa Rum Co. by HAWAII Magazine editor John Heckathorn, from our January/February 2010 print edition. Though co-owner Greg Schredder, who was interviewed for the article, has since parted ways with the company to pursue other business interests, the story of how Koloa Rum Co. brought its rums to market is still a fascinating one:

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Kauai Rum Co.'s Greg Schredder in front of his rum tasting room and company store. Photo by Kicka Witte.
“Sugar Daddy”
 
How Kauai’s first distillery also saved a longtime Kauai family business.

By John Heckathorn
(from the January/February 2010 issue of HAWAII Magazine)

Greg Schredder has 35 tons of Kauai sugar stored away. He doesn’t have a sweet tooth. He makes rum.

Schredder had a career in manufacturing, from toys to TVs to scuba equipment. He retired to Kauai, to surf and raise his family. In hopes of providing jobs for young people on the island, he set out to create some kind of value-added product using Kauai sugar—and, in the process, saved a long-time Kauai family business.

What he couldn’t save was sugar. Kauai’s only remaining plantation, Gay & Robinson, harvested its last crop in October 2009.

That explains why Schredder warehoused a three-year supply. “After that, we’ll probably have independent growers to supply us, using the best fields,” he says. “We could use Maui sugar, but we are all about Kauai. We want a Kauai product.”

His Kauai product is the first distilled liquor ever on the island, Koloa Rum. After consulting experts as far away as Michigan State University, he’d finally realized that Hawaii was the only sugar-growing area in the world that didn’t also have a rum industry.

“I thought that we’d have a bottle in our hands in two years,” he says. “It took nine.”

Why so long? To distill spirits, you need permits. Plus, Schredder and his partners encountered the usual difficulties in starting a Hawaii business: “Land costs more than it does anywhere else, and you have to ship everything in.”

Difficulty turned into opportunity, both for Schredder and the small Kauai town of Kalaheo. In Kalaheo, a family called the Tateishis had, since 1931, made jams, jellies and syrups the old-fashioned way, from handpicked, often wild fruit— guava, lilikoi (passion fruit), coconut and pineapple.

In 1990, when its patriarch, Hiroshi Tateishi, was ill, the family sold the business. Hiroshi’s daughter, Fay, had stayed on for years, the third generation of Tateishis making Hawaiian Kukui Brand fruit specialties.

Kukui’s annual revenues had once topped $1 million, but, by the time Schredder looked at the business, they had fallen to $40,000 a year. Even worse, in 1992, Hurricane Iniki blew off part of the roof of the production facility. It was never been replaced; the company just moved to the back of the building. “When we saw the facility, it was pretty deteriorated,” said Schredder. “It was going to cost a lot of money to get it back in shape.”

On the other hand, it was still a functioning food-processing plant with some of the equipment necessary to produce small-batch rum. And it was available.

Schredder and his partners didn’t just buy the building. They bought the company and brought Kukui back.

“The family is very grateful to Greg because he’s taken on this rum business and also decided to continue our legacy with Kukui products,” says Fay Tateishi. “The family is really happy.”
It’s not just the family that has strong memories of Kukui. “Everywhere I go,” says Schredder, “I meet people who worked there or picked fruit for Kukui. It’s a great feeling to put it back on the shelves.”

Schredder has modernized production, but with the original 1931 recipes. He’s also adding new products, the first a Mai Tai mix. Of course, a Mai Tai mix seems to suit his major product perfectly. He named his rum Koloa, after Kauai’s first sugar mill.

Schredder and his partners brought in first-rate consultants in every step of the rum production. “I’m too old to want to learn from too many mistakes,” he says. “We wanted to get it right from the get-go.”

They also found the right equipment, including a 1947 Kentucky Still once used to make Jack Daniels Whiskey.
 

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Koloa Rum Co.'s tasting room, where you can sample rum straight or with Hawaiian Kukui Brnd Mai Tai Mix. Photo by Kicka Witte.
 

The rum, with its elegant, Old-Hawaii-style label, began commercial production just last October. There are three small-batch rums—white, gold and dark. All are remarkable for their smoothness and flavor profile.

Want to taste them? The company has built a tasting room at Kilohana Plantation. Kilohana, near Lihue, is already home to a restored sugar mansion, a restaurant, a number of galleries and boutiques, a plantation railroad ride and luau grounds. Koloa Rum’s facility is brand new, built in Hawaii plantation style so that it blends into its surroundings.

In the wood-accented tasting room, you can sample the rum, either straight or with Kukui Mai Tai mix. In the adjacent company store you’ll find art, Koloa Rum accessories, Kukui-brand products and, of course, rum.

Koloa has gained rapid acceptance on Kauai. Early adopters included the Beach House Restaurant, Duke’s Canoe Club, the Kauai Marriott Resort, the Koa Kea and the Kauai Hilton.

In coming months, you will find the rum behind the bar in more Kauai outlets. “People seem excited to have a genuine, premium local product,” says Schredder.

He seems excited, as well. “It’s all turned out to be a bigger deal than I expected,” he says. “We’ve created 35 jobs so far, we saved Kukui, and we’ve got the tasting room open. Oh, yeah, and the rum. Pretty good rum, don’t you think?”

Koloa Rum Co. Premium Hawaiian Rums are now also available for purchase at select liquor retailers throughout Hawaii. In California, you’ll find it at Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. For more information, visit the Koloa Rum Co. website.

Want to mix some mai tais right now? Click here for recipes for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel Mai Tai and Moose Mai Tai

Koloa Rum bottle photo (pg. 1): David Croxford

 

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