Top Picks For You
Hawaii Travel Guide

Here’s a Surprising (and Delicious!) Way You Can Help Hawaii Right Now

Here's a tasty way to support the Hawaiian community during a time of crisis.

In the wake of wildfires that devastated Maui, including the historic town of Lahaina, earlier this month, many are looking for ways to support Hawaii right now. One option: buying rum made there.

The pros know: there’s never been a better time to sample Hawaii’s rum.

While the Hawaiian Islands have a long history of growing sugar cane, which thrives in the tropical climate, compared to other rum-producing regions, such as the Caribbean, Hawaii’s rum industry is still relatively young.

Related: Read This If You’re Trying to Decide If You Should Visit Maui Soon

The Polynesians first brought sugar cane to the Hawaiian Islands, where it grew well in the tropical climate for centuries, long before commercial sugar production started in the 1820s. Most of that sugar was exported, rather than used for rum production.

“Where there is sugar, there will (eventually) be rum,” says rum expert and author Matt Pietrek. Although some rum was made illicitly, it wasn’t until 1874 that distilling rum became legal in Hawaii–and not even 50 years later, in 1920, Prohibition brought rum production to an abrupt halt. Rum production started up again in the early 1960s, but it wasn’t well-respected.

That has changed significantly. “The craft distilling movement of the last few decades has spawned a new generation of Hawaiian rum distilleries,” Pietrek explains.

Continue Reading Article After Our Video

Recommended Fodor’s Video

Today, the range and variety of Hawaii-made rum has expanded. Increasingly, heirloom varieties native to the islands are being planted and distilled, resulting in rum with unique flavor, including agricole-style rums that offer a vibrant flavor that spans from fruity or grassy to funky. Others hone in on flavored rums, often featuring local ingredients like Kona coffee or coconut.

We asked cocktail pros from Hawaii and elsewhere to recommend high-quality rums made in Hawaii. Four key distilleries quickly emerged; bottles from each can be purchased online, and many are flowing a portion of profits through to relief organizations to help Maui.

Haliimaile Distilling Company

Located in Makawao, near the slopes of Maui’s Haleakalā volcano, Haliimaile Distilling Company makes Mahina Rum as well as Pau Vodka and other spirits. The flagship bottling is a pot-stilled rum flavored with a Kona coffee distillate, along with Madagascar vanilla, cocoa essence, clove, cinnamon, and citrus oils.

In addition, the distillery “is providing water from their distillery for the relief efforts as well as other local charities to help re-build,” notes Kim Haasarud, owner of Garden Bar PHX in Phoenix, AZ, who recommends Mahina.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Kō Hana Rum (@kohanarum)

KōHana Distillery

Based in Oahu, the KōHana Distillery makes agricole-style rums from native sugar cane (note: kō is the Hawaiian word for sugar cane).

“Each of the rums produced has distinct flavors that are dependent on the varietals of sugarcane as well as the diverse barrels used for aging like koa, a local hardwood, ex-bourbon, and pinot noir, creating luxurious spirits that are made for mixing as well as sipping,” says Jen Ackrill, beverage director at Honolulu’s Hau Tree at Kaimana Beach Hotel. “We use the KoHana Kea [a white agricole rum] for our Tricky Nickʻs Dastardly Daiquiri.”

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, proprietor of Latitude 29, a tropical bar in New Orleans, gives Ko Hana’s KOHO bottling a nod. Barrel-aging transforms the white rum “into a rich, layered, sophisticated sipping rum that can hold its own with the best of the Caribbean,” he says.

Jessica Everett, Operating Partner, Esters Fair Prospect in Maui, also recommends Ko Hana. “While they aren’t on Maui, they are doing a bunch of things to help raise money for the Maui community,” she explains. “They are also an insanely well-made and delicious rum that focuses on highlighting and rehabilitating native Hawaiian sugar cane varietals.”

Koloa Rum Company

Kauai-based Koloa Rum Company has been making rum since 2009; its range includes a number of flavored rums recommended by the pros.

“Koloa Rum Company produces light and aged rums as well as delicious coffee and cacao rums, using locally sourced ingredients,” Ackrill says, noting that she uses both of the latter in Hau Tree’s riff on the classic Espresso Martini.

“I love the Koloa Kaua’i Coffee Rum,” adds Phil Collins, Beverage Director for TableOne Hospitality, which operates bars including Bar Sprezzatura (San Francisco) and Mother Tongue (LA). “[The] delicious, dark and robust coffee notes play really well with the peppery notes in the rum itself….a literal dream for coffee lovers.” He uses it to add coffee flavor to drinks like Old Fashioned and Manhattan variations.

Koloa is hosting a benefit to support those impacted by the wildfires. On August 26, 100% of sales from their online store will be donated to Maui Strong.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by KULEANA RUM WORKS (@kuleanarumworks)

Kuleana Rum Works

Located on the Big Island, Kuleana Rum Works also has fans for its agricole-style rums, also made from native Hawaiian cane. Berry favors the white agricole:

“Although not technically an “agricole” as specified by the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée,” he explains, “this grassy, herbalicious white rum is distilled from Hawaiian heirloom sugar cane grown on the slopes of the Big Island rising up from the sea, and it’s as tasty as the location is breathtaking.”

In addition, some of the agricole is blended with other rums from around the world–and is refreshingly transparent about that aspect, while also specifying those imported rums are additive-free. Art Deakins, of The Lei Stand in Aia, favors the Nanea expression, a blend aged in ex-bourbon barrels, “because it tastes like a wheated rum,” and Hokulei, a blend of seven rums, bottled at a stiff 92 proof, as “the perfect sipping rum.”

Kuleana’s blended rums “shine in refreshing tropical-style and classic cocktails,” Akrill adds. “The HuiHui blend [a white rum blend] is the base for our 1944 Mai Tai.”