Bean sip: Kona Gold Coffee Liqueur




Photo: Courtesy Kona Gold

Back in the 1970s, the Coca Cola Co. made a coffee liqueur. It was a novelty product, really, aimed at the tourist market, distilled from a generic mix of beans. David Fazendin, owner of Honolulu-based Aloha Distillers, saw the liqueur’s potential, however, and bought the formula. Around the same time, German chemist Rod Dvornik, who had worked with major distilleries in Europe, arrived in Honolulu for a vacation. Through a bit of kismet, the two men met. Fazendin hired Dvornik to develop a grade-A liqueur using Kona coffee beans.

A year later, Dvornik came up with the recipe for Kona Gold, a 100-percent coffee liqueur, with no added flavors (Kahlua’s recipe includes vanilla, sugar, corn syrup and vodka). “It’s the extraction process that brought it up to the level that makes it one of the best in the world,” says Ann Fazendin, David’s daughter.

Launched in the 1980s, Kona Gold has gotten high marks from critics and connoisseurs, but never the widespread recognition of its big-name competitors. It’s like that indie film that all your cool friends love, but it never got an Academy award. As her father reaches his twilight years, Ann wants to change that, and go for the glory that David always thought his product deserves, working the beverage trade shows and schmoozing distributors.

But it’s the taste that has garnered Kona Gold its loyal fan base. Drink it over a few cubes—it’s like an iced coffee, with true bean flavor, not a milk shake. Patisserie La Palme d’Or uses it in one of their dainty pastries to great effect and it’s a popular ingredient in competitions at the Kona Cultural Coffee Festival on the Big Island.

How have I never heard of Kona Gold until now? After all the hype about the new wave of locally made vodkas and rums, it turns out we have a granddaddy of spirits, actually bottled here and made with our own Hawaii Island coffee beans. Drink local.

Available at Tamura’s.

Update, July 30, 2012: After a comment pointed out that Kona Gold is not, in fact, bottled in Hawaii, we gave Aloha Distillers a call to clarify what happens where. Turns out Kona Gold's coffee flavor is extracted here in Hawaii, from locally grown beans, and then shipped to California where the liqueur is mixed and bottled. Thanks to a non-contiguous state exemption from the department of agriculture, Kona Gold is still allowed to be called a Hawaii product.

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