Drink Local: National Rum Day August 16 Doesn’t Have to Be Dark and Stormy

Kaua‘i’s Kōloa Rum celebrates a decade of distilling with plans for a new distillery, café and more.
Photos: Courtesy of Kōloa Rum Co.


National Rum Day may well be one of those “holidays” that serves as a convenient excuse to quaff an adult beverage, but one Hawaiʻi distiller—Kōloa Rum—is quietly celebrating with a major expansion.


If you don’t live on Kaua‘i, you might be most familiar with Kōloa Rum from those little bottles of mai tais and rum punch served on Hawaiian Airlines. But the company has been growing over the past 10 years, making single-batch Hawai‘i rum, and now produces seven varieties: white, gold, dark, spice, coconut, coffee and a three-year aged rum released last year. There are three varieties of premixed cocktails, which run sweet, but the recent developments stand on their own without fruity juices.


mini bottles


By law, rum has to be made from a derivative of sugar cane. Kōloa Rum president and CEO Bob Gunter says the company opted to use raw sugar instead of molasses to develop a local flavor profile while supporting locally grown cane.


“We use a combination of sugar cane juice and cane syrup. We wanted to create our own style of rum that would be distinctly different,” Gunter says. “Our rums are known to be very smooth, very clean-tasting and very mixable in cocktails.”


He says the company will break ground for a new distillery Sept. 18. “We’re building a 45,000-square-foot distillery and warehouse, which is twice the size of what we have now,” he says, to include a tasting room, company store, free-standing café and old plantation camp houses with a museum as well as 10 to 12 acres of sugar cane fields.


Kōloa Rum got started using Kaua‘i cane grown by Gay & Robinson until the plantation closed in 2010. And finding local cane keeps getting tougher. The company bought and stockpiled 60 tons of sugar that lasted two more years, then bought cane from Maui until Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., the state’s last large commercial plantation, closed in 2016, he says. Then had to stockpile 190 tons more, which they expect to use up by next year. “We decided we should start planting our own cane two years ago,” while looking for an interim supply from Louisiana, Texas or Florida.


Gunter says the privately held company has been fortunate to grow the team from a handful of employees in 2009 to 42 with plans to hire up to 65 in the expansion. He credits the team with double-digit increases each year in sales and revenue.




Gunter, who lived on Kaua‘i and Maui for decades, says it’s important to work with local farmers to grow more sugar and to expand the company in an area that has evidence of  (sugar cane) cultivation that predated the arrival of Westerners, as well as an 1835 sugar mill credited as the state’s oldest.


“That’s historic and that’s important to us,” Gunter says. “We will be processing that cane on site, crushing it and using it to make our rum.”


“We want to have about 250 to 300 acres growing here on Kaua‘i, so that we will eventually be able to transition to making all of our rum and related products using cane grown here on Kaua‘i.”


On O‘ahu, we can drive to Kunia for Kō Hana Rum, another homegrown rum made in the style of rhum agricole using only fresh pressed cane juice.


SEE ALSO: Drink Local Guide: Where to Get Locally Crafted Spirits in Hawai‘i

aloha shirts


Lord Byron is credited with saying: “There’s naught, no doubt, so much the spirit calms as rum and true religion.”


Gunter’s favorite way to drink rum? “Neat. Just straight, maybe with an ice cube; my personal preference is just to sip it.”


For those interested in mixing it up, we asked for some recipes:


Bee Sting on the Lānai



  • 1.5 oz. Kōloa Reserve Aged Rum
  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 0.5 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 oz. honey
  • 10 blueberries
  • Cucumber, 2 slices for muddling and garnish



Muddle blueberries and a slice of cucumber. Add Kōloa Reserve Aged Rum, lime juice, simple syrup and honey. Shake and strain over ice.



Fresh blueberries and a cucumber ribbon.



Morning on the Beach


  • 1 oz. passion fruit juice (fresh juice with seeds)
  • 0.5 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1.5 oz. Kōloa White rum
  • 0.5 oz. Kōloa Spice rum
  • 0.25 oz. orgeat
  • 2 oz. float of sparkling wine



Combine juices, crushed ice and rums in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour into a Collins glass—do not strain! Top with bubbly.



Pineapple leaves and an umbrella.


Coconut Pineapple Daiquiri


  • 1.5 oz. Kōloa Coconut rum
  • 0.5 oz. Kōloa Dark rum
  • 0.5 oz. pineapple liquor
  • 0.5 oz. pineapple juice
  • 0.5 oz. simple syrup



Add all ingredients together with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe glass.



Fresh pineapple wedge and pineapple leaf.


And for when the weather turns chilly:


Mocha Coconut Hot Chocolate

hot cocktailIngredients

  • 4 oz. good quality chocolate Bar (dark 65%–75%, or milk), roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 12 oz. coconut milk beverage (carton, not can)
  • 6 oz. freshly brewed hot coffee
  • 3 oz. Kōloa Coffee rum
  • 1 oz. Kōloa Coconut rum (.5 ounce per drink)
  • Yield: Enough for at least two



Whipped cream, lightly toasted coconut shavings, finely chopped macadamia nuts and chocolate shavings.



Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until chocolate bar is melted and no solid pieces remain. Pour desired amount of cocktail in a glass or ceramic mug and top with whip cream, toasted coconut flakes and dark chocolate shavings.




Dine on signature dishes from award-winning chefs at the 2019 Hale ‘Aina Awards Celebration presented by First Hawaiian Bank on Sept. 7, 2019, on the pool deck of the ‘Alohilani Resort. Tickets are on sale now.


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman