Drinking Local: Finding a Hawai‘i Twist for National Tequila Day
Kapena Tequila takes it beyond dusting li hing powder on your margarita glass.
Photo: Katie Kenny
Kapena Tequila offers an Island-style li hing-infused tequila, which seems a logical local way to celebrate National Tequila Day, on July 24 this year. (Of course, we could think of other days to drink tequila.)
We checked in with local bars to see what Kapena Tequila concoctions are on the menu. And we found a mix of margaritas at Búho Cucina y Cantina, Square Barrels, Maui Brewing Co. and DB Grill, which calls its drink Duck Dynasty Margarita.
At Mahina & Sun’s, bar consultant Christian Taibi has been serving Kap’s Cup: made with Kapena tequila, Italicus liquor, liliko‘i, pineapple juice, and pieces of fresh cucumber and pineapple.
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Photo: Courtesy of Kapena Tequila
Maui Brewing Co. is featuring Kapena Li Hing in its Outrigger Initiative for Coral Reef Awareness at Maui Brewing Company Waikīkī, where 10% of proceeds from the Clean Wave drink ( that includes Kapena, chilie-pepper-infused gin and ginger beer) go to local reef organizations.;
We also mixed our own pair of three-ingredient margaritas for an informal taste test, mixing fresh lime juice, agave and Kapena Tequila and a version with a big-box brand of silver tequila. Kapena got the round of thumbs up from our informal office panel of tasters.
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Here’s a sample of comments from our taste test:
“This is more tangy. It definitely has a lot more character. I’m taking this one back to my desk!”—Katie Kenny, digital editorial specialist
“It’s nicely infused and reminds me of the li hing margaritas at Ryan’s. I have a tequila aversion … it was one bad night in Chicago. This is really good.”—Christi Young, editorial director
“This has more of a tequila taste and more li hing. Definitely drinkable; it’s got more flair.”—Katrina Valcourt, managing editor
Left to right: “Kap’s cup” from Mahina & Sun’s and the “clean wave” drink from Maui Brewing Co.
Photos: Courtesy of Mahina & Sun’s and Maui Brewing Co.
So how did this tequila achieve a local angle? West Coast entrepreneur and Kapena founder Mike Goto lives near Seattle. But, his family is from Hawai‘i and he gravitated to folks from the Islands when he attended college in Oregon. In school, they improved the budget tequila they could afford in college by tossing li hing mui from Hawai‘i into the bottles. Goto didn’t think too much about it again until the company he’d been working for shuttered four years ago and he came up with the idea of li hing-infused tequila.
After Goto worked out a supplier of a silver tequila from Mexico—all tequila must originate there—he founded Kapena (an adopted Hawaiian word for captain) Tequila in 2016 and has been growing the business by the bar and bottle on the West Coast and in the Islands, winning industry awards and building a fan base. (Retail price is around $45.)
“We do source the li hing mui in Hawai‘i,” Goto says. “My family’s from the Big Island and my grandmother’s still there.”
Early this year, Goto launched a silver tequila, without the crack seed, that already won a 2019 San Francisco Spirits Awards silver award. “I like a really simple margarita,” he says.
For more on Kapena, go to kapenatequila.com and find the recipe for the margarita we made and some other drinks.
READ MORE STORIES BY ROBBIE DINGEMAN