Taste Test: We Tried 6 Ciders at Paradise Ciders in Kalihi and Ranked Them
We enjoyed all the fall-friendly flavors of this local cider maker but had a few favorites.
photos: Robbie dingeman
Locally crafted beverages with lower alcohol content officially became a thing this year. It’s a trend that Honolulu-based Paradise Ciders was already on top of from the moment it began. It consistently produces eight regular flavors of cider, along with seasonal specials that give us that refreshing hint of fall harvest, even while it’s still toasty outside.
Founders/owners Kasey Sulheim and Shawn Peck met when they were both working as bartenders. They started Paradise Ciders back in 2017, selling to restaurants and bars before opening their own tasting room in 2018. Legions of local drinkers, including some who won’t order beer, welcomed the new options appearing on tap across town with twists on apple cider reflecting the bounty of locally grown farms: liliko‘i, mango, guava, pineapple, ginger, lychee.
Earlier this year, I enlisted another taster—an able-bodied and just-over-21 college student, aka my daughter, Alexis—to help me rank them all. What better way to tackle a fun work assignment than with a family member happy to share her opinion?
We ordered four flavors at a time in menu order to keep track easier on our scorecards. We were thirsty but thorough. We tasted before comparing notes and made sure we saved some of each cider for resampling until we’d agreed on our ranking. We also each ordered a slice of cheese pizza to keep us from getting tipsy.
Since the seasonal flavors are now happening in smaller batches one at a time, we included our top five of the eight flagship flavors, with some notes and other subjective opinions.
The COVID-19 closures and restrictions put an end to free-flowing samples and bar service at the factory and across the state, and Paradise Ciders’ production shut down for several weeks. “We were hit really hard,” Sulheim says. Despite that, Paradise Ciders managed to reopen with shorter hours, limiting public sales to three days a week and trimming the number of specialty flavors to adjust for reduced business.
You can still snag a parking space right up in front of the warehouse, near Sun Noodle Co., for takeout so you can schedule your own taste testing at home, safely, or in your bubble for a festive way to support local. Pick up food from a favorite homegrown restaurant and make it a pau hana takeout special.
5. Kickit Ginger, 6% alcohol by volume (ABV)
Robbie: Tastes bright like fresh ginger, refreshing but not overpowering. And it’s good with food.
Alexis: It’s really good and a solid ginger taste, but I think there’s more fun stuff to order.
4. Prickly Pearadise, 5% ABV
R: This tastes like pear along with something more exotic, which totally works for me. Not too sweet, good choice with food or just on its own.
A: I think it tastes like hard candy, the kind they throw at parades or at a grandma’s house. It’s really good.
3. Lei’d Back Lilikoʻi, 6.9% ABV
R. It’s not that strong of liliko‘i but it’s nice, easy to drink.
A: This is great! It’s refreshing and not too sweet. We should get a growler.
2. Hang Loose Juice (passion orange guava), 5% ABV
A: That’s really good. But we knew we were going to like the POG.
R: Yes, the POG is strong in this one AND it’s not too sweet.
1. Guava Lava, 5.2% ABV
R. Love the actual guava flavor, with just a hint of strawberry.
A: This one’s super good, not too sweet but still tastes like guava. I want to drink an entire glass of this, but we’re still sharing, right?
R: Ha! I guess you can finish this one because we’re definitely buying some to take home.
We disagreed entirely on one flavor:
Pineapple Cruzer, 6.6% ABV
A: It’s like drinking one of those school lunch plastic cup fruit cocktails.
R: It tastes like chilled pineapple juice to me.
A: Well, pineapple juice is nasty.
R: Yikes, I like fresh pineapple juice.
Find your Paradise Ciders:
Buy direct: You can order online and schedule a pickup or show up to the factory from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays to fill up a growler ($18-$30), get a four-pack of cans for $22 or 22-ounce seasonal bottles for $12. The best deal now is a $10 growler fill of the flavor of the week. “It’s a pretty killer deal,” Sulheim says, and works with any growler you bring in, not just the ones the company sells.
Buy from others: Sulheim acknowledges that business has been tough but he’s been encouraged by the outpouring of support for local businesses, the bars, taprooms and restaurants that have kept working. If you’re not near the Kalihi factory soon, Foodland started carrying cans of the cider at eight O‘ahu stores, which was a great boost, he says.
What’s next? Expect more changes coming soon including a new label on 12-ounce cans. On tap, a recent special flavor included liliko‘i mint.
Other seasonal flavors we liked from February included Off the Wall Lychee, a collab with the Kaka‘ako restaurant, and Mango Daze. Last winter’s Santa Sauce—fragrant baking spices rolled into a cider, with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, brown sugar and vanilla—felt very seasonal, so much so it seems weird to drink it any other time.
Geoffrey, the Paradise Ciders bartender (or is that cider keep?) who helped us, describes the Santa Special as similar to “eggnog without the egg,” and explains that this flavor normally arrives around early December and disappears after the holidays. But we got lucky: This year, Paradise Ciders didn’t use up the last keg until February, after our visit. If Paradise Ciders makes that flavor again this year, we will order some, pour into mugs and curl up on the couch with Christmas books, cookies and movies.