Aloha! Mahalo! Luau! Poi!
I have now exhausted the entirety of my Hawaiian vocabulary. If you’ve never been to this magical archipelago: I can give few places on Earth my more enthusiastic recommendation. The islands are naturally beautiful in a way that hardly seems real. The food is delicious, with unique, indigenous dishes featuring both meat and fish. The tropical location means balmy weather and daily rainbows.
In keeping with my habit of hijacking family vacations for Malt business, I immediately started my trip to Hawaii by researching craft distilleries on the islands where we’d be staying. My attention was caught by Kauai’s Koloa Rum Co, especially after I noticed their products on the shelves of a local grocery store. One bottle in particular caught my eye: a single barrel rum carrying a 5-year age statement. This indicated to me that the distillery was elevating its sights above Mai Tai ingredients, into the realm of serious spirits geekery which is Malt’s raison d’être.
I was so looking forward to bringing you an in-depth discussion of this distillery’s history, raw materials sources, fermentation practices, distillation process, maturation, and so forth. However, the written questions I sent to Koloa (via a P.R. intermediary) went unanswered for a month. After numerous follow-up emails, I was informed “the President and CEO shared he would kindly like to pass on responding to these questions as the responses would contain proprietary information.” In the meantime, we’ll have to make due with my sketchy notes and yet more sparse remembrances, as well as the information I was able to pull off the company’s website.
Starting from the raw materials: Koloa states that its rums “only use pure ‘tall cane’ sugarcane,” though whether this is a meaningful differentiation needs to be left up to the likes of our resident rum expert, John. The company began distilling in September 2006; they specify their equipment is a “vintage (circa 1947) 1,210-gallon copper-pot still, with a copper column and condenser.” The company informed me that this was “built by Liberty Coppersmiths in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1947 and refurbished” for use by Koloa.
I recall my tasting room host stating that proof off the stills is 160, though I wasn’t able to get a barrel entry proof. I’d love to learn how that vintage piece of distilling equipment ended up in Kauai, and indeed where a Hawaiian rum distillery sources barrels from, and how the local climate impacts maturation, and a hundred other details.
Back to my trip to Hawaii: the tasting room is located on the Kilohana Plantation in Lihue, separate from the distillery (which is in Kalaheo). Our enthusiastic hostess, Jayne, led us through an energetically paced tasting of a half dozen of Koloa’s products. All were good, but I will caveat that by saying that everything tastes better in such picturesque environs. Though not usually one for flavored liquors, I have to say that I found the Cacao and Coffee rums to be surprisingly enticing.
However, what I came for was the single barrel rum, on sale in the adjacent shop for $100. I snagged a bottle, snapped a photo, and headed back to the pool. Now back at home, removed from the many environmental influences that might compromise my objectivity, I’ll be tasting this with an eye toward providing a fair assessment of quality and value.
Final details: this rum is aged in American White Oak barrels for 5 years, resulting in batches of approximately 210 bottles at strengths ranging from 110 proof (55% ABV) to 124 proof (62% ABV). This is bottle #55 from barrel B-082, coming to us at 118.94 proof (59.47% ABV).
Koloa Single Barrel Rum Aged 5 Years – Review
Color: Medium-light gold.
On the nose: An ample vanilla note meets the smoky sweetness of marshmallows toasted over a campfire. There’s a heavy-handed sprinkling of nutmeg in here, as well as a smoky but vegetal note of broiled chipotle peppers. Deeper inhalation reveals a smoky-spicy note of paprika, as well as some lighter sweet aromas of freshly whipped cream. With time, I am getting a mocha note that nods to Kauai’s extensive coffee plantations.
In the mouth: An initial kiss of brown sugar yields to a more serious mix of sweet and spicy notes. I get some sense of Mexican chocolate infused with chili peppers, balanced by a sweet woodiness that blooms into an ample note of vanilla as this moves toward the center of the mouth. The wood turns more astringent as this reaches the back of the mouth, with a tannic, drying texture giving way to a radiant heat that is the first indication of the high bottling proof. Residual notes of star anise, cocoa, and coffee beans creep around the mouth as this lingers interminably with very pleasant suggestions of the island’s other produce.
Rum or otherwise, this is an excellent spirit. I particularly like that is has several unique nuances which nod to the local environment, a sine qua non of craft distilling, in my book. It’s got a high price tag, but for that financial outlay this Koloa rum delivers some extraordinary flavors. With a limited frame of reference but to reflect my overall enthusiasm, I am scoring this in solidly positive territory.