Kona Brewing invites visitors to try its small batch brews, sold only in Hawaii. // © 2014 Kona Brewing
Feature image (above): Maui-made Ocean Vodka uses Hawaii sea water, a key to its unique flavor. // © 2014 Jessica Pearl
Hawaii-made wine, beer and spirits are adding a tropical twist to cocktail hour. Inspired by the islands’ natural resources, vintners, brewers and distillers are dreaming up heady beverages with distinctively Hawaiian overtones.
Some companies offer tasting rooms and tours; others even ship their products back to a visitor’s U.S. mainland address. Following are a few of our favorite Hawaii-produced libations, available to clients who are 21 and older.
Island Distillers, Oahu
Oahu’s only distillery creates vodka from Hawaiian water and sugar cane. Along with traditional vodka, it crafts a coconut-flavored version. For the ultimate taste of the Aloha State, try Island Distillers’ Moonshine Okolehao. Made from local ti root and sugar cane, this highly alcoholic beverage is a modern-day version of a popular drink in 18th century Hawaii. Look for these products in bars, restaurants and stores around the islands.
Koloa Rum, Kauai
Sugar is no longer a major crop on Kauai, but it’s a key ingredient in this artisanal spirit. Mountain waters from the island add to its sense of place. Its tasting room, part of Kilohana Plantation near Lihue, serves samples of white, gold, dark, spice and coconut rums. The adjacent shop features goodies such as rum cake, chocolate fudge rum sauce and an all-natural, island-made mai tai mix with fresh Kauai fruit juices.
Kona Brewing Co., Hawaii Island
As the state’s oldest and largest craft brewer, Kona Brewing Co. sells products nationally and internationally. But, we recommend focusing on its seasonal, small batch brews that are available only in Hawaii, such as the light Big Island Ginger Beer and robust Kona Coffee Imperial Stout. There are tours of the Kailua-Kona flagship brewery twice each day. Kona Brewing Co.’s restaurants in Kona and Honolulu have earned honors for their eco-friendly efforts.
Ocean Vodka, Maui
This distiller creates vodka using organic sugar cane and deep ocean mineral water sourced off the Kona Coast of Hawaii Island. Producers credit its unique flavor to trace minerals in the water. Boasting dramatic views, Ocean Vodka’s upcountry Maui farm and distillery is ultra-sustainable, with solar panels powering all of its operations. Clients can go on guided tours, sample its products and pick up souvenirs in the gift shop.
Volcano Winery, Hawaii Island
The heady setting alone — at the 4,000-foot elevation, close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — makes this place worth a visit. So do its wines, inspired by the surroundings. Winemakers work from traditional grapes as well as exotic, area-grown guava, jaboticaba berry and macadamia nut honey. There’s even a wine made from local black tea. Visitors can try Volcano Winery’s wines, available only in Hawaii, each day of the year.