- Established 2010
- Located in Makawao, Maui
- Hali’i means “blanketed” while maile is the name of a prevalent vine in the area that Hawaiian royalty used exclusively for ceremonies; thus, the distillery name means “blanketed in maile”
Hali’imaile Distilling Company is the wildly inventive and ambitious crew behind artisanal products such as PAU vodka and Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Their focus reaches beyond their boozy products though. Sustainability and community are considered in each and every decision, making this a truly wonderful, local, independent business.
The LeVecke Family
The Levecke family owns and operates the Levecke Corporation out of Mira Loma, California. They are the producers of Whaler’s Rum and Hana Bay Rum, both with hints of Hawai’i in their name but neither representing Hawai’i-based production. The LeVecke family has been in the alcohol business since 1949, and they are the own Hali’imaile Distilling Company. Two of the brothers, Neil and Tim, decided they wanted to start their own micro-distillery in Maui, so they set out to find a like-minded distiller who could help them achieve their goal of producing one-of-a-kind spirits. Master distiller Mark Nigbur from Colorado was their golden ticket. Known for his nontraditional distilling techniques and previous micro-distillery experience, Mark is the mastermind behind the company’s distinctive style. Today, Mark’s son Cory manages the distillery’s day-to-day operations.
Maui Gold Pineapples
In 2018, the Levecke family purchased the Maui Gold Pineapple Company, ensuring their pineapple production for decades to come. The Maui Gold pineapple is renowned for is extra sweet, golden, juicy flesh and it is less acidic than traditional varieties. Developed over 50 years ago by horticulturists crossing natural pineapple varieties, I bet they never imagined the fame (and fortune) their hybridized pineapple would garner!
Behind the Hali‘imaile General Store are fifteen hundred acres of Maui Gold pineapples, which are all harvested one-by-one. Hand picking ensures each is collected at peak ripeness, as pineapples don’t ripen once plucked – they actually just ferment! These pineapples also supply MauiWine and Maui Brewing Company – which they receive topless, as to continue the pineapple growing cycle! As you can see in the time lapse below, pineapples grow quite slowly out from the crown (top) of a previous pineapple. It takes about 18 months for a Maui Gold pineapple to reach maturity.
Community and Sustainability
Hali’imaile Distilling Company boasts a sustainable mindset. Their website informs that they are fighting against single use plastics and participating in area cleanups. It also mentions their annual sponsorship of surfing and sailing competitions that support local athletes who get a firsthand look at the pollution in our oceans. Additionally, the company is constructing a community-giving program, in line with the traditional Hawaiian land division, that is “ahupua’a driven and focused.”
A local winery juices the Maui Gold pineapples and sends the juice back to the distillery where it ferments for three to six days. Then, the Maui Gold mash is distilled in 14-foot column stills made of 100% pharmaceutical-grade glass. Master distiller Mark Nigbur invented this one-of-a-kind, pH neutral, glass still to avoid metals from imparting flavor into his distillate. The column is similar to a continuous still, except it holds volcanic rock that enhances filtration. Before it undergoes gravity filtration, after just one round of distillation, the product is 96.5% pure alcohol!
Pau Maui Vodka, 40% ABV, is their flagship product and the only Maui Gold pineapple-based vodka on the market. It does not taste of pineapples, but rather it has an elusive sweetness and neutral, pure taste.
Pau Maui Vodka runs $25/750 mL bottle and is available for shipping to the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Mahina is the name of the Hawaiian lunar diety and also the word for “moon.” The Maui moon’s guiding light inspired the creation of Mahina Premium Rum. In prepping this rum, Hawaiian turbinado sugar ferments with yeast and Hawaiian spring water for 46 days. The mash distillation occurs in their unique still designed to increase the amount of direct contact between the conversion heaters and the mash. Next, the boiling water added to the mash, prompting it to condense, distilling it to about 70% alcohol. The resulting product is stored until ready for bottling.
Hali’imaile Distilling Company sourced their sugar needs from nearby sugar company HC&S, which closed down in 2016. In preparation, the distillery stocked up on enough sugar to last a few years while they strive for a longer term, locally-produced sugar solution.
Mahina Premiun Rum, 40% ABV, is a molasses-forward, blended rum. It boasts notes of caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, and brown sugar. These flavors come from the infusion of Kona coffee, Madagascar vanilla, cocoa, clove, citrus, and cinnamon.
Mahina Rum runs 36$/750mL bottle and is available for shipping to the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum
Hali’imaile Distillery is also the birthplace of Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum line. This collaboration between master distiller Mark Nigbur and rock music star Sammy Hagar was born out of Hagar’s love for Maui, spirits, and acting local. When part-time Maui resident Sammy learned about Mark’s pineapple-based vodkas, he excitedly challenged Mark to capture the essence of the state in a bottle of rum. Using their unique distillation technique coupled with sugar cane that remained planted for a year longer than is typical to soak up the local essence, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum was born.
Since its introduction to the world, the distillation process has moved to Puerto Rico with the bottling in California. Sammy also expanded his line with macadamia nut and spiced rums. Two Hawaiian airports now have Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill locations, HNL and OGG (Honolulu and Kahului). Sammy is donating all proceeds from these two restaurants through his Hagar Family Foundation! On Oahu, the proceeds support HUGS while the Maui location proceeds support HUGS, Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke, Montessori Hale O’Keiki, Make a Wish – Hawaii, and The Food Basket. While no longer a locally-produced rum, it is a testament to the skill of Hali’imaile’s distillers and Sammy’s dedication to supporting small businesses and charities at the community level.
This whiskey is a tribute to Hawaii’s history of paniolos, or cowboys. King Kamehameha I received a gift of cattle from Captain George Vancouver in 1793, introducing them to the the islands. By the 1830s, local and hired hunters couldn’t manage the abundance of cattle. Due to increased trading, King Kamehameha III heard about Mexican vaqureos that could preside over tens of thousands of cattle at a time. He sent a high chief to California to hire vaqueros that would teach the Hawaiians about cattle rearing. Three Mexican cowboys, Kossuth, Louzeida and Ramon, landed on Big Island in 1832. First, they taught the Hawaiians how to break in their horses, mostly mustangs – strong horses that required little care. Next, they taught the eager and receptive locals how to corral and drive cattle herds. Finally, the paniolos trained the locals on roping skills. This enabled them to control and thin the herds, ultimately turning them into domesticated cattle. Leather-working and guitar-playing also rubbed off on the Hawaiians.
There is some debate over who brought the first vaqueros to Hawai’i and where they were from. Some speculate it was indeed King Kamehemeha III who ordered the vaqueros from California or requested them directly from the King of Spain himself. Others say John Palmer Parker, of Parker Ranch, had initial contact with the vaqueros, hiring them to work on his ranch and train his ranch workers.
In 1908, Hawaiian horseman, Parker Ranch worker, and underdog Ikua Purdy won a rodeo in Wyoming by roping the steer in 56 seconds flat, leaving the country stunned! In 1999, Purdy gained a spot in the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, the first Hawaiian to ever receive a nomination. Regardless of who brought the vaqueros to Hawai’i, it spawned a new and important tradition of cowboy life and ranch culture that is still present today.
The Paniolo whiskey is a blend of the pineapple distillate and Kentucky Bourbon. The Bourbon arrives three years old. After it is blended with the same pineapple distillate as the PAU Maui Vodka, the blend ages for another one and a half to three years in handlebar mustache-branded white oak barrels. Tattoo artist Billy Crandall designed the Paniolo label and was the source of inspiration behind the mustachioed barrels.
Paniolo Whiskey, 40% ABV, delights the nose with smells of brown sugar and caramel. In this “island rested” beverage you can taste hints of sweet corn and vanilla with the slightest touch of pineapple.
Paniolo Whiskey runs 45$/750mL bottle and is available for shipping to the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.
A fid is a tool used to separate knots on a boat. It doubled in meaning as a term for an alcoholic drink amongst sailors in the late 19th century. After docking in the Honolulu harbor, men would head into Chinatown to an area they dubbed “Fid Street.” This lower part of Nu’uanu Avenue was home to many taverns and grog shops. By simply telling someone you were going to Fid Street, they would know of your intentions to imbibe! Quality assurance technician and distiller Ryan Mabbutt said, “When we were creating Fid Street Gin, we wanted to incorporate that spirit of an old-world-style gin with Hawai‘i and its history.” This is the first gin produced in Maui and only the second produced in the Hawaiian islands since prohibition.
Nigbur and Mabbutt worked together for six months to come up with the concept and recipe for this gin. They wanted to combine the spirit of London Dry Gin with some local flare. The Fid Street botanical blend includes lavender from Maui’s Ali‘i Kula Lavender Farm and cedar tips to impart a forest-like note. The botanicals steep for a full 24 hours inside Nigbur’s glass stills.
Fid Street Hawaiian Gin, 45% ABV, is the culmination of botanicals and fruits. The resulting gin is juniper-forward with floral and citrus hints.
Fid Street Hawaiian Gin runs 44$/750mL bottle and is available for shipping to the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Hali’imaile Distilling Company has created various other boozy drinks, such as their Maui Moon Flavored Vodkas. With the LeVecke family’s resources at hand, there isn’t much that this distillery can’t attempt. While information about their other products is lacking online, check back often for updates as I continue to research!
Address: 883 Haliimaile Rd, Makawao, HI 96768
Phone: (808) 633-3609
Open every day except major holidays, 10am-4pm
Tours are available daily at 10$/person. Reserve your spot.