- Established 2008, it is the oldest distillery on Oahu
- Located in Hawaii Kai near the base of Koko Head
- Hapa means “part” or “mix,” a nod to their blending of spirits and their sourcing.
- Hawaiian-grown sugar cane and chili peppers meld with Egpytian hibiscus, Thai and Filipino coconuts, and Louisiana sugar cane in these libations
At Island Distillers, blending is the name of the game. This unique Hawaii Kai distillery combines Hawaiian-produced vodkas and rums with their Caribbean counterparts, so that they unite with exquisite complexity and balance.
The Learning Curve
Owner and founder of Island Distillers, Dave Flintstone, initially met Hawai’i through hit TV show Magnum P.I.. After arriving in Maui via a one-way ticket, his idea for a Hawaiian-based spirits company rooted. Flintstone decided that Hawaii’s natural resources and climate were suitable for producing excellent spirits – and that he should be the one to do it. He jetted off to the Caribbean to soak up information about sugar cane alcohols and blending techniques. During Flintstone’s seven years in the Caribbean, he worked as a scuba instructor on Hispaniola. Spending time in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Flintstone completed internships at small distilleries and production facilities learning about how to make and blend vodka, rum, and clarin.
Side Note: What is Clarin?!
While familiar with the first two, I had never heard of clarin. Turns out, it is the natural “bush rum” of Haiti, where it plays a big role in Haitian culture and daily life. There are more than 600 operating distilleries, called guildive. This is the French Creole adaptation of the slang colonial term for rum of “kill-devil”. Clarin is made from indigenous cane varieties and without any chemicals or yeast required. Because of its simple process and lack of filtration, clarin is often produced in stills, wooden and diesel mills, and fermentation vats in the middle of sugar cane fields. To taste traditional clarin yourself, you’ll have to visit Haiti. It’s sold in big plastic jugs, roadside.
Back to Hawai’i
Once back to the Hawaiian Islands, Flintstone studied lava filtration and purification techniques on Big Island. Then, he flew over to Maui, the intended dream home of Island Distillers. Met with bureaucracy and confusion from regulatory bodies about the process for legally constructing a distillery, Flintstone was frustrated. After a fortuitous call to Oahu, Flintstone found the permitting and regulations, despite being in the same state, much clearer and feasible. A week later, Flintstone was on Oahu and just one month later, his first distillery space was born. Finally, after enduring years of planing, Island Distillers launched in 2008.
With his Caribbean-knowledge at hand, Flintstone teamed up with a Russian petroleum engineer experienced in fuel refineries and vodka to design his custom still. Their design is a micro, continuous still that, instead of boiling the mash as in a pot still, vaporizes the mash instantly. This technique improves the process for separating the good distillate from the unwanted funky parts. Post distillation, the liquid is filtered through crushed lava rocks, similar to the way rainwater trickles down to underground aquifers.
In concocting the first Hawaiian blended vodka, owner Dave Flintstone began in the distillery’s backyard. To being, he starts with sugar cane grown on their Oahu property and supplements the supply with Louisiana-grown stalks. From these sources, he uses turbinado sugar, partially refined sugar cane juice. Once the sugar and yeast ferment, the mash is fed into the custom distillation still. After blending the Brazilian spirit with water for proofing, Flintstone adds it to the Hawaiian vodka distillate to finalize his hapa product. He believes that combining the best of Brazilian and Hawaiian sugarcane “creates a nice synergy and a nice harmony.”
Hapa Vodka, % ABV, is the base for all the flavored concoctions below. This smooth spirit utilizes lava-filtered water and Hawaiian and Brazilian sugar cane distillates to produce a vodka that is “greater than the sum of its parts.”
Hapa Coconut Vodka, 35% ABV, relies on coconuts from the Philippines or Thailand (there actually aren’t any coconut farms in Hawai’i). Flintstone developed a method to extract the flavor and aroma from the coconuts, which are processed on the mainland, that he uses to impart the fruity flavor into this spirit.
Hapa Hibiscus Vodka, 35% ABV, is infused with dried hibiscus flowers from Egypt (no hibiscus farms in Hawai’i either!). These dried flowers give the vodka its beautiful, deep color and
Hapa Chili Pepper Vodka, 35% ABV, infuses Puna-grown Big Island chili peppers into the mix. Once the yellow Hawaiian peppers mature to red, they can get as spicy as a habanero! This smokey, spicy vodka lives up any cocktail.
Rumors suggest that Mr. Flintstone is experimenting with more varieties of rum! Stay tuned for more information!
Hapa Premium Rum, 40% ABV, is the first blended Hawaiian rum. It rests in oak barrels and marries sugarcane and molasses to impart a delicate sweetness.
Pop over here to read all about oke!
Okolehao, 50% ABV, was another research project by Mr. Flintstone. This native Hawaiian moonshine-of-sorts is distilled from sugarcane and the root of the ti plant.
Chee hoo! Island Distillers ships their spirits! On Mondays and Thursdays, they send out orders via FedEx with the condition that the “sale took place at the seller’s location in Hawai’i.” Ay, such silly, pedantic rules. Pop over here to check out their no-frills online store. It exclusively vends their six alcoholic products ranging from 35$-45$, with discounts on purchases of two or more bottles!
Location: 577 Pakala Street, Honolulu, HI 96825
Phone: (808) 492-4632
Tasting Room is open daily 10am-5pm, closed on Tuesdays.
Tours Available for $10/adult, call to schedule.