- Established in 2006
- Located in Paia, Maui
- Lā hainā means “cruel sun” and describes the sunny, dry climate of West Maui.
- First distillery in Maui in over 20 years
Old Lahaina Rum from Kolani Distillers is the work of a father and son team, spurred by dreams of a Maui retirement. What better way to secure that future than start a family-business in Maui? After Paul and Brian Case examined multiple business ventures such as coffee, fruit, and flowers, they decided upon rum to be the commodity of worthwhile pursuit.
Lahaina’s Boozy Past
Paul Case attributes the rum’s name to the historical rise of rum in Lahaina, Maui. During the late 18th century, British sailors introduced their rum to the islands. As many as 15,000 sailors would rush ashore from the Lahaina harbor in search of rum and acquiescent women. In fact, the Old Lahaina Rum label depicts a native Hawaiian girl waving to incoming sailors, excited for the rum they bring and the ensuing party. All this partying and ruckus concerned Queen Ka’ahumanu and Congregationalist Church ministers in New England. Both decided missionaries would help straighten out the rum-induced chaos, inviting American missionaries from the mainland and Oahu to preach Christianity. As the fight to get rid of rum took hold, the whaling industry slipped. The deep-sea port in neighboring Honolulu overshadowed Lahaina, gaining the title from Lahaina as the new royal capital in 1843. Lahaina locals returned to their more-or-less sober agricultural roots, producing sugar cane and pineapple to support the local economy.
Starting from scratch, the father and son duo opted for the learn-as-you-go approach. From 2000 to 2009, they built the distillery and worked towards mastering the art and science of rum distillation.
Construction began in 2003 on a building that the HC&S sugar company leased to them on the site of the Old Paia Sugar Mill. Built amongst the 1875 mill ruins, it wasn’t a smooth process. Being the first distillery on Maui, the local authorities didn’t have answers to their regulation questions nor the appropriate procedures in place, so they were forced to grow together, slowly. With only the help of a small group of locals, they completed the distillery construction, even figuring out the electrical installations, pipe fittings, and finding on a heavy-duty plastic cooling tower that would stand up the Maui’s gusts of salty, corrosive wind. Once the upgraded facility passed all the inspections and met all the codes, it was production time! But with no distillation background and limited resources in the liquor-consultation game in the early 2000s, their first distillates were mediocre. Over time they improved, hitting the shelves in 2009, nine years after Paul Case originally envisioned Old Lahaina Rum.
The Case family faces many obstacles in their rum-producing venture. For one, their remote location out in the Pacific ocean exacerbates shipping costs. Over 30% of their manufacturing and distribution budget goes towards freight alone. Other worries on their plate include funding product development as they have no outside investors (and they want to keep it that way), finding motivated, hard working employees in our laid-back island culture, and increasing their volume of small-batch production.
However, their biggest hurdle at the moment is determining their next source of molasses. In 2016, the last sugar mill discontinued commercial operations, after 145 years in business. Mainland and local distillers alike relied on this sugar mill for their molasses needs. Although Mr. Case stocked up on their molasses supply to last a few years, they’re actively pursuing opportunities to reestablish sugar cane farms for commercial use on Maui. While some distilleries decided to take the grown-your-own-cane route, Mr. Case discovered that 23 other companies in Hawai’i rely on sugar for their products, as well. These 24 companies are now working cooperatively to open and operate a farm and small mill to sustain their sugar needs!
Sugar and molasses separate via centrifuge in three successive passes, or strikes. “A” molasses is the first strike molasses; it contains the highest sugar content and the least amount of byproducts. Conversely, “C” molasses, commonly known as blackstrap molasses, has the most byproducts and a completely different flavor compared to the first strike molasses.
Old Lahaina Rum is a first strike molasses product. The thick, viscous molasses weighs 12 pounds per gallons, ten of which are pure sugar! The raw molasses is diluted in the giant fermentation tanks, 50 gallons of molasses to 200 gallons of water. Yeast is added to the mixture and fermentation begins. The yeast eats up the sugar in the molasses, breaking it down into smaller alcohol molecules and carbon dioxide. After just two days, the mixture is now 12% alcohol.
Next, distillation boosts the alcoholic content up to 40%. Originally built for the Boston New England Rum Company in 1946, their rum is distilled in two steam-fired 500-gallon pot still. One of the stills has a multi tray fractioning column that helps with output and consistency.
The distinctive packaging resembles vintage rum bottles from the whaling era – a toast to the Lahaina’s history. Paul and Brian Case designed the Old Lahaina Rums with the local cocktail market in mind. Instead of sipping rums, these spirits are meant to be mixed. Mai tai lovers, rejoice!
Old Lahaina Silver Rum, 40% ABV, is a very light, low-ester rum. It is pure and fresh, the perfect foundation for mixed drinks.
Old Lahaina Gold Rum, 40% ABV, has a more vibrant presence than the silver. It has a light spiciness and flavors of charred sugar, caramel, toffee, and tobacco. It has a heated finish and lacks any sweetness.
Old Lahaina Dark Rum, 40% ABV, is robust and molasses-forward, lending itself as the perfect floater for mai tais and piña coladas.
Sister restaurants Monkeypod, Merriman’s, and Moku whip up an amazing Old Lahaina mai tai that is well-balanced and refreshingly tart! In addition to the ounce each of silver and dark rum, you’ll taste macadamia nut orgeat, orange curacao, fresh squeezed lime, all topped with a honey-lilikoi foam!
While focusing on improving their current line, Paul and Brian are also working on a few new products. Ultra-premium, barrel-aged rum and tropical rums should be hitting the shelf anytime now!
Old Lahaina Rums are currently only available in Hawai’i. Mr. Case thinks this is part of his products appeal, as this ups the unique-to-Hawai’i factor. They do operate a small Amazon store that features five apparel products: two t-shirts, a tank top, and two hats.
Address: 320 Baldwin Avenue, Paia, Hawaii 96779
Phone: (808) 579-8032
Due to their location on the old sugar mill and safety reasons, public tours are not offered.