Ah, Maui. Land of beaches, bikinis, and…buzzes? That’s right, Maui is getting its buzz on in a big way in 2015, with three new beverage tours in the Upcountry and one in Kihei. From coffee to craft beer to premium spirits, Maui’s homegrown elixirs are infused with the terroir of their lush surroundings. On these educational excursions you’ll learn about the history of coffee in Hawaii, the robustness of Maui’s soil and a bit about sustainability. Best part? The end-of-tour samples. Aloha!
O‘o Farm: ‘Seed to Cup’ Coffee Tour
Globally, the sweet spot for coffee cultivation is high-altitude land sitting within 21 degrees of the equator. Maui and the Big Island are both perched on the edge of this narrow ‘coffee belt.’ They are also home to rich volcanic soils that blanket high-altitude slopes.
‘We’re over 2000ft in elevation. Our winter lows are 35 to 40 degrees, so it gets very, very close to freezing here but it never does,’ explains Richard Clark, farm manager at O‘o Farm in Kula, the agricultural heart of the Upcountry. ‘So we have a little Goldilocks zone here for growing coffee.’
Coffee roasters on the U.S. mainland are far from the coffee belt, which means that all of them have to import their beans. O‘o Farm’s unique ability to grow and roast beans in one place makes it an ideal spot for a seed-to-cup tour. ‘Imagine if your coffee, your perfect cup of coffee or cappuccino, could tell a story about how it was first sprouted and grown,’ says Clark. ‘We can tell you the whole story, and there are very few people who can.’
Tours start with a short history lesson followed by a fresh breakfast of wood-fired oven frittatas, homemade foccacia bread and farm jam. From there, it’s into the coffee fields. The farm, which runs the popular Pacific‘O restaurant in Lahaina, grows about 60 different crops, including 1100 coffee trees in various stages of maturity.
The tour wraps up in the roastery, followed by a tasting with samples of French press coffee, a pour-over coffee and an espresso or latte.
Tour price: $50 per person
Dates: Tuesday & Wednesday 8:30am-10:30am
Other tours: Gourmet Lunch & Farm Tour
Product: Aina Gourmet Coffee
Ocean Organic Vodka: It’s All About the Water
Nobody said there’d be wild chickens. Or a feral farm cat. And did we hear something about ‘creepy crawlies’ in the sugarcane? What kind of distillery tour is this?
‘The cat adopted us. The chickens just showed up,’ explains Bill Smith, the master distiller at Ocean Organic Vodka in Kula. ‘We learned to coexist.’ Coexisting is the perfect word to describe Ocean Organic Vodka, which opened an eco-friendly production facility on the fertile slopes of Haleakalā in 2013.
‘The move here was just the next evolution of the business, of creating a sustainable brand,’ says Smith. The company also wanted to add an agro-tour to its offerings. ‘We can do some teaching about how it is important to take care of the land and how it’s possible to raise food, to produce things in a manner that doesn’t really hurt the environment. It’s a philosophical thing.’
Tours start outside, beside stalks of sugarcane, then swing into the solar-powered production facility. Guests learn the philosophy of the company then take a crash course in sugarcane processing as well as fermentation, distilling and bottling. On busy days, seven bottlers may be guiding the vodka into the company’s bottles.
The vodka’s marquee ingredient is deep ocean water, which is sourced from the Big Island. The water is desalinated but retains a robust feel. ‘It actually has some character, some flavor,’ says Smith, ‘and makes our product really unique and gives us a real point of differentiation.’ Tours conclude outside with a sampling of the water as well as the spirits. Be sure to wander past the sugarcane to check out the view of the coast.
Tour price: $10 per person
Dates: daily, 9:30am-5pm
Products: Ocean Organic Vodka, Wave: Deep Island Hawaiian Rum
Hali’imaile Distilling Company: ‘Farm to Bottle’ Distillery Tour
With his handmade glass stills and rock-n-roll looks, master distiller Mark Nigbur is the perfect frontman for Hali’imaile Distilling Company and its line of luxury spirits. But don’t be fooled. Nigbur is an old-school craftsman endlessly passionate about his products.
‘I take great pride in saying, "We’re the only distillery in Hawaii that goes from farm to bottle,'" says Nigbur. You’ll see what he means on a tour of his vodka and rum micro-distillery in Hali’imaile, an Upcountry village hugged by sugarcane stalks and pineapple fields. Maui Gold pineapples provide the distillate for the vodka while the Upcountry’s local culture provides inspiration. The barrels for Nigbur’s new Paniolo Whiskey, which is named for local cowboys, sport a cowboy mustache.
‘Our tour is very unique. You can actually walk the floor, you can see the mash boiling and bubbling – because it’s the yeast converting the sugar to alcohol – and it does it naturally. So you can see that, you can smell that, you can see the stills actually distilling,’ says Nigbur. ‘You go away from here knowing that it is 100% made here.’
You’ll also go away thinking that Nigbur looks exactly like Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer Sammy Hagar, the former frontman for Van Halen. Hagar, who has a house on Maui, is the namesake force behind Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar Rum, an un-aged white rum distilled from local sugarcane by Nigbur.
Both men want the rum to reflect Maui’s unique sense of place, where the sugarcane absorbs sunlight, soil, and breezes that are all infused with the island’s scents and flavors. Some use the word terroir to describe the earthy connection between a region and its cuisine, wine and spirits. Nigbur embraces another word: ‘In capital letters, SOUL. I want soul in this rum.’ And, really, don’t we all?
Tour Price: $10 per person
Dates: Monday- Friday, email for reservations
Products: Pau Maui Vodka, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, Paniolo Whiskey, Maui Moon Vodka
Maui Brewing: Fresh Craft Beer
How fresh is the beer in the taproom at the new Maui Brewery in Kihei? Let’s just say it doesn’t sit around in kegs all week, waiting patiently to be consumed.
Instead, after fermentation and clarification, the beer flows into 12 large holding tanks sitting inside the tasting room cooler. From there, it streams through the taps into your glass. ‘It comes directly from the brewery to the taps,’ says Carrie Adelmann, the tasting room manager. ‘It’s very, very cool, and it’s a relatively unique experience.’
Maui Brewing, known for its Bikini Blonde Lager and Big Swell IPA, built the new facility in order to increase production. Like Ocean Vodka, the company wanted to expand its operations in a sustainable manner. So far, so good – the building’s first set of solar panels has been installed, with more on the way. Other eco-minded features include energy-efficient lighting and air conditioning. Water conservation, both inside and on the grounds, is also a priority.
During tours of the brewery, which opened on Christmas Eve, you’ll see the brewhouse, the cellar and the packing line. The finale? A flight of Maui Brewing’s four flagship beers. Food trucks serve Hawaiian grub outside from 11am to 10pm daily, and hanging out is encouraged. Check the online calendar for beer releases, trivia nights, game nights and regular live music through the Maui Music Series, which launches in March.
Tour Price: $5 per person
Dates: daily 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, with more planned
Products: Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA, Coconut Porter, Mana Wheat