It’s notoriously windy in North Kohala. Trade winds reliably blast Hawai‘i Island’s northern coast and the smoothed hump of its oldest volcano.
It’s morning as I step out of an air-conditioned tour vehicle onto the dusty landscape. Tucked behind a row of windmills, on a 40-acre plot, leafy stems tower above me, shaking in the wind. Sugar. If you visited this spot 150 years ago, the scene would be similar (minus the windmills, of course): The relentless Hawaiian sun, a sparkling blue ocean backdrop and the trade winds coaxing cane leaves to emit rain sounds when there’s barely a cloud in the sky.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a high demand for now-coveted disinfectant products. To help fill that demand on Hawaii Island, Kuleana Rum Works has shifted its focus from making rum to making hand sanitizer.
The Kohala distillery has been hard at work this month using their alcohol supply to create hand sanitizer for the many first responders and health care workers on the island who have been on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.
With its distribution reach growing each day, Kuleana Rum Works is proving that world-class rum can come from a Big Island distillery.
For centuries, the colorful history of rum has been intrinsically linked to sea voyaging, sailors, tropical locales and the spirit of adventure. Such is the case with Kuleana Rum Works, conceived by Big Island native Steve Jefferson during a sailing trip across the Caribbean in 2007.
Having spent the better part of that year cruising with his wife, Jackie, and their two small children on their sailboat, Jefferson dropped anchor off the island of Martinique, where he immediately noticed the many geographic, volcanic and climatic similarities to the Big Island.
I was born and raised in Hawaiʻi and have a deep connection to our home. The story of Kuleana Rum began 12 years ago when my wife, Jackie, and I were sailing around the Caribbean with our then 1- and 3-year-old children. We made it to the French islands and were pretty stoked to be back in civilization. Martinique, in many ways, is a LOT like Hawaii. It’s a volcanic island on the same latitude as the Big Island, managed by a first-world country, but really an island nation.
The Queens’ MarketPlace in Wailkoloa just got a little tastier this year with the opening of Kuleana Rum Shack. Serving up fresh island dishes and handcrafted cocktails, the Rum Shack features authentic yet creative cuisine inspired by the melting pot of Hawaiian cultures.
Keola Valdez is executive chef for the Rum Shack and explains how the menu is a cultural collaboration among the restaurant’s talented culinary artists.
“We are serving local cuisine, which is everything from Japanese, to Hawaiian, to Korean, and some Puerto Rican,” said Valdez. “It’s not just Hawaiian food. It’s all our cultural food that we have in Hawaii. We’ve taken our own comfort food and created something even more special.”
Valdez explains the vision of the restaurant is to recreate the comfort food many locals experienced growing up in Hawaii. He is proud of the fact his chefs have gone through culinary school and are now creating the dishes they had as children-the food they watched their mothers, aunties and uncles make.