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.
There’s a unique new business venture that reaches back to the past and reworks it for the future that has taken shape in Kohala recently.
It’s something that honors the unique sense of place that is Hawaii, marries that to emerging trends in the craft beverage industry, and puts a smart value-added spin on a local agricultural resource.