Kaua‘i Remembered: Okolehau

Okolehau, or white lightning, was a prized acquisition here on Kaua‘i in the old days of my youth.

People who knew the distillers would buy five- and 10-gallon charred oak barrels to smooth out the harsh first-cut distilling.

At one time under the staircase in the Wailua house we kids got a look at the supply my stepfather and mother had accumulated.

When they sold the ranch in 1936 there were more than 65 gallons of the stuff aging. They could not take it with them because it was illegal.

The man from Oregon didn’t like it so when the Sloggetts bought the ranch in 1939 they had a room full of aged okolehau, some of it about 10 years old. The Sloggetts were bourbon drinkers so they started giving it away to their friends and by the time WWII hit Kaua‘i, they had given most of it away, and now they could not buy bourbon because of Marshal Law.                                               

I will now tell you of my experience finding how the supply was made starting at Hanakapi‘ai.

My grandfather had the lease on Hanakapi‘ai and had about 20 mature “pipi” (cows) ready for market and wanted to get a good look at the animals.

Harry Malina, Solomon’s brother and I went fishing in the stream.

We knew that the Territory had planted some rainbow trout in the stream so I went for the trout and Harry went for the o‘opu.

I caught four nice fat 12-inch rainbows and Harry got a lot of o‘opu.

We fished downstream until we came to a diversion. There were three small lo‘i, old taro paddies.

In the lo‘i we noticed that there were what looked like the tops of the big five-gallon bottles the bootleggers used to transport the okolehau. They were all filled to the top. I don’t know what happened with them, but one day a five-gallon bottle appeared at Grandfather’s house in Kalapaki.                                                                                   

Going further in distance and time, one day at Ha‘ena, there was a fire above the first cliff above my mother’s house and all the Hawaiian neighbors swarmed to Mother’s to see if she needed help.

She was fine but two gentlemen from Ha‘ena were seen high-tailing it out of Ha‘ena for Kapa‘a. I won’t mention any names but one was a well-known legislator.                                

Going further south and east, in the pasture where all the brood cows and calves were pastured, we had to maintain the fence between private property and the forest reserve. In the course of my stepfather’s checking the fence, he stumbled upon a still and an old Chinese man. My stepfather said, “I no see nothing but you know where I live.”

Two weeks later when Dad was away, the old Chinese man appeared with a large bottle of okolehau and said to my mother, “This is for Mr.”

My mother said, “What about Missy?”

Two weeks later, another full bottle appeared and he collected the empty bottle from two weeks ago.


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