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More than a taste

If you think the Koloa Rum tasting room is just about tasting rum, you would be wrong.

That’s just part of the experience.

Sure, there are samples of various rums — white, dark, gold, spice and coconut — and you learn about mixing mai tais and other drinks. But a visit to this tasting room next to the Company Store at Kilohana Plantation includes much more.

Stories about the culture of Kauai, its once-thriving sugar mills, Hawaiian Pidgin English, are delightfully weaved together and shared by rum tender Cale Akuna. The history of Koloa Rum, and its commitment to creating a world-class Hawaiian Rum, are part of it. Laughter, smiles and friendships are part of it, too. And there’s a final, upbeat message about sharing the good word of Koloa Rum, all packed into an entertaining 20-minute presentation.

“How many are here for the first time,” Akuna asks of the group of seven bellied up to the beautiful bar in the comfortable, warm room.

Several hands shoot up.

“Welcome to our bar,” Akuna said, with a grin.

He encourages his guests to spread out around the bar, then explains that Koloa Rum is the first and only licensed distillery on Kauai. Its first batch of premium Hawaiian Rum was distilled and bottled in September 2009, which coincided with the opening of the Tasting Room & Company Store at Kilohana Plantation.

Koloa Rum, is “handcrafted from the finest sugarcane and the pure, abundant water sources on the island of Kauai. Its premium rums are twice distilled in single batches.”

Soon, visitors are sipping Koloa rums — a quarter ounce each — and hearing about Kauai’s sugar mills that once dominated the island.

All of their rums, Akuna says, are award-winning.

“We work hard on each one, all small batches at a time,” he says.

He explains Kauai Gold is usually a mixer with a “subtle sweetness to it.”

“It’s not too often a drink by itself,” he says.

Akuna maintains a running commentary as he pours rum into shot glasses.

“Careful with that. It’s dangerous,” he says, smiling.

He pours the dark rum, nice and slow, on top of the mai tai mix. The rum stays on top — sunset in a glass, dark rum chased down by a sweet mai tai mix.

“If you do it right, that is what a true mai tai looks like,” Akuna says.

Cathy Farkas of California takes a sip.

“Wonderful,” she says.

“I’m a dark rum fan,” husband Robin Farkas says.

Then, Akuna pulls out the Kauai Spice Rum, which he calls one of his favorites.

“Now, it’s time for the strong stuff,” he says.

Spice rum, he says, goes well with egg nog and makes an excellent holiday drink.

“Go ahead. If you’re feeling brave, you can toss that all back,” he says.

Finally, comes the Kauai Coconut rum.

“I think it’s the most versatile rum we have ever made,” he says. “It’s nice and smooth.”

Soon, the samples are done, but Akuna asks a favor of his visitors: Spread the good word about Koloa Rum.

“You now work for us,” he says, laughing. “Go out there, tell more people about it.”

He shows off the travel sizes of Koloa Rum and says that on long layovers, “these will come in handy.”

The program wraps up with a plate of pieces of rum cake passed around.

Jon and Cari Turner of Ventura, California, have visited the tasting room on prior trips to Kauai and looked forward to their return.

“We love it,” Cari Turner says.

They call the presentation fun and educational, and the rum, “amazing.”

“We’re excited about the coconut rum and we’re not coconut rum people,” she says.

Wayne and Lynette Laessig of California also had a great time.

“The rum was wonderful and Cale is really a good presenter,” Lynette Laessig says.

Wayne says it was a few years ago when friends invited them over and they tried Koloa Rum.

“It was really good. I said, ‘When we go to Kauai, we’ll try it.’ This was even better,” Wayne says.

His favorite is the dark rum, while Lynette opts for coconut rum.

“I knew she would say coconut,” Wayne says, grinning.

First tasting each day begins at 10 a.m.

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