KOLOA — When in Hawaii, it’s important to stop and smell the foliage.
Doubly so in the cocktailing world, where it’s important to stop and decorate the glass of liquid aloha with just the right decorative floral piece — so long as it’s edible.
That, of course, is after you muddle fresh, preferably local ingredients in the bottom of the glass before island spirits are poured atop.
Such was the the topic of the inaugural Koloa Rum Co. Create and Sip workshop last week at Merriman’s Fish House in Poipu, where the local company invited bartenders from all across the island to practice mixing one-of-a-kind drinks in the name of offering visitors a distinctly Hawaiian taste when they visit.
“Hawaii is becoming a mecca,” said Stephani Smith, owner of Maui-based Garnish Cocktails, the company that led the workshop hosted by Koloa Rum, on the fact that the islands offer locally produced fruits, ingredients and spirits. “We’re all putting Hawaii on the map.”
Your average workshop with pencils and PowerPoints, this wasn’t. The two, three-hour courses taught bartenders that it’s OK to break away from the standard mai tai and mix a concoction with a little more island flair. Around 50 people from 20 establishments took part in the all-day practice round.
“We’re in Hawaii, everyone knows what a mai tai is,” Smith said of the common refrain the 4-year-old catering business hears when dishing up drinks, to which they counter: “We ask what they like and go from there.”
But the key is local —hence using Koloa Rum products.
The Kauai company is no stranger to accolades — Monday it won four awards at the 72nd Wine and Spirits Wholesaler of America Conference and Competition in Florida. Its Kauai Gold Rum won double gold, Coconut Rum won a gold, and the Dark and Spice rums won silvers.
This, in addition to an announcement that it’s partnering with Young’s Market Company, which will start to distribute the local product beginning in May to 10 states across the West — from Alaska down to California and over to Idaho and Utah.
Distribution aside, Tuesday’s workshop was a chance to mix good, flavorful cocktails.
“We’re just looking at what’s hot out there, what’s new,” said Natural-Lee Garcia, general manager of the new Eating House 1849 in Poipu, who was practicing mixing drinks with Spice Rum, Coconut Rum, ginger, strawberries and a whole lot more. “Craft cocktails are in right now, but when you have to start to muddle things, it gets super tough for the bartender.”
Muddling is when the bartender grinds ingredients at the bottom of the glass before the liquid flows. That can be time consuming, Smith admitted. The secret is when time allows, slow down and make something special. Often times the customer — a tourist likely — will appreciate the extra effort and that will reflect well on not only the establishment, but the whole island experience.
“I wanted to do something new and out of the box,” said Jeanne Toulon, Koloa Rum director of business and spokeswoman, who organized the inaugural mixology event in the name of bringing everyone together. “I want Koloa Rum to be a part of this and I want people who support our product or don’t support our product to be a part of this. It makes your guests happy and it helps your bottom line.”
Eric Carroll, bartender at La Spezia in Koloa, has been in the trade for 20-plus years. It was nice, he said, picking up a few pointers in a field in which he’s well versed. More importantly, it was a good time rubbing elbows with other professionals.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s nice to have that interaction with each other instead of just sticking to our own bartenders and mangers.”
The final lesson of making a delicious, local, aesthetically pleasing drink?
Make sure the garnish — the beautiful drink topper — is local, but practical. And by practical, make sure it can be ingested, if it comes to that.
“There’s a lot of flowers that are beautiful but they’re poisonous,” Smith said. “I’ve been known to forage for a garnish or two, but do your research.”