Kapahi Bourbon battle

  • Photo courtesy LBD Coffee, LLC

    From left, Les Drent, owner of LBD Coffee, LLC. and his team Tai Erum and Trevyn Pless.

KAPAA — Two shipping containers sit side by side in an empty field just past Kapahi Park on Kawaihau Road. Empty, that is, except for a single palm tree that signifies the planned home for Kauai’s newest distillery.

The containers are housing the bones of an operation that will distill Kauai-grown corn into bourbon, but can’t do so yet without blessing to manufacture alcohol from the Liquor Commission.

It’s been in the works for three years, and Thursday, farmer and businessman Les Drent and his team are going before the Liquor Commission to argue their case for a third time.

Technical issues and community concerns have kept LBD Coffee from obtaining the permit they need to erect the building.

The technicality was an incorrect map submitted with the rest of LBD Coffee’s paperwork to the commission in 2017. That issue has been resolved, according to Drent.

“(The) technical issue was over whether the radius map included all neighbors within 500 feet of the premises,” Drent said in a recent interview with The Garden Island. “(So), we hired a professional survey company to ensure an accurate map.”

Community concerns, however, have been more difficult to clear up.

Muriel (Sissy) Morgan, neighborhood resident in Kapahi, has been leading the charge against LBD Coffee, with a handful of neighbors joining the conversation.

Morgan submitted more than 100 pages of testimony to the Liquor Commission on the subject, citing concerns about whether the corn Drent is using is organic, potential negative impacts on air quality and noise pollution, and potential change in the character of the neighborhood.

“The amount of traffic will increase with deliveries and pickups, and all the patrons coming to the distillery,” Morgan said in her testimony. “This will invite people to buy and drink right at the park. Kapahi Park is going to turn into Kapaa Beach Park.”

Drent has not yet obtained a permit to sell value-added products on agriculture land for his coffee, honey, cigars, bourbon and chocolate at his visitors’ center, which would be on the same property as the distillery. There would be no alcohol consumed on premises.

Just blocks down the road, wine, beer and liquor are already being sold at the Menehune Mart.

“It’s not a bar,” said Tai Erum, one of the managers at LBD Coffee. “There would be no flames, no emissions and alcohol would not be consumed onsite. The warehouse is designed to look like a rustic barn.”

A petition with signatures from 51 percent of registered voters within a 500-foot radius protesting the manufacturer license would stop Drent from getting the license. Morgan is rallying to get those signatures.

“We need the community to show up at the liquor commission meeting and voice their opinion or write a letter,” she wrote in a recent letter to neighbors about the May 16 commission meeting.

In that letter, she points out a refusal of Drent and his team to meet with anyone from the neighborhood, and points to antagonistic phrasing used by Drent — referring to neighbors as CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything).

Drent doesn’t deny using that phrase. However, LBD Coffee has sent three separate letters to the community starting in 2017, inviting anyone to their property and headquarters in Kapahi to chat about the project.

“We sent out a letter (before the first commission meeting) and gave the opportunity to write in if they were going to oppose.” Farm manager Trevyn Pless said. “Nobody wrote anything. If they did, we would have been able to address concerns, but everybody just showed up.”

Because of that, the company decided to postpone the quest for a manufacturing license so they could respond to community concerns.

“All I ask of you is that you reach out to us personally if you have any questions,” Drent wrote in the next letter, dated December 2017.

In another, dated November 2017, he stated: “Although our property is zoned by both the County and State for agriculture use, we are committed to being responsible and considerate neighbors. Our distillery will involve no excessive noise, smell, dust, or other disturbances …”

While they’re waiting on a manufacturing license, production of Kapahi Bourbon whiskey is already in full swing — just not all of it on Kauai.

“We grow the corn here and then ship it to Washington, turn it into bourbon and ship it back,” Drent said. “It’s a lot of product to be shipping back and forth.”

The Liquor Commission meeting is open to the public and is scheduled 4 p.m. Thursday at the Mo’ikeha Building, meeting room 3.


This story has been edited to reflect that Drent has not yet obtained a permit to sell value-added products on agriculture land.

  1. Uncleaina May 15, 2019 6:48 am Reply

    Red flags everywhere!!! First off I do not believe they grew corn on Kauai, shipped it back to the mainland, then shipped the liquor back here. No intelligent person would do that due to the fact that it’s more expensive to ship a ton of corn than to grow or buy a ton of corn. Second, a still produces 98% pure ethanol vapor that is highly explosive- putting a large still in a residential area is a very bad and dangerous idea. Distilleries are typically located off by themselves for this exact reason. Finally if guy is dumb enough to call us CAVE and then *admit* it, then he’s too dumb to have the nuanced skills required to make this business work at all. Never heard of any of these people before either – who would think making sour mash bourbon from Kauai corn has any appeal? Ever seen how overcrowded the market for local booze already is? Hard no to this and hope the people around there stand up.

  2. RG DeSoto May 15, 2019 7:49 am Reply

    Another fine example of what makes starting and running a business so difficult on Kauai…NIMBYs like Missy Morgan and an anachronistic edifice like the liquor commission.
    RG DeSoto

  3. why May 15, 2019 11:20 am Reply

    why would you think you could open a distillery in kapahi?! lol . how about we open a oil refinery in wailua next.

  4. Les Drent May 15, 2019 2:30 pm Reply

    Uncleaina, you are more than welcome to attend the hearing tomorrow. We have created a paper trail for our corn. We have phytosanitary, bill of ladings, and Hawaii Department of Agriculture inspection papers. Been in business since 1993, farming on Kauai since 1998. Welcome to check us out at http://www.lbdcoffee.com. Kind Regards, Les Drent. Owner

  5. Dt May 15, 2019 6:31 pm Reply

    Shouldn’t some science be used here? How close are the homes. Certainly putting any homes in danger would be problematic, but how is a safe distance determined. Is 50 feet good, 500 feet, 5000feet?

    If alcohol isn’t served. I see less of an issue than if it was. Alcohol can be bought in many areas all over the island and doesn’t form issues in each location. If it was, outside of Costco would be a huge mess.

    Why not do a probation mall license for a short term. Fostering business should be supported.

  6. Kapaaa May 16, 2019 10:10 pm Reply

    Agricultural zoned land is for agricultural use. Please manufacture alcohol in an industrial zone.

  7. CAVEMAN May 17, 2019 4:21 pm Reply


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