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.