Let’s drink to that

Bill Buley / The Garden Island

Kumu Sabra Kauka, second from left, gets assistance from Koloa Rum Company Chief Financial Officer Alicia Iverson in sprinkling water on the ground where the company’s new facilities will be, Wednesday in Koloa. Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami, third from left, and company President and CEO Bob Gunter, fifth from left, and other dignitaries look on.

Bill Buley / The Garden Island

Kumu Sabra Kauka, third from left, leads the blessing and groundbreaking ceremony in Koloa for the Koloa Rum Company’s new facilities Wednesday morning. From left are Emmsley-James Drake, Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami, Koloa Rum President and CEO Bob Gunter and Koloa Rum Chief Financial Officer Alicia Iverson.

KOLOA — Robert Weist is one of the original investors in the Koloa Rum Company. Wednesday morning, he smiled with pride as he took part in a groundbreaking and blessing ceremony at its new site in Koloa.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” he said.

Today, as the company’s board chairman, his business philosophy is to focus on taking care of customers, employees, the community and, “last but not least, investors.”

That philosophy has been successful, as Koloa Rum also marked a decade in business on Kauai.

“I’m particularly proud of the jobs we created,” Weist said. “For a long time that was one of my major motivations, to create jobs. With the team we have now, we’ve been able to do that.”

The company has big plans that will more than double the size of its current operation to a 45,000-square-foot distillery and warehouse at its new headquarters. It will include a tasting room, company store and cafe.

Expansion plans also include the planting and cultivation of 10 to 12 acres of sugarcane on site to recognize and honor the agricultural heritage of the town of Koloa, where commercial sugar production operations were first introduced in 1835.

Koloa Rum will refurbish old plantation-camp structures into workforce housing and a museum that will tell the story of the rich history of sugarcane production in the area.

“We’re thrilled to have you here on this site, which represents the future of Koloa Rum Company,” said Bob Gunter, Koloa Rum president and CEO. “We have big plans. We know it’s going to take a lot of work.”

Completion of the project is projected for September 2020. It is leasing the 18-acre site just up the road from Old Koloa Town.

Having achieved double-digit sales year-after-year, and revenue increases since year one, the Koloa Rum Company expansion will allow for increased production and distribution to accommodate the brand’s growth, Gunter said.

About 20 people took part in the private ceremony led by Kumu Sabra Kauka just off Maluhia Road across from Anne S. Knudsen Park on a sunny morning.

The gathering included members of Koloa Rum’s team, government leaders and property owners.

“We would not be standing here today if it weren’t for the support of all of you, each of you here,” Gunter said, adding he feels fortunate and is ready for the challenges ahead.

“We look forward to making this dream a reality,” he said.

Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami said Koloa Rum has been a strong community partner for years. It has a large presence on Kauai and in Washington, D.C. during Hawaii on the Hill.

“We want to congratulate Bob and Koloa Rum Company for keeping the heritage and tradition and culture of sugar alive,” he said. “These folks are wonderful stewards of our land.”

Established in 2009, Koloa Rum Company produces artisanal, single-batch, Hawaiian rum and ready-to-drink cocktails at its distillery in Kalaheo, and operates the island’s first distilled-spirits tasting room and company store.

The company’s award-winning portfolio includes its premium Kauai White, Gold, Dark, Aged, Spice, Coconut and Coffee rums.

Carrice Caspillo Gardner, Gov. David Ige’s Kauai liaison, said the governor visited Koloa Rum’s facilities in 2017.

She said he “was excited because your operations have provided jobs for residents here. It’s helped to diversify our economy, and you’ve been successful. This new groundbreaking and blessing today will help to support your growing operations.”

She read a proclamation from the governor that noted Koloa Rum is the first licensed distillery on Kauai, and its original batch of rum was distilled in bottles in September 2009.

The governor wanted to recognize Koloa Rum on its 10th anniversary “for sharing the spirit of aloha with the world and recreating distinguished products that honor and promote Hawaii’s culture and agricultural history.”

Gunter said that Kauka goes back to the very beginning with Koloa Rum Company, as she presided over the blessing and groundbreaking of its tasting room and company store in Kilohana Plantation in Puhi 11 years ago.

“How we present ourselves, how we represent our island, we’re very respectful in honoring our host culture and the rich history of Kauai,” he said.


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

  1. harry oyama September 19, 2019 4:14 am Reply

    Ahhh, there’s nothing like having a few samples of alcohol to get those spirits a going. Looks like a few in that picture already had some “happy hour”.

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