Covering some 28,000 sqkm and with a population of 1.4 million, the Great State of Hawai‘i is the 50th and youngest one of the US of A. Hawai‘i is geographically part of Oceania, not North America; in fact the northernmost island group of the Polynesian subregion, situated right in the middle of the Pacific. A volcanic archipelago comprising hundreds of islands and atoll, Hawai‘i’s eight main islands – seven of which are permanently inhabited – all cluster at the southeastern tip. Indeed, the more northwesterly, the smaller the islands and the more the atolls.
If Belgium is where Latin Europe meets Germanic Europe, Hawaiʻi is where Oceania meets North America, with a pronounced Asian, in particular Japanese, accent. First settled in around 300 BC by the Polynesians, Hawaiʻi may have been “discovered” by Spanish explorers in as early as the 16th century, but the first documented “discovery” was in 1778, when the British Captain James Cook came calling, before going on to lead the Frist fleet into Australia in 1787. Subsequent to its own brand of the Warring States period, Hawai‘i was a kingdom from 1795 to 1893, a republic from 1894 to 1898, annexed by the United States in 1898 and was an Organized Incorporated Territory until 1959, when it finally received statehood.
Lying along the 20th parallel north, Hawaiʻi is latitudinally on a par with Cuba and Haiti, both of which are rum strongholds. That aristocracy and clergy savour wine, foot soldiers imbibe beer, while navy and their brotherly piracy guzzle rum may sound like a stuffy generalisation, but rum originated from the 17th-century Caribbean very much out of necessity. The sultry climate therein was unsuitable for grapes and grains, thereby depriving settlers the raw ingredients to make beer, wine and brandy. Alcoholic they may be, but drinks were crucial to human survival, especially before potable became widely available at the turn of the 20th century.
Along those low latitudes, sugarcane was the main crop, hence the birth of rum. Rum as a drink is notoriously difficult to define within a legal framework, because the island nations never established amongst themselves a set of internationally recognised rules, unlike brandy or whisky. The one common denominator is that rum is made from sugarcane, cane juice or other sugarcane-derived products such as molasses. The colours of rum are kaleidoscopic, ranging from transparent clear to rich golden and inky dark. Rum can be fermented for hours or days; distilled in copper pot stills or continuous column stills; barrel-matured or not matured at all; and bottled filtered or unfiltered.
Due to climatic and historical reasons, Hawaiʻi and wine rarely appear in the same sentence. It has but a handful of wineries, mostly located in Maui, the second biggest island after the eponymous Hawaiʻi, a.k.a. the Big Island. Mead, fruit wine and beer are more common, and so is rum. The sugarcane was introduced to Hawai‘i by ancient Polynesians, and commercial sugar production operations in Hawaii began in the town of Koloa in 1835. Situated in the same town, on the Kaua‘i island, the fourth largest in Hawaiʻi, the Koloa Rum Company has garnered various prizes for its fine rums.
Special thanks to Jacqueline P.L. Chan for supplying the sample.
Koloa Kaua‘i “The Original” Dark Rum
Made from 100 percent raw cane sugar, double-distilled in copper pot stills with water coming from the nearby Mount Waiʻaleʻale. Rich mahogany with ochre-tawny rim, the flamboyant nose radiates toffee apple, vanilla pod, cocoa, maple syrup and charcoal. With a fiery mouthfeel and slight sweetness, the feisty palate oozes damson compote, star anise, caffè mocha, black treacle and toasted oak. Full-bodied at 40 percent, the tropical climate evolves into a smoky mid-palate, leading to an elongated finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France,
and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages