The first thing that hits you at the distillery is the aroma. I happened to drop in when the fermenting molasses had a swarming sweet and heady smell, but Haleakala Distillers manager Brian Sato assured me that there were some not so pleasant smells that come from the small pot distillery on Maui. Jim and Leslie Sargent started Haleakala Distillers 7 years ago. Jim Sargent gives me the low down on his Maui Rum production.
[to learn more than you ever wanted to know about rum distillation check out
When did you start making rum?
We started the distillery in 2003 but did not sell anything to the public until 2004. Though I had worked for Gallo many years ago, the bulk of my distillation knowledge has been acquired through self study and experimentation.
What does Haleakala Distillers?
Haleakala Distillers is a small craft distillery, family-owned. Founded by me and my wife Leslie. The first Hawaiian distillery of any kind since the 1970’s or so, we had no base of expertise and no local inventory of equipment to draw on. We have always endeavored to produce a true Maui craft product in small volumes. We have won 8 medals over the last four years.
What was your first rum?
Our first rum was a Braddah Kimo’s 80 proof gold rum. It is no longer in production, but was succeeded by the similar, more refined, Maui Gold Rum.
What rums are you making now and What are the flavor profiles in each of your rums?
Our Maui Dark Rum offers hints of dark chocolate, coffee, nuts and cherries, although none of these are ingredients. It is the darkest rum available and makes the perfect float on top of a true Maui Mai Tai.
Maui Gold Rum reminds many people of toffee or butterscotch. It has most of the Dark flavor profile, but much more subtle. It is a popular sipping rum.
Maui Platinum Rum is a mixing rum, with very little flavor of its own, specifically finished to allow the fruit flavors in a mixed drink to shine. Most folks tasting it can get a sense of vanilla and a sweet background note.
Braddah Kimo’s Extreme 155 Proof Rum is also recognized for a nice clean, sweet vanilla note.
Maui Reserve Gold Rum Similar to unaged Maui Gold Rum, but more oak tones and subtle hints of spice. A rounder, more sophisticated palate, due to the time in the oak.
Our Maui Okolehao Liqueur tastes like nothing else in captivity because it is made from East Maui Ti Roots, which have many subtle and unusual flavors. Some people have told us it reminds them of Amaretto, others of a very sweet spiced rum, but without the rum burn.
What makes is Maui Rum significant?
Our rums are special because they are:
1. True handcrafted Maui products.
2. Produced in such small quantities that they are some of the rarest spirits on earth.
3. The most-awarded spirits in the Pacific Basin.
4. Unavailable on most of the US mainland, and in no other countries, BUT YOU CAN BUY THEM IN HAWAII AND TAKE THEM HOME!
Why do we find a lot of rum is produced in the tropics?
Rum is actually made everywhere there is either sugarcane or molasses available to ferment. The Hawaiian islands became a rum production area as soon as sugar began to be planted in the 1800’s.
How hard is it to distill rum?
Rum is the most complex spirit to make. There are over 600 congeners (flavor elements) which we must work with to balance out into a well-tempered, drinkable rum. The most expensive wines and scotches have a quarter and half as many congeners, respectively, making rum a far greater challenge to perfect as there are way many more things which can go wrong. Here on Maui we have the freshest molasses to use, of very high quality, which gives us an advantage over virtually every other distillery.
Where can we get Maui rum?
Our products are available on every inhabited Hawaiian island except for Niihau. Lots of visitors buy here and take back in their CHECKED LUGGAGE, as this is totally acceptable to the airlines and airport security. You can get the product at a few retailers in California, but they are often out of stock and must charge higher prices to cover the transportation. Internet sales are conducted by only one retailer, www.hitimewine.net to about 40 states. Folks in other countries have no easy source and many buy here in Hawaii and take back in their checked luggage. We have emails from fans in over 50 countries wanting to know when the product will be available locally to them. You can find a list of locations at http://haleakaladistillers.com/5094.html.
Please tell me about your bottle recycling program and why your are doing this on Maui?
The bottle recycling program is unique in the US as far as we can tell. We are not recycling the glass material but reusing the entire bottle. This saves much energy and makes Maui way less dependent on imports. It also helps some of our customers reduce their disposal bills,as they have to pay to get rid of competitors’ empty bottles whereas we pay them to take away ours.
When the bottles come back to the distillery they go through a rigorous wash in a hospital-grade bottle washer which leaves them cleaner than new bottles would be when they arrive. We got the idea from visiting Jamaica years ago, watching the locals reuse their own bottles by taking them from home to the distillery or to a bar, where the bottle could be refilled with their choice of spirit again and again.
I had seen in historical photos and bottle collections on Maui that the old Haleakala Dairy premises, where we now have the distillery, used to deliver milk in returnable bottles, so was inspired to bring back a time-honored custom once I realized how much ocean freight penalized us on incoming glass shipments. We bounced the idea off of a couple of large customers, like the Four Seasons Lanai and the Westin Maui and they were very supportive of bottle reuse. It requires a minor amount of effort on their part, but they save money every time they avoid sending a dumpster of glass to the landfill, so it works out well for them.
what does the future hold for Haleakala Distillers?
We hope that our future holds more of the same for Haleakala Distillers; making award-winning rums, helping Maui become a more sustainable destination, providing rewarding employment for the talented folks living on Maui.
For more reading on Haleakala Distillery please see http://www.haleakaladistillers.com/5157.html