Holiday Gift Guide / With the economy taking a seemingly never-ending nosedive this year, some of us may find ourselves being more careful and consumer-wary while choosing our gifts this holiday season. Luckily, we live in a complex ecosystem that has plentiful exotic fruits and spices. Hawai’i is the only place in the world where the raw ingredients for all three major infusion beverages–coffee, tea and cacao–are grown. There really is no need to look further than our backyards for the perfect gift. Not only will buying local products boost the economy, but many of our companies are also making an effort to be more environmentally aware in producing their stellar products.
The holiday spirits
Rum is undoubtedly popular in the Islands. The Mai Tai, Lava Flow and Blue Hawai’i all make use of this staple island alcohol. So is it really a big surprise that the strongest rum produced in the United States is from Hawai’i? A distillery on Maui, to be exact. At $24 a bottle, Braddah Kimo’s Da Bomb Extreme Rum is 155 proof, 77.5 percent alcohol by volume. If the name doesn’t scare you then perhaps the bottle will. The red label with simple blockish font looks purposely homemade and reminiscent of Hawaiian moonshine. Only available in Hawai’i, it doesn’t meet TSA criteria to be taken onboard an aircraft as a carry-on due to its extremely flammable nature. Those brave enough to try it say Braddah Kimo’s surprisingly does not taste like it’s 155 proof. It’s obviously stronger than 151 but doesn’t smell as potent and has a sweeter taste.
Two vodkas out of Maui are also noteworthy. Pau Vodka, launched this past August, is Hawai’i’s only home-brewed premier vodka. Master distiller Mark Nigbur describes it as “the Bentley of vodkas,”which probably explains why it sells at $99 a pop. Everything but the bottle is completely made in Hawai’i. Pau is the only vodka to be distilled and bottled on the islands. A creative twist on a classic spirit, Maui Gold pineapple juice is used in place of grains to distill the alcohol to 96.5 percent purity and Menehune water is used to dilute the liquid to 40 percent alcohol by volume. Only 250 cases of Pau Vodka are hand produced each month and every bottle is numbered and hand inspected by Nigbur himself.
Not everyone can afford a “Bentley” per se, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Ocean Organic Vodka is, believe it or not, 100 percent USDA certified organic. Owner Shay Smith, a Maui native, says his vodka is “certified organic from the farmers to the processors” and void of any “pesticides, herbicides or flavor additives.” Distilled in Idaho but bottled on Maui, the vodka is made with organic corn and rye and desalinized ocean water that is drawn from 3,000 feet below the surface of the ocean off the coast of the Big Island. Smith, who once drank only imported vodka, got the idea to start his own line of spirits after wondering how and where the vodka he consumed was made. Hoping to promote ocean awareness, he donates a portion of the profits to organizations dedicated to conserving the world’s ocean resources.
Braddah Kimo’s Da Bomb Extreme Rum, available at specialty liquor stores, [haleakaladistillers.com], 808-280-6822
Pau Vodka, available at specialty liquor stores, [paumaui.com], 808-214-8801 or Paradise Beverages for locations, 678-4000
Ocean Organic Vodka, available at specialty liquor stores, [oceanvodka.com], 866-77-OCEAN
Just like old times
Know someone– maybe your father, or an uncle, who can’t stop bringing up the old days? Surprise them this Christmas with gifts that can help satisfy their nostalgia and bring smiles to their faces.
Primo Beer is back, having re-launched in March. Founded in 1898 and brewed in Honolulu, it reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. Long touted as “the beer of the Hawaiian Islands,” it lost its popularity in the 1980s when the brand was sold to a mainland brewing company. It finally shut down in 1997 when sales continued to dwindle. Primo is now part of Pabst Brewing Company and although it is a Chicago based company, Pabst has partnered with Keoki Brewing Company of Kaua’i to produce Primo Draft. So in a sense, yes, Primo Beer is still made in Hawai’i. It is still made with Hawaiian cane sugar and only available here. Portions of the proceeds go to the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation and toward preserving Hawaiian culture, land and heritage.
‘Okolehao is another relic of the past on these islands. A Hawaiian moonshine made from ti root, it originated in the islands around the 1780s. Made in large iron pots, ‘Okolehao–Hawaiian for “iron bottom”–was enjoyed by the likes of King Kalakaua and was produced during and after the Prohibition era. The original ‘okolehao was 100 percent alcohol but along the way the recipe became convoluted and producers that made the original ‘okolehao had gone out of business around the mid-twentieth century. The last version of ‘okolehao was an 80-proof liqueur that was loosely based on the original. There are still some collector bottles for sale at The Liquor Collection for $295. Pricey, but the product is no longer in production, after all. The Liquor Collection carries new and old beers and spirits from around the world including some leftover bottles of Ali’i Brewing Company’s Pau Hana Porter, another fallen Hawaiian brew.
Primo Beer, [thatsprimo.com]
The Liquor Collection at Ward Warehouse, 1050 Ala Moana Blvd, [liquorcollection.com], 524-8808
Small communities of tea growers are bringing an entirely different side of agriculture to the coffee rich Big Island. Although some farmers have been growing for more than seven years, they’ve just started processing and selling their harvests. Takahiro and Kimberly Ino, owners of Mauna Kea Tea, offer different variations of green tea every season. Their tea is all organic and naturally grown without the use of and chemicals or even organic fertilizer. On the rainy slopes of Mauna Kea, the Inos prefer to use natural farming, meaning they do not till or weed, allowing nature and not human prejudice to grow their harvests. Their Sweet Roast Green Tea is excellent iced; other teas vary by season.
Jammin’ for the holidays
For all things liliko’i, many flock to Aunty Lilikoi on Kaua’i. Everything here, from salad dressings to soaps, boasts liliko’i as the primary ingredient. Owner Lori Cardenas says her products are all good, but her Passion Fruit Wasabi Mustard is the most popular. It also won accolade as Grand Champion at the Worldwide Mustard Competition in Napa Valley, Calif. At around $6 a bottle, Aunty Lilikoi also offers syrups, butters and jams, but many swear by her body products, too.
Tahitian Goddess was originally created in Honolulu in 1991, but has since moved to Hanalei, Kaua’i. The products are still the same, however. They use no preservatives or artificial ingredients and focus on using hand-selected fruits and vegetables all locally grown in Hawai’i. The packaging is beautiful and the gifts sets, at around $15.95, are comprehensive in giving an idea of what their product line is really about. Products range from jams to jellies and chutneys to marmalades and are centered around tropical fruit flavors like guava, pineapple and papaya.
All available at Executive Chef at Ward Warehouse, 1050 Ala Moana Blvd, 596-CHEF
Aunty Lilikoi, [auntylilikoi.com], 1-866-LILIKOI
Tahitian Goddess, [tahitiangoddess.com], 826-1820
The sweet life
Melanie Boudar started making chocolates for guests at her bed and breakfast four years ago in an attempt to make her B&B stick out from the many others on the Big Island. Since then she has studied at the Culinary Institute of America and graduated from Ecole Chocolat in Canada. Less than a month ago Boudar opened her first chocolate store in Kailua. Sweet Paradise Chocolatier is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory but in a refined “Hawaiian style.” Boudar focuses on two main things: artistry and local flavors. All her chocolates are handmade. Beautifully hand painted and decorated, her confections take the shape of turtles, plumerias and fish. Her flavors are wonderfully unexpected and undeniably local. She has a POG chocolate, Kona Mocha Latte, Acai Berry and Lilikoi Silk (liliko’i, mango and Alize liqueur). Boudar uses only the finest cacao from Venezuela, Madagascar, Bolivia and of course, Hawai’i. All her chocolates are at least 65 percent chocolate. She loves creating unexpected “fusion flavors” that are rarely seen in your typical chocolate. “Hot Lips” is a chocolate pair of lips made from Hawaiian chili pepper and a French brandy cherry all infused in a dark chocolate ganache. Her Ume chocolate was a well thought-out creation. Carmelized sesame seeds, white chocolate ganache, green Hawaiian sea salt, bamboo leaf extract are all dipped in dark chocolate and topped with an ume flower on top. Her flavors change weekly or monthly depending on the season somtimes. For example, eggnog with Maui Rum, candycane mint and gingerbread are her current seasonal flavors. Boudar also offers beautifully packaged gift boxes.
Nestled in Ward Centers, the Honolulu Chocolate Company offers a local alternative to the chain Godivas of the world. The company, specializing in gourmet chocolate, has used its unique blend of local dairy products and chocolate from Belgium and France to create an original recipe that has entertained taste buds since 1987. Honolulu Chocolate, now Hawai’i’s largest gourmet chocolate retailer, has an extensive menu featuring items such as chocolate-covered ginger, chocolate-dipped oranges and macadamia turtles. The company also stocks high quality international brands. The most popular items, macadamia nut clusters and the chocolate-covered Oreos, make excellent gifts for those who already have everything.
Honolulu Chocolate Company, Ward Centers, [honoluluchocolate.com], 591-2997
Sweet Paradise Chocolatier, [sweetparadisechocolate.com], 20-A Kainehe St. Kailua 96734, 230-8228
Hot, hot, heat!
Arturo’s Hot Flavors of Hawai’i uses island flavors and incorporates them into small bottles of hot sauce that pack a pretty decent punch. Each island has its own flavor. O’ahu Hot Sauce is made from guava and hibiscus, while Molaka’i Hot Sauce is banana, coconut and curry. A bottle of sauce will run you about $6 but the Island Expedition gift set is only $40 and includes all six islands plus one dedicated to the ocean–Makai Hot Sauce. The Vicious Mango Hot Sauce is made from pure mango and is sure to leave your mouth tingling. What’s good about Arturo’s is that the company does the thinking for you with nicely priced gift sets that are inclusive of the whole product range.
Arturo’s Hot Sauce, [hotsaucehawaii.com], avail. at Executive Chef or call 591-9103 for other locations.