Barfly| Crave Distillery crafts tropical spirits in Kalihi
By Jason Genegabus Posted September 13, 2017 September 12, 2017
Kapalama Shopping Center doesn’t seem like the place to find Oahu’s newest distillery, but that’s where you’ll find Royal Hawaii Spirits.
Tucked away on the Kaumualii Street side of the complex, owner Karel Kon’s tiny warehouse space is home to a pair of column stills that have been churning out experimental batches of rum, vodka, shochu and other spirits since 2014.
Karel Kon, owner of Royal Hawaii Spirits, offered a sample of his absinthe made with sage at the tasting bar of his Kalihi distillery. Kon specializes in small-batch tropical liquors and spirits.
A real estate broker by trade, Kon is originally from the Czech Republic and moved to Hawaii from Boston when he met his future wife here nearly 20 years ago.
“I do what I have to do,” Kon said Thursday, the first day Royal Hawaii opened for sales to the general public. “I did not spend three years of my life to make this an expensive hobby. I have about 60 recipes approved … and I have 40 labels approved (by the federal government).”
Royal Hawaii Distillery traces its roots to Kon’s childhood in the Czech Republic, where he said many families created their own liquor by taking fresh ingredients to neighborhood distilleries.
“I can remember before first grade, helping my family,” he said. “Bring your own ingredients, make appointment, buy tax stamps, make and bottle, then do what you like with it.
“It’s a very different life there. You have apricots, you have peaches, you have berries. Everybody uses different fruits, so everybody (has) different specialties.”
Kon is taking somewhat of a shotgun approach with Royal Hawaii’s offerings, bottling different spirit formulations based on recipes from his home country and a few other “secret” sources. He said he can make 99 varieties of vodka and is trying various recipes to “make a point” and figure out what local customers want.
“People are looking for all kinds of different flavors,” he said. “I don’t know what people will like, so I will have a full tasting room available.”
For now, Kon’s tasting room at 1210 Dillingham Blvd. will be open to the public only from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursdays. A visit last week found bottles of soju, gin, hibiscus- flavored vodka, cherry shochu and spirits that showcased flavors of banana, passion fruit and plum. Prices range from $16 to $18, to $50 and up for specialty releases.
While I don’t see myself buying these bottles to drink neat, I’m intrigued to see how they’re embraced by local bars and incorporated into cocktail menus. Kon’s Hawaii Gold spirit, distilled from Maui Gold pineapple and elevated with the addition of pineapple juice and 24-karat gold flakes, is unlike anything I’ve seen produced in Hawaii. I was also pleasantly surprised by his ginger-honey cordial made with locally sourced ginger and honey from Hawaii island.
Learn more about Royal Hawaiian Spirits online at
www.rhsdistillery.com or www.facebook.com/alohadistillery
Call 741-6641 for a private tasting