Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Royal Hawaii Spirits DistilleryRestaurant Insider
May 31, 2020
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: Royal Hawaii Spirits Distillery
ANNE LEE speaks with Royal Hawaii Spirits Distillery master distiller and founder KAREL KON
Known for its unique flavors, Royal Hawaii Spirits Distillery has been creating one-of-a-kind libations since opening its doors in January 2015. So imaginative are the company’s products — founder Karel Kon shares about its ahi vodka this week — that it’s been a go-to for many of Hawaii’s bars and restaurants, as well as individuals who want to get their hands on distinctive drinks.
The spirit of giving is alive and well at the local company, which recently used its award-winning alcohol to manufacture World Health Organization-approved hand sanitizers. The crew at RHS Distillery volunteered their time to make the products (80 percent alcohol) for first responders and the public over the last couple of months.
“Now, we’re ready to move our production back to award-winning spirits and liquor,” says Kon. “We hope that that people and businesses will remember to support RHS Distillery in the future.
“You deserve a break; enjoy responsibly,” he adds.
RHS Distillery is open for takeout, as well as curbside alcohol or hand sanitizer pickup. Delivery or shipping is also available.
AL: How did RHS Distillery get its start?
KK: I visited Hawaii in 1995, married a Kaimuki girl in 1998 and worked as a travel agent, real estate broker and project manager. I got tired of waiting for European-style liquors to be delivered by our visiting friends and family. I wanted to share with my (local) friends the insane flavors and aromas of unique European and Asian spirits. I saw the potential in the local variety of tropical fruits, such as breadfruit (Tequila of Pacific, three medals), breadfruit vodka (silver), pineapple (three silver), sugar cane rum (silver), mango, lychee, hibiscus, lavender, ginger, turmeric, Kona coffee (silver) and more as superior flavors for a new fusion of American, Asian and European recipes, as well as formulas for unique, luxury, small-batch crafted alcoholic beverages.
AL: How did you come up with the company’s name?
KK: Since we focus on the highest quality for our liquor, the Royal Hawaii Spirits name looked appropriate.
AL: This is truly a made in Hawaii product. Can you tell me more about your process and how you choose your flavors?
KK: We try to test all possible Hawaii fruits and herbs in craft alcohol distilling, explore the locally available natural flavors and aromas, and develop spirits or liqueurs with standalone flavors, like our Ginger Spirit, or mixed or paired with another local ingredient like Kona coffee in the Kona Mule. Another pairing is Big Island honey in the Hawaii Mule. We can also pair them with mainland ingredients to make Ginger Lime Orange Hula Vodka, Sakura Shochu, Ginger Cherry Liqueur, Maui Pink Gin or 808 Flavored Whisky and Soju.
AL: What are some of your most popular items?
KK: On the semisweet side, the liliko‘i Aloha Spirit Liqueur is excellent over pound cake, pancakes, ice cream, shave ice, mixed with champagne for weddings, on the rocks as a mai tai, with soda as seltzer, as flavoring for syrup to upgrade cheap vodka, whisky or rum, in cooking over haupia pudding, or as alcoholic liliko‘i jelly. Other popular liqueur multitaskers are Kona Mule Coffee, Ginger Cherry, Mango, Strawberry, Chocolate and Lemonchello. Our most popular liquors are Ulukila Breadfruit Spirit or Aged Brandy, Pineapple Spirit or Brandy, Hula Girl GLO Vodka, Whisky Formula 808, Pono Hawaii Punch, Sandwich Islands Rum, Sakura or Taro Shochu, Haluda Bae, Maui Pink Gin, Hawaii Gold, Dad’s Dream Soju and so many more.
AL: You even have an ahi vodka, that smells like ahi, how did this process come about?
KK: Our team takes it as a product challenge for Japanese restaurants. The tuna is bought fresh at the Pier 39 auction. It’s processed and distilled in the same way as our Bacon Vodka. The Smooth Ahi Tuna Fish Vodka is excellent as is, on the rocks, paired with seafood dishes and in the best-ever Bloody Mary cocktail. It could be substituted with RHS Bacon Vodka with a dash of Seaweed Vodka and dash of Hawaii Chili Pepper Vodka.
AL: What are your price points, and do you do custom orders?
KK: Prices start from $20, and most of the unique beverages are $30-$45. Custom orders cost about $50 or more. Our private label is available for bars, clubs, stores, weddings and the public. Only 20 percent of our products are offered online. So, you should check the RHS sales and tasting room for the rest, including Li Hing Mui Vodka, Haupia Rum, Oahu Liqueur, Bier-schnapps, Lychee Brandy, Dragon Fruit Spirit, Shaojiu, Duck Sauce Spirit, Prickly Pear Spirit, BF Whisky, Island Gin, Hibiscus Vodka, Bounty Vodka, Banana, Orange Liquor, Maui Onion Spirit and Black Tea Liqueur.