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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Drinking in Paradise, island of Kauai offers more than just scenic beauty.

Manawaiopuna Falls
 It's not every day in my life that I get to see or do something special.  Familiar terrain, the common pace of life, the work routine while sustainable becomes all too ordinary and often boring. In order to break out of this mold I tend to do things that give me experiences that have to be different to all my senses.  Food and drink has provided a good outlet for that, and I discovered early on that it is more enjoyable when traveling.

So what better way to experience such a change to my senses than going to what people described to me as paradise.  Where was paradise?  I asked a few good friends I knew.  Many had said it's in Hawaii, but more specifically on the "Garden Island" as it is known called Kauai.

Kauai is one of the smaller islands of Hawaii, with a population of about 70,000 people.  It is filled with gorgeous scenery from an intense wet climate, birds and flowers full of color that you wont see anywhere else, and then surrounded by a gorgeous ocean and numerous beaches that feel like walking on the softest corn meal you have ever set foot on.


Repeated words and phrases kept coming up when I spoke with people about the place.  "Best Island".  "Paradise on Earth".  "Utopia".  "Intensely Green".  "Perfect".  Sounded like a perfect place for a vacation I thought, but what about the drink?  I of course also thought about the food (which by the way I strongly suggest you stick to lunch and street side trucks and shacks where it excels far beyond waitered table service but that's another story...), but was there good drinking also in paradise?  I am happy to report that there is.

The irony though when you first visit Kauai, is that the last thing you want to think about is food and drink.  Your senses are immediately drawn to what you see first as smells and taste take a backseat.  I also noticed that island culture here is really drawn to outdoor activity.  People are up early and in the water doing everything imaginable, surfing, snorkeling, fishing, kite boarding.. you name it.  It seemed like the last thing people wanted to do was care about food and drink.  But not our hero.  Why can't you have the best of both worlds?  And in many ways you can.

Shortly after I landed I found myself shopping for beer.  What irony and priorities huh?  
After a few short local trips it didn't take me long to find out that there was not much selection, but was happy to find that Deschutes is distributed here and was quite common.  Deschutes is one of my personal favorite breweries.  They are from Oregon and their beers are not available where I live. How nice it is to have with ample chances to get Inversion IPA and Mirror Pond while palm trees, lush beaches and perfect weather days surround you everywhere?  Pretty darn good I say, in fact I even found their winter seasonal here, but drinking a winter seasonal in this warm place during December probably would have ravaged the tiki gods and punished me in ways that I couldn't imagine.  It just seemed very wrong so I stuck with the IPA.

Besides some occasional beer found in markets, the island believe it or not actually has two breweries.  One of them is Kauai Island Brewing Company who is just outside the town of Hanapepe.


Pakala Porter
I tried several of their beers, and they pretty much pass the test for enjoyment. One of the things the brewery offers here is a pretty good selection of styles ranging from Ambers, Browns, Fruit Ales (using local Lilikoi fruit), Porter and IPAs.  Captain Cook's IPA was easily my favorite of the bunch, and while not a beer geeks wet dream, the beer has a very distinct and wonderful bursting tropical nose.  The tropical smell from this brew seemed so perfect for the islands setting.  Pakala Porter is also quite decent as well, with lots of coffee roasting rich qualities.

Not to be outdone also, is Kauai Beer Company, which is located on the Eastern area of the island in Lihue.
Kauai Beer Company's lineup
It's actually very close to the airport, so if you get a hankering for some beer right when you land, this is short drive up Rice St not far away.  The place has a classic brewery tasting room welcoming vibe, with lots of open seating, large flags hanging from the ceiling, a window that shows the breweries workings from behind the bar, and a gorgeous large piece of Norfolk pine that accents the bar.

Unlike Kauai Island Brewing, Kauai Beer Co. focuses on German styles of beer and specifically lagers.
 There are only about 5 beers in their lineup, with 2 guest taps, but it is the Munich Helles styles that the brewer here has done their best work in.  While the brewery does make a Marzen and Schwarzbier that go for malt caramel and roasty qualities, their simple take on Munich Helles with beers like Helles Swelles and Lihue Lager are just done so well.  A decent dense malt bill, with light toasty white bread finish and bakery aromas and aftertaste showcase on the palate.  They make for easy drinking and could even convert regular macro drinkers over in my opinion.

Still drinking in Kauai does not exclusively mean beer.  On a trip to a local market, an interesting product was on the shelves, a dark glowing blue labelled bottle that appeared to look like Blue Nun wine.  Going out of your way for Blue Nun in Hawaii?  Hell no!  Kauai has a local meadery called Nani Moon Mead that makes tropical honey wines.
Mead is essentially a wine like beverage derived primarily from honey.  The honey used at Nani Moon is local to the island, with many of the other ingredients being local tropical fruit, cacao, and other spices.  I tried two products one called Cacao Moon, a mead made with local cacao, vanilla beans and macadamia nut blossom honey.

Excellent vanilla notes, with some chocolate character however, it's honey character and mix of flavors seem to clash a bit for my personal tastes.  A better option I enjoyed was the Winter Sun which is made with local wildflower honey, starfruit, and lilikoi.
It pairs really nicely with food as I grabbed some local shrimp, shoyu poke, and super fresh ripe avocado.  A bit of marinating on the grill, and then just simple avocados which were in season (they were incredibly fresh and perfect), it worked as a nice fruity wine for dinner.

But life would not be complete for an island drink adventure if there was no rum.  Luckily Kauai provides this as well.  The Koala Rum company uses tall cane sugar from the islands and currently has 5 rum products.
Their coconut rum is quite appealing, not overly sweet or saccharine tasting, but comes with a great toasty and creamy flavor.  The real treat however is Koala's dark rum, which has incredible tasting flavors of coffee and bitter dark chocolate.
It was one of the more unique rums I have had, and was quite impressed how flavorful it was to just drink it neat.  Tourists and locals joined us in the tasting room with a good feel and sense of camaraderie.  "I work about 10 minutes away, and been living here for 6 years, I've never heard of this place." said one woman at the counter.  "Well come in anytime you like and have a shot with us!" said the young man behind the counter.

Now that's one great work schedule if you ask me.

So if you can pull yourself away from majestic sea turtles, helicopter tours, and suntanning on the beach, you can find inside some real treats on this Garden Island.  After all, as we shared stories of island beauty with sips of rum, beer, and mead with others in between, what better way to experience paradise?  Truly the best of both worlds.





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