Build in a rocks glass filled with ice. Stir and think of Hawaii.
~ adapted from The Internet Cocktail Database
Ever find something you thought had been lost forever? Great feeling, right? That's how I feel about Okolehao.
Okolehao is a spirit native to Hawaii, and depending on which recipes and traditions are followed, can vary widely with regard to ingredients and flavor profile- Comparisons have been made to rum, tequila, moonshine, and even sake. While there is clearly lots of room for interpretation, the primary ingredient that anchors everything is the root of the Ti plant, which is Okolehao's signature component. No Ti plant, no Okolehao.
Technical info aside, the important thing to note is that it has been gone for a while, and now it's back.
Haleakala Distillers, Hawaii's only authorized rum distillery, is currently making Okolehao, and while it's not widely available (hopefully this will change as soon as possible), it can be found, and I encourage you to seek it out. The Okolehao made by this family-owned craft distillery definitely deserves a spot on your liquor shelf next to your artisanal rums and small-batch whiskeys.
So by now, you're surely thinking, "Okay, Doc, enough with the infomercial. How does it taste, and what do I do with it?"
Good questions. While I'm loathe to simply lump it in the rum category, it does share some key characteristics with rum, particularly those on the sweeter end of the spectrum. Its deep, dense aroma is reminiscent of certain rum varieties (I find it has a similar nose to Mount Gay XO), and evokes brown sugar, cocoa, and musky floral aspects as well. On the tongue, it encompasses vanilla, nut, and toffee flavors while flirting with a whiskey-like woodiness. Overall, I'd say Haleakala's Okolehao is a member of the rum family, albeit a distant relative. It shares a bloodline with rum to be sure, but still maintains a somewhat exotic and unfamiliar aura. And who doesn't love a little mystery?
As far as how to use it, I would place Okolehao firmly in "mad scientist" territory. It's one of those products that beckons you to tinker with it, combining it with an array of other spirits & mixers to showcase its distinctive flavors. Obviously, it would be a natural in rum-centric recipes (I can almost see the grins on your tiki mugs getting wider already), but I think it could also stand in for whiskey in many cases. Okolehao Old-Fashioned, anyone?
I also find it very pleasant on its own, sipped neat or with a little ice. I particularly enjoy the recipe above, which is exactly that, save for a small measure of Curacao which gives it a kiss of orange flavor.
Find some if you can, and enjoy it however you like. I hear it tastes even better if you're wearing a lei, but since I wear a lei a lot of the time anyway, I can neither confirm nor deny this.
~ Dr. Bamboo