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Hawaiian Moonshine 100 Proof Okolehao

Review: Hawaiian Moonshine (Okolehau)   84/100
(Cane Spirit with Ti Root)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on July 24, 2015

A couple of friends of mine went to Hawaii this past Spring and brought me back a bottle of Hawaiian Moonshine. According to the label on the bottle this product is produced by Island Distillers and it is apparently a re-creation of an original Hawaiian spirit called Okolehao. For those interested, Okolehao was originally an old Hawaiian fermented beverage whose main flavour ingredient was the root of the ti plant. It was if you will a ‘ti root’ beer.

Note: This should not be confused with traditional root beer which was originally a ‘sassafras root’ beverage made by indigenous Americans later to be adopted (and adapted) by European settlers and explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries.

When distillation was introduced  to the Hawaiian Islands sometime around the end of the 18th century their ti root beverage began to be distilled into a unique alcohol spirit which became known as Okolehao. Over time local recipes for Okolehao included other fermentable sugar products as well such as sugarcane and pineapple, however two elements common to almost all recipes were a high alcohol content and the continued use of ti root.

Island Distillers recreation of the Okolehao spirit is bottled at 100 proof (50 % alcohol by volume) and it labeled as Hawaiian Moonshine 100 Proof Okolehao. At the bottom of the label we are told that this version of Okolehao is a product of “Cane Spirit with Ti Root”.

moonshine_bottle_descIn the Bottle 5/5

The bottle presentation for the Hawaiian Moonshine is pretty nifty. The old style ceramic bottle comes complete with a rubber stopper sealed with a metal wire clamp. This looks and feels light an authentic old-time moonshiner’s bottle. The front label is rather minimalistic, not giving much away as to what we have inside which I suppose would also be in keeping with the moonshine theme.

To add a further depth of authenticity to the product, Island Distillers have added Hawaiian language elements to their label presentation. The words “Ka lama o Hawaii” on the front label can be translated as  “The spirit of Hawaii”. On the back label the inscription “He mamo keia a ka okolehao kaulana i aloha nui ia e na alii a knaka Hawaii mai ka makahiki 1790 mai” is translated from Hawaiian to English as “This is the descendant of the famous okolehao prized by Hawaiian kings and commoners since 1790”,  and the second inscription, “Me ke akahele a me ka hoihi ana i kona lalani kahiko, hana lima ia maila keia lama ono mikioi me na pono oi loa i hiki ai” can be translated as “Made with care and reverence for its heritage, this surprisingly smooth liquor is handcrafted using the finest ingredients available”.

In the Glass 8.5/10

The Hawaiian Moonshine is clear in the glass, and the high alcohol content combined with some obvious added sugars allow the crest which forms after I swirl my glencairn to keep its shape and only grudgingly give up fat droplets which amble back to the spirit at the bottom of the glass.

The nose indicates a firm cane-like sweetness which I am sure helps to temper the alcohol heat which would normally have a fuller impact in the breezes above the glass. I notice some light mint and licorice scents in the air as well as some mild coconut-like smells. As I take my time with the glass I begin to sense more complexity which includes smells of soft banana and some citrus zest. The breezes bring me firm cotton candy and building butterscotch aromas as well. I am pleased that the breezes above the glass remain pleasant, albeit perhaps everything is just a little on the sweetened side of the fence.

In the Mouth 50/60

Although the 50 % alcohol strength was disguised by a sugary sweetness on the nose, the first sip brings a firm bite forward within that sweetness. There is a light bitterness (reminiscent of angelica root) which provides a bit of a foil for the sweetness, and this light bitterness seems to be accented with light mint and licorice like flavours. There is also a light spiciness which hints at citrus zest and banana peel. As I sip I also begin to sense undercurrents of milk chocolate and a light but firm impression of toasted coconut.

I am impressed with the overall flavour of the Hawaiian Moonshine, and I decide to mix a few cocktails to explore its range. It became very obvious to me that any fruited cocktail which would normally use gin, vodka, or rum are winners when mixed with this Okolehau spirit. In particular (perhaps because it was such a hot afternoon when I mixed my cocktails) I found mint and lime to be perfect accompaniments. (See my Moonshine Mojito recipe below).

In the Throat 12.5/15

I had mentioned earlier that I found the heat of this moonshine spirit relatively comfortable when I sipped. The added sweetness within is the proper foil for the spirit’s 50 % alcohol strength. That is not to say the spirit remains comfortable when we take more than a few sips. The heat has a tendency to build, and if we are not cautious it will begin to bite at our tonsils and throat. However, when the spirit was mixed into that aforementioned Moonshine Mojito, there was no uncomfortable burn at all.

The Afterburn 8/10

The Hawaiian Moonshine is a very interesting spirit. It is very similar to a sweetened white rum, with perhaps a few additional accents of licorice and mint. I found it very enjoyable and very mixable. Definitely a worthwhile indulgence.

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.


Suggested Recipe

Moonshine Mojito SAM_1676Moonshine Mojito

1 1/2 oz Hawaiian Moonshine (Okolehau)
Large Ice Cubes
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 Tsp Simple Syrup
1/2 Lime cut into small wedges
soda water
3 sprigs of mint

Add Hawaiian Moonshine (Okolehau) fresh lime juice, sugar syrup and 2 sprigs of mint to a metal shaker with ice.
Shake to chill mixture to bruise the mint
Fill a tall glass with Ice and lime wedges
Double strain the cocktail mixture into the tall ice filled glass
Complete with soda water
Stir lightly
Garnish with a third sprig of mint

My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret the score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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