Inspired by the Past, Kōloa Rum Co. Is Innovating for Modern Tastes

2023 SmallBiz Editor’s Choice Award winner: President and CEO Bob Gunter says the premium Kaua‘i-made rum is sold in 32 states and internationally.
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Photo: courtesy of Kōloa Rum Co.

In 2009, Kōloa Rum Co. made its first batch of rum in an old jam and jelly factory just outside of Līhu‘e. Today, its rum is sold in 32 states and Canada, Japan and across Europe.

The brand has also expanded its lineup from white, gold and dark rum to coconut, coffee and spiced rum along with bottled signature cocktails and canned carbonated cocktails.

“We like to say we have a rum for every day of the week,” says Bob Gunter, president and CEO of Kōloa Rum.

A key part of the company’s success has been its partnerships, says Gunter. Hawaiian Airlines has served Kōloa rum and cocktails for over a decade and since 2021, Kōloa has been “the official ultra-premium rum of the Las Vegas Raiders.”

After producing a limited line of commemorative bottles for the 45th anniversary of the Raiders’ first Super Bowl win, the company applied the concept at home.

“We approached the University of Hawai‘i Athletics Department and began talking with them about ways that we might collaborate in a supportive way,” says Gunter. “We created a special bottle and box relief of our five-year single barrel” to commemorate the back-to-back men’s volleyball championships in 2021 and 2022.

The 300 bottles, offered at select Foodland stores on O‘ahu, sold out in just a couple of days, says Gunter. Proceeds from the sales went to UH Athletics.

Kōloa Rum was founded on the idea of “being able to create something of value” for the local community, according to Gunter.

“We know and have known from the beginning that the real reason that we’ve been successful is because of the quality, the product, and that goes back to the ingredients, how it’s made, and of course, who’s making it.”

Of the company’s 52 employees, 43 are based on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, says Gunter. Ingredients like coffee and vanilla beans for their rum infusions are sourced from Kaua‘i. Sugar cane had been sourced locally until the closure of Hawai‘i’s last sugar mill.

In the next 5 to 10 years, Kōloa Rum hopes to open its new Kōloa town facility, which will include a new tasting room, cafe and Kōloa plantation museum. The company plans to eventually have a “single-estate organic rum that is made from sugar cane grown there, processed there, distilled and bottled and sold there,” says Gunter.

“The sugar industry, of course, is a big part of our heritage and our culture here in Hawai‘i. And so being able to memorialize that in that way in this museum … (and) continue having sugar cane grown there, it just brings it back full circle.”