A booze snob, I am not. I tend to grab whatever white wine is on sale and I’ll generally plan to shrug at bottom shelf liquor as long as my ever-increasing-with-age hangovers allow — I’m a classy girl, I know. But I make a big exception when I’m traveling, in which case I’m all about drinking local whenever and wherever possible.
And on Maui, that’s easy! On previous trips, I fell in love with Maui’s gorgeous Upcountry region, the epicenter of the island’s agriculture, and this trip, I wanted to show my bartender boyfriend the best the island had to offer in a glass.
We couldn’t think of a better place to start than Maui’s only winery.
Ian, our friend Caitlin and I arrived at MauiWine a bit early for the exclusive King’s Tour and Tasting experience we’d reserved. No problem — we wandered across the street to The Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill to line our stomachs with authentic ranch-style burgers made with elk, lamb, and beef raised on the ranch. I doubt I’ve ever eaten anything fresher.
Maui’s one and only winery opened its doors in 1974, and has been primarily famous for its pineapple wine ever since! Unfortunately MauiWine has discontinued the specific tour we did, but the good news is you can pretty much cobble it together from their current offerings, and it will be cheaper!
We started with a tour of the winery, then entered the King’s Jail for a semi-private tasting with two other couples, and then finished up in the King’s Cottage to taste more wine and be unleashed, perfectly tipsy, into the winery store.
Guided, thirty minute tours of the historic estate, production area, and wine cellar are completely free and leave every day at 10:30 and 1:30. Note that you’ll only be touring the winery here — the vineyards are located elsewhere and can only be visited by very exclusive private tours! If you want to see a vineyard while in Hawaii and you’re also visiting the Big Island, stop by Volcano Winery for a tour and tasting.
But back to this island. The sommelier leading our tour was so Maui — laid-back, passionate, and proud of his upcountry roots. He did a fantastic job introducing us to the history of MauiWine and the property it sits on as well as an overview of growing grapes on volcanic soil, and modern winemaking practices.
Then, we headed into the Old Jail, a stone building that once served as the private office of a famous captain. The good news? You can still book a tasting here in the Old Jail every day at 11:15am for $30. The forty minute tasting includes four wines with small bite pairings. Our tasting was fun and casual, with our sommelier cracking jokes and the seven of our around the table sharing stories of wine, travel, and Hawaii.
Finally, we headed into the King’s Cottage, the main tasting room and the wine shop. Originally constructed in the 1870s, the space was built for the visits of King Kalākaua, the last reigning king of Hawaii, who would retreat to the slopes of ‘Ulupalakua for his royal vacations. Here, you can do tastings of five wines for a tasting fee of $10-15, or do a free tasting of three wines.
Conclusion? Not only is MauiWine fun, it’s also delicious! Our guide recounted hilarious tales of guests coming and saying right off the bat, “you know, we’re from Napa, so don’t expect us to be impressed by this,” only to go home with several cases. Ha!
I pretty much love any novelty winery — I’d take wine from the twisted vineyards of Santorini or the burgeoning wineries of Thailand or the golden pineapple wines of Maui over Napa, any day. Where else does your wine bottle come with its own hula skirt, anyway?
The Hali’imaile Distillery opened in Makawao in 2010, making it the island’s youngest booze brewer. They focus on distilling small batch, authentically Hawaiian spirits. And like MauiWine, they use plenty of Hawaii’s favorite golden fruit to make it — the pineapple.
The award-winning distillery produces four distinct brands — the signature Pau Vodka, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, Paniolo Whiskey and my absolute favorite, Maui Moon Vodka. With flavors like hibiscus, pineaplle orange guava and macadamia nut, these vodkas definitely aren’t for everyone but dang are they for me! Especially the macadamia nut — fitting, considering Hawaii is the macadamia nut capital of the world, growing 90% of the planet’s macadamia nuts.
With a vodka line packaged in glass tiki-shaped bottles, mustaches painted on the whiskey barrels and a head distiller who makes the rounds to autograph your purchases with a gold pen, this certainly isn’t a distillery that takes itself too seriously.
The tour operates Monday-Friday and lasts about 30-45 minutes. It’s the simplest of the Maui booze tours I’ve been on, but at $10 a person — and with delicious macadamia nut vodka behind the counter — you really can’t complain.
My advice? Time your visit to align with the happy hour at the Hali’imaile General Store, an upcountry institution across the street. You can score $8 cocktails featuring Pau Vodka, and $4 local beers from Maui Brewing Co. There’s also a crazy good deal on flatbreads and other small plates for just $10 a pop — an absolute bargain for such a lovely restaurant in Maui. Happy hour is ever Monday-Friday from 3:00-5:30 pm. Take a tour, then head across the street for a few bites!
Despite our best intentions, I didn’t get the chance to bring Ian to Ocean Vodka, a small, organic distillery that I fell head over heels for on a prior trip to Maui. However, no list of local island sips would be complete without it!
Opened in 2005, Ocean Vodka is deeply dedicated to organic and sustainable farming practices, from using 100% solar power to bottling their product exclusively in recycled glass. This is largely a family business, and the employees who aren’t biologically related soon come to feel like kin regardless.
Tours here kick off with a tasting of raw sugarcane, which you can munch on while your guide launches into an upbeat explanation of the distillery process. After marveling at the sugarcane fields and touring the distillery, you’ll head out to the Martini Garden, where guests are free to pick fresh, local ingredients such as Kula lavender, local citrus, passion fruit, pineapple and strawberries to pair with your vodka sample. Taste familiar? Perhaps you had a sip en route to the islands — Ocean Vodka has been the exclusive vodka on Hawaiian Airlines since 2007.
Tours are $10 and run every half four, and all guests are gifted a shot glass upon departure. My advice? Pair your vodka visit with a trip to the organic goat cheese dairy farm next door. Organic vodka AND cheese? Essentially, this corner of upcountry is my idea of heaven. Read my full post about Organic Ocean Vodka and Surfing Goat Dairy here.
Maui Brewing Co.
Maui doesn’t just have wine and hard liquor — they also have craft beer! Admittedly, this is also a bit of a cheat of an entry. We did visit the Lahaina location of the Maui Brewing Co. on one of our free tours with the Aloha Surf Hostel, however to get the full experience, we would have had to go on the brewery tour at their Kihei location.
Brewery tours last 45 minutes, cost $15, and are offered daily at 11:30, 12:15, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30, and 3:15. You actually don’t even have to be on Maui to get the Maui Brewing Co. experience — they also have a location on Oahu! You guys know I’m not a beer drinker, but I hear rave reviews for their Bikini Blonde Lager, the Coconut Hiwa Porter, and the Big Swell IPA.
Basically, there’s no reason to drink anything from the mainland.
Do you drink local on your travels?