In true entrepreneurial spirit we started the Kauai Distilling Company in 2014 on a whim and fantasy. The prior year we were growing a cover crop known as triticale during the cigar tobacco off season. Realizing the potential for making whisky out of this cover crop byproduct we started to look at what it would take to make alcohol from this grain. However, we learned quickly that it would not be easy. While the triticale grew it did not produce as well as we thought. We also encountered a bird population that was hungry to eat this grassy seed. Reality soon set in that it would be very difficult to produce whisky from this grain without a lot of effort and cost.
Rather than give up on the dream of making whisky I recognized that corn, the main ingredient in bourbon, had a long history and presence on Kauai. The seed industry has been here for decades, and we also successfully grew an acre of delicious tasting sweet corn at one of our farms back in 2010. We then thought that bourbon had to be possible!
INSPIRED BY FARMERS AND “CORN WINE” MAKERS IN VIETNAM
A trip to Vietnam with my wife and children during the Summer of 2014 also played a huge part in turning the dream to reality. While in the north of Vietnam in a region called Sa Pa we saw the Hmong farmers growing corn for food, animal feed, and also corn wine, a strong and crudely distilled alcohol. They even made their own yeast from local flowers. If that discovery wasn’t enough we followed up on the machines that were used by the small corn farmers in this remote region of Vietnam. Two weeks later we took a day trip to an agricultural fair in Ho Chi Minh City where we purchased both a husker and kerneler that were needed to process our corn for whiskey mash.
With bourbon in mind we grew our first yellow feed corn crop in 2014 and started making whisky during the winter of 2014/15. As they say, the rest was history!