Waikulu Distillery is a Farm to Bottle maker of blue agave spirits. Located at 1,400 ft elevation on the windward side of the Hawaiian island of Maui, the mild temperatures and consistent rainfall are ideal conditions for growing blue agave (agave tequiliana).
Waikulu is the only distillery in Hawaii producing Blue Agave Spirits. It began in 2011 as a novel experiment with a handful of plants, which flourished in the moist tropical climate and volcanic soils. This sparked the dream of producing a unique spirit made from 100% Hawaiian grown agave.
Waikulu is a Hawaiian word that literally translates to dripping water. It was used in the past to describe alcohol spirits, which drip slowly from the still.
HAWAIIAN BLUE AGAVE
Agave tequiliana are very tough plants. They have needle sharp leaves, can endure long periods without water, tolerate the hottest of temperatures and don’t require rich soil. However, they cannot handle a freeze during their 6-10 years of growth, which makes them unsuitable for cultivation in most parts of the world.
Even though many people think of agave as a cactus or succulent, it is neither and its closest plant cousin is the asparagus. This becomes apparent when an older plant will send up a tall stalk from its center that looks strikingly similar to asparagus.
Makawao’s temperate climate have proven to produce blue agave that mature faster, grow bigger and have higher sugar content than their counterparts grown in Mexico. A single agave grown in our fields typically weigh 350-400 lbs, and will make 40 bottles of spirit. This is roughly 4 times what agave grown south of the border will yield.
Nearly every piece of our equipment is hand crafted in house, specialized to our methods and completely unique.
The steam ovens were built using a custom mixture of vermiculite concrete to minimize heat loss and energy consumption.
The Agave crusher (similar to tahona wheels used in Mexico) is designed to more efficiently extract the sugars while reducing back-breaking labor.
The Still is a cross between a typical tequila and Irish whiskey stills. The lid, column and lyne arm are hand crafted from copper to help remove sulfides from the vapor, while the kettle is made from stainless steel to reduce heat loss and easier cleaning.
The making of beer, wine and spirits is traditionally an energy and water intensive process. Waikulu Distillery is committed to minimizing these impacts. We have incorporated and developed many processes to reflect this commitment which are detailed here.
Our electricity is 100% solar with no ties to the local power grid. Maui’s local electricity is mainly created with diesel fuel, so we made a substantial investment to create non-carbon producing electricity.
The steam boiler for our ovens and still is propane powered. The energy needed to make steam was more than solar power could provide, so we chose propane. Propane was not the cheapest option, but is the lowest carbon producing option.
Our building is designed to use natural light and optimize the trade winds to eliminate the need for heating or air conditioning. With a hot still running in the middle of the room, this was quite a challenge.
The largest consumption of water in a distillery is the still’s condenser. Ours uses over 1,000 gallons to cool the vapors back to liquid during a single distillation run. To recover that water, the usual method is a chiller, which consumes gobs of power. We developed a method where the water is stored in a way to again take advantage of the trade winds to do the cooling naturally. This saves 250,000 gallons per year from going to waste.
Clean up after many processes is a big task and consumes a fair amount of water. We recover a large portion of that water and use it for irrigation.
We use methods to practice sustainable farming, improve soil health and minimize chemical use.
Since we are a farm to bottle operation, we have a “closed loop” agriculture system. This means we are not taking plants and nutrients from somewhere else and depleting that soil. We harvest our agave and only extract a small portion of the plants energy and nutrients, the rest goes back to the fields. We use the fiber left from sugar extraction as mulch around new plantings. The liquid leftover from distillation, still rich in nutrients, is taken back to the fields as irrigation and fertilizer.
Our agave is natural agave, not modified genetically or any other way. New plants are propagated by pulling a shoot from an existing plant. No greenhouse processing waste is required. Most of our weed control is done by mowing, trimmer and hand. Those clipping are left to compost between rows.
Agave horticulture by nature has a low soil impact. It requires no irrigation, little to no fertilizer, and usually no pest control. This is significant when compared to corn, wheat or potatoes used to produce other spirits.
Our goal is to be a positive addition to our community and the island culture we respect and love.