Vintage Okolehao – A Tasting

OkolehaoFor those who have ventured very deep into Beachbum Berry’s books, you know there are some pretty scarce ingredients in there. You can spend a lot of time and money tracking them down. Some are easy enough to find, but it is often hard to afford $40 for a bottle of liqueur that you will use to make one cocktail you may not even like. Over time, you gather everything you need to make every drink in those books. Even Pimento Liqueur! But, there is one elusive ingredient: okolehau. It’s elusive for one simple reason, it has not been made in about 30 years.

The Bum offers some substitutes in his books, so you can still make the recipes. But it has always nagged at me. I wanted to know just how this stuff tasted.

I came across a tiny airline bottle of the vintage brew a couple of months ago and set it aside for a special occasion. When Basement Kahuna came to town, that was the time. BK is a supreme mixologist and has a fine collection of vintage intoxicants. He had never tasted oke either.

I poured us all a sip. Man! I was shocked! There is nothing in my bar like it! It has an incredible flavor. Woody, spicey, but not overpowering, warm. I love it! And I have no idea what would really replace it in a drink. Maybe some Licor 43… I just don’t know. But I really want them to get to making it again. I will order a lot and keep it in my bar all the time as an aperitif!

9 Replies to “Vintage Okolehao – A Tasting”

  1. You may want to consider Pisco as a substitute for “oke”. I’ve never tried okolehao myself, so I can’t say for sure, but Pisco (a clear brandy made in South America) has a flavor reminiscent of your description. To me, it has some of the woody, herbal complexity of a tequila, but those flavors are combined with a subtle sweetness and fruitiness from the Muscat grapes used to make the Pisco. I enjoy it chilled, straight up as a after-dinner sipper; it’s also the key ingredient in the Pisco Sour, made with Pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and a few dashes of bitters. Delicious!

  2. I have a nearly full fifth (4/5 quart) of Okolehao It is 80 proof and bottled by Hawaiian Distillers, Honolulu. Hawaii. The illustration on the front label is the same as on the small bottle you picture. However the text is a bit different. I think I bought this in a large liquor store in Chicago many years ago.

    The back label contains some information that may be of interest, which I will quote.

    Okolehao has been famous as Hawaii’s national drink for nearly 200 years.

    Recently reformulated, the legendary and powerful pacifier of generations past now suits more modern tastes.

    You’ll enjoy serving Okolehao just as you would any light, smooth whiskey – with water or soda, straight, or in a variety of mixed drinks.”

    Tasted straight, it reminds me of a Canadian whiskey with hints of something else – perhaps smoke and a medium body rum. If I had to try to fake it, I likely would start with a decent, but not too expensive, Canadian whiskey with just a tiny bit of a medium rum added – perhaps only a teaspoon or so per full bottle. I then might add 1 or 2 drops of liquid smoke. I have not tried this, so I am just guessing. If the spirit tastes and smells of rum or smoke very much – you just want a hint – then you have added too much rum or liquid smoke.

    There are several other drinks often called for in old books that do not seem to be available in the US often, if ever, anymore. I have a bottle each of French Garnier Creme de Rose and Creme de Violette, but I have not seen these very floral cremes for sale for very many years. Many of the bitters called for in old books no longer are made.

    I still have several bottles of white, gold and anejo Bacardi Cuban rums made before the revolution. Bacardi left Cuba because of the revolution. Even before the revolution, Bacardi made rum in Puerto Rico, and this was the Bacardi rum usually found in the US, because there was not as much tax on it as for the Cuban export Bacardi. However the Cuban Bacardi was considered superior to the Puerto Rico Bacardi, and many were happy to pay the extra price for the Cuban version. The pre-Castro Cuban Bacardis I have taste far superior to me than do any of the similar Bacardi types made in Puerto Rico today.

  3. Swanky
    Was excited to read article about okolehao. I have an unopened bottle that I purchased in hawaii years ago.It is in the original box labled
    the spirit of hawaii wrapped in a volcano. it is a black tiki with removable base that looks as if it could double as an ashtray.I t also has
    a registration card with # 9447 it is in mint condition except the box is a bit dusty completely original packing right down to the bubble wrap.
    any information would be appreciated thinking of selling.

  4. Chuck,
    I am from Hawaii and have been looking for some original Okolehao. There was, if I remember correctly, a newer version produced in the last few years. I remember seeing it at a local Long’s Drugs store. It may have just been branded “Okolehao”, I don’t quite remember. I’m curious what you’d be asking for it. My email is

  5. A buddy visiting Maui yesterday brought me back a bottle of real ‘Okolehao! It was made by Haleakala Distillers, out of Makawao town, Maui. Real ono stuff… bottle is already pretty much empty. From what he told me, only a few independent stores on Maui have it yet. I found a website for it

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