In an industry like agriculture, where so much depends on the vagaries of rain, wind, sun and so many other variables, consistency is an achievement. So when you get two consecutive years with no major changes, you get to sit back and take some pride. Despite a close call from Hurricane Lane last August, this year on the farm was much like last year: Blair Estate’s coffee, honey and cacao crops are all doing well, with above-average yields and, it goes without saying, superior quality. Visit coffeetimes.com to purchase any of our Blair Estate farm products.
The Grand Ali’i
One reason we’re excited for the new year is that the Kauai Cigar Company has—at long last—made new breakthroughs with our Grand Alii, 100 percent Kaua’i-grown and rolled cigar. Our Grand Ali’i, first introduced in 2006, was the inspiration for us to start growing tobacco but its perfection has eluded us; we’ve never been fully satisfied with the quality of the cigars we’ve produced using exclusively Kaua’i-grown tobacco. Now, however, after sampling cigars from our most recent crops, we believe we’ve hit a home run. The quality of our 2016 and 2017 crops have exceeded our expectations, and as it takes two and half years to go from seed to cigar, these harvests are almost ready to be rolled. In addition to shipping the tobacco to Esteli, Nicaragua for rolling, we are exploring the possibility of bringing Nicaraguan rollers to Kaua’i this summer to continue production of our cigar entirely grown and rolled on Kaua’i: the Grand Ali’i.
In other good news on the tobacco front, as we’re expanding east into the Pacific: ABC Stores is now carrying our cigars in their outlets in Guam and Saipan. Looking further ahead, they have also shown interest in piloting our cigars in their Las Vegas locations. Our Kauai Cigar Company cigars are all available in retail stores statewide or through our website, kauaicigar.com.
As you might recall, last year Kauai Distilling Company’s permit application to build a distillery on Kawaihau Road was denied due to community pushback (much of which was unfortunately based on misinformation). By law we are required to wait a year before reapplying, which we intend to do in March 2019. In the meantime, we wondered what to do with the corn we’d already planted with the intention of producing Kaua’i-grown and distilled bourbon. We’ve been growing corn at three different sites around the island: Drent Family Farms in Lihue, Killerman Farms in Koloa, in partnership with Beck’s Hybrid Co., a seed research company near Kekaha that produces superior corn. Rather than wait for the green light to distill it here in the Islands, we’ve partnered with Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Washington and Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastapol, California, where our Kauai corn will be blended with premium North American grains, distilled into whisky, aged in charred new American oak barrels, and shipped back to us in finished bottles.
Limited quantities of our first Kapahi Bourbon will be available in ABC Store, Safeway, Foodland and mom-and-pop liquor stores around Kaua’i as early as this summer. The source of the corn will be printed on the label so you can track your barrel. For more information please visit kauaidistilling.com
One of the challenges of growing corn on Kaua’i is depredation from introduced species; among the most destructive of these pests is the rose-ringed parakeet (also called the ring-necked parakeet). These escaped pets, first introduced to Kaua’i in 1968, have reached a critical mass and roam the island large flocks. Some estimates put the population at five thousand birds in 2017, with that number expected to potentially double within five years if nothing is done. Rose-ringed parakeets love corn and can decimate a field in a few days. Large growers have tried to place protective netting over their fields, and netting does nothing to reduce the parakeet population. State agencies and private businesses are joining the effort to eradicate these invasive birds, and Kauai Distilling is a part of it. With help from Boyd and Gaylene Gayagas of Grove Farm, we removed more than one hundred birds from the breeding population and saved much of our corn crop at Drent Family Farms.
On the Legislative Front
Our legislative agenda remains unchanged from last year—and the year before that and the year before that—with respect to creating parity in the state tax code for producers of premium cigars. Currently there is 50 percent wholesale tax—with no cap—levied on Hawai’i-made cigars, which makes it nearly impossible for us to compete against cheaper, imported cigars. In the 2019 legislative session, we intend to introduce a bill that places a $.50 tax cap on large cigars, which would level the playing field for our Kaua’i-grown cigars. Because the costs of production are much higher here than in places like the Philippines, Caribbean or Central America, Hawaii-grown cigars are more expensive than foreign cigars. The current 50 percent state tax rate represents and added burden and incentivizes Hawai’i consumers to purchase premium cigars at lower cost through mail order, which ultimately harms not just local cigar makers but all the residents of Hawai’i, as potential tax revenue is lost to businesses outside the Islands.
The two tax cap bills that we’ve introduced in the State House and Senate over the past years enjoyed widespread support and even passed both houses before dying in committee. The Hawaii Cigar Association will lobby to reintroduce the bills for the 2019 legislative session; if passed, they will ensure that local cigar businesses pay the same state taxes as foreign competitors pay on their mass-produced cigars.
At the federal level, we are continuing to lobby the Food and Drug Administration to reclassify premium cigars. Currently, premium cigars are regulated the same way as other products with nicotine, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and flavored cigars. Clearly premium cigars do not pose the same health risks nor appeal to underage smokers as do these other products, and subjecting premium cigars to the same draconian regulatory strictures is both unnecessary and harms small businesses like ours. To learn more or to join the fight, please visit cigarrights.org
New Faces on the Farm: Valerie Bounds
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Valerie grew up in a city surrounded by desert, giving her “an appreciation for two different worlds, city life and outdoor life,” she says. She attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where her love for the outdoors became a lifestyle. She became a whitewater rafting guide on the Green River and Yampa Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Utah and Colorado. “Sleeping under the stars every night and waking up with the sun made it difficult to go back to city living,” she says, which she had to do in her next job as a coffee barista trainer. In that role, Valerie learned about all the aspects of coffee but wanted to know more about the farming side of the process—and she was looking for a new adventure. “I moved to Kaua’i, seeking a farm to work on. Learning about the amount of labor that goes into farming has made me appreciate agriculture much more. I’m happy and amazed to have found this farm that continually teaches me different things outside of coffee and has become a place I genuinely love and look forward to working at.”