Hawaii Island’s first commercial distillery could be operating in Keaau within a few years, after getting the nod Thursday from the Windward Planning Commission.
The commission, by a 6-0 vote, agreed to allow Hawaii Brewery Development Co. Inc. to construct a distillery in addition to a planned brewery and soft drink bottling facility and existing water bottling plant on about 8 acres east of Volcano Highway and north of Highway 130. The commission also granted a five-year extension to construct the project.
Planning consultant Sydney Fuke, representing the company and principal Marcus Bender, said the distillery would produce sake, vodka and shochu, also known under its Korean name soju, a distilled vodka-like spirit made from rice, barley or sweet potatoes.
“He’s had quite a lot of experience in the beverage industry,” said Fuke, noting that Bender was the creator of Kai vodka, in addition to his involvement in the current Hawaiian Springs plant at the Keaau site, Brew Moon and other projects.
Fuke said the original 14.6 acres has been subdivided into four 2-acre lots after potential operators said the original project area was too big. By dividing the project into a brewery, soft drink plant and distillery, the developers hope to attract individual operators for each site.
It wouldn’t be the first distillery in the state; producers of Ocean vodka on Maui and Koloa rum on Kauai have already had great success with their distilleries, Fuke said.
Fuke said the time extension — the project’s third since original approval in 1993 — is needed as the economy emerges from the recession and potential investors come forward.
The project is supported by Richard Hadley, chairman and CEO of Hawaiian Springs LLC, the neighboring bottling plant. Hadley noted that the infrastructure is already in place and he said the project would create needed jobs.
“We can understand the need for additional time, as the economy has not been favorable the past few years to any type of projects, let alone projects like this,” Hadley said in an Aug. 21 letter to Planning Director Duane Kanuha. “It will add diversified growth to the island’s overall economy.”