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Award Winning Okolehao

“‘It happened way back in the ‘80s – to be exact, 1889,’ said Low. ‘Col. Sam Parker have been given two gallons of okolehao which had been distilled in Waimanu valley, on the island of Hawaii. This was real okolehao, not the ‘rotgut’ which is being peddled about the country today ruining those who drink it. … I took a gallon of the liquor to Macfarlane & Co, then the leading wholesale liquor dealers of this territory, and had the liquor bottled.”

“One was given to Hassinger. Judge Dole received another, one I kept for myself and the last was prepared for the Paris Exposition … they immediately awarded the exhibit a bronze medal for quality and purity. … I still have the diploma, the medal and last, but not least, my bottle of okolehao. Now that so much publicity has been given to the latter I think I will have it stored in my safe deposit box.’”

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Kī, the Ti plant, was an emblem of high rank and divine power. The kāhili, in its early form, was a kī stalk with its clustered foliage of glossy, green leaves at the top. The kahuna priests in their ancient religious ceremonial rituals used the leaves as protection. Ki planted around dwellings is thought to ward off evil.

It is a canoe crop, brought to the Islands by the early Polynesians. Kī was considered sacred to the Hawaiian god, Lono, and to the goddess of the hula, Laka. The kī leaf was a most useful article to the Hawaiians in caring for food. The leaf is long and wide (20 in. x 6 in. is an average size,) smooth, shiny, tough, and, except for the midrib, the veins are unobtrusive. Foreigners first fermented, and then distilled, the Kī root into an alcoholic beverage – it took on the name ʻōkolehao (lit. iron bottom.)

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