Everything ElseWritten by Jason Ubay On 23 November 2011
Sammy Hagar launches Maui rum company

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and entrepreneur Sammy Hagar has released Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, a silver rum distilled from Maui sugar cane. The spirit is exclusively available in Hawaii before mainland distribution starts in early 2012.

Hagar, who previously founded Cabo Wabo tequila, wanted a rum to complement his growing restaurant chain, Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill. (The first opened in Kahului Airport in 2008, and there are now five locations nationwide.)

“It’s like having your own recipes in your restaurant,” he says. “Of course, you’re going to do your own recipes otherwise it’s not personal. I wanted to have my own liquor, so rum was the best fit, but I didn’t have anyone to make it.”

By chance, a friend gave Hagar — who lives part-time on Maui — a bottle of Pau Maui Vodka, which is produced by distiller Mark Nigbur. With blonde curly locks and a goatee, he can pass for a Hagar doppelganger. (Nigbur says he’s had bleached hair since he was 17.)

“After I met him, I said, ‘This guy’s my best buddy in the world!’” Hagar says. “I had no idea what kind of guy he was and I asked him, ‘Can you make rum?’ Just coincidence. I was thinking about it, never talked to anybody about it, and he goes, ‘Hell yes, I’ll make you some bad ass rum from Maui cane, pure juice.’ He made it and it was the best rum I ever had in my life and I said, ‘We’re in business.’”

Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum sources its sugar cane from HC&S on Maui, and also uses Menehune water in the distillation process. Nigbur and his son are the only employees at the micro-distillery, and have produced 500 cases for the launch. The 80 proof liquor is available for $24.99 a bottle. More products are planned, but Nigbur says they are focused on the silver rum (also referred to as light or white rum) for now.

Although the product is set to go national, the two are adamant that it will always be sourced locally. “(The production run) will be as big as the amount of cane Maui can produce because we can’t get the cane anywhere else,” Hagar says. “The whole trick to this rum is the cane. It’s pure, pristine, great cane.

“We go around Maui, Mark and I, with a machete,” Hagar says. “We pull over on the side of the road, chop up cane and take bites of it and eat it, and say, ‘This one’s better than the one across the field over there,’ because it takes on the dirt, it’s really terroir driven. Like some wine grapes, it tastes like the soil.”

Nigbur is doing what he can to support HC&S, the last major sugar cane operation in Hawaii. Nigbur uses pineapple juice for Pau Maui Vodka. He originally sourced from Maui Land & Pineapple, but it ended its pineapple operations in 2009. Former ML&P employees formed Haliimaile Pineapple, which is where Pau Maui Vodka sources its pineapple today.

“It really makes me sad the way things have gone on something like pineapple and sugar cane, which is synonymous with Hawaii,” Nigbur says. “Anything we can do to help is what we want to do.”

Both are very proud of the product. “It’s a very high-end, very pure and an unbelievable rum,” says Nigbur. “When Sammy and I first started talking about it, we wanted a rum that you could be proud to drink on the rocks, or you can put it in a rum and Coke. This does that. There aren’t many rums out there that you can drink on the rocks that aren’t aged. This is an un-aged, white, premium Island rum.”

“I only want to make things that I think I can make better than someone else,” Hagar says. “It’s like if I was asked to be the lead singer in a band and I thought there was a better singer in the band, I’d say no. … Unless it’s really aged for a long time, white rums are rough. You try to drink a white rum sometime, brah, it’ll put you in the hospital. This stuff is smooth and great. … Once we start aging it, it’s going to be killer.”

Hagar says he wants to open a Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill restaurant at Honolulu International Airport, but is waiting for a vacant spot. Each restaurant donates its profits to local charity.

When asked when he was going to perform in Honolulu, the former Van Halen frontman says he’d like to either have his current band Chickenfoot start their tour here (so they can enjoy Hawaii before heading on the road) or end in the Islands (to relax and enjoy a vacation).

Photos: Wes Funai

Stephen B. Kauffman, president, Sammy's Beach Bar Rum (far left); Sammy Hagar (second from right); and Mark Nigbur, master distiller (far right)

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About Author

Managing Editor, Hawaii Business magazine. He's also representing the mag on Facebook and Twitter at @hawaiibusiness. You can follow him on Twitter at @jubay.

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How I wish I can watch live Hagar's Band perform. Thank you for sharing the schedule of your first tour.