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Big Island Mixology

Reinventing cocktail culture at Aloha Vibes

During Covid we all dove into new hobbies, interests, or jobs to combat the pandemic and improve our mental health. One such person was Gabrielle Maser who took the opportunity to launch her website and online craft cocktail school, KonaCocktailAcademy.com. She can trace her interest back to university when she paid her way through school bartending. Gabrielle studied interior design and started her career specializing in bar design. But she began to realize her true passion was craft cocktails.
So rather than continue in an unfulfilling job, she began a journey of discovery from the agave farms of Mexico, researching tequila, to the bourbon distilleries of Kentucky. Her new passion continued to grow as she learned to tell a story through mixology, crafting each drink with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Gabrielle thrived on finding the perfect balance of sweet and tart, bitter and sour, and creating exactly the right drink for the customer sitting in front of her. 

However, as she continued this journey, she realized the knowledge she was gaining was extremely hard to come by. There was no centralized information online or one single book that encapsulated this knowledge. So when 2020 came she decided to fill this gap herself.

Kona Cocktail Academy was launched with the purpose of starting with the very basics and taking the student through the subtle science of cocktail creation including all the little tips, tricks, and trade secrets she had to travel the world to discover.

Then, with restrictions lifting, the world returning to normal, and her academy taking off, something unexpected happened. Cocktail culture was just heating up in Kona, in part thanks to Gabrielle, and she was recruited by local surfer CJ Kanuha to open up a bar concept he had been working on: Aloha Vibes. Though still in its first year, the bar, located in the historic Kona Inn Shopping Center, has already been serving Kona residents faithfully. They pride themselves on their unique twists of old classics, celebrating the flavors of the islands.

Just take a look at two of their most popular cocktails, the Pineapple Kona Club, and the Mac Nut Old Fashion. 

The Pineapple Kona Club is a fun twist on a popular classic from Prohibition, the Clover Club. It’s normally a refreshing combo of gin, simple syrup, raspberry, mint, & lemon; tart but balanced, with a lovely egg white foam. Aloha Vibes’ version is undeniably inspired by our home, using cold-pressed pineapple for the foamy texture and tropical tartness and hibiscus grenadine instead of raspberries for a splash of sweetness and color. Then came switching out the simple syrup for agave and deciding what to do about the gin. 

As someone who creates cocktail menus on an island in the middle of the ocean, Gabrielle feels she has a responsibility to be as sustainable as possible and also to support local companies in every way she and Aloha Vibes can. So the Kona Club is made with delicious Kupu Gin, produced by Maui Brewing Co., a leader in sustainability solutions. The end result is frothy, tart, and refreshing as well as lovely to look at, and has become Aloha Vibes' most popular cocktail. 

Once they had a light citrus cocktail taken care of, it was time to give some attention to the whiskey lovers. Gabrielle wanted to create a cocktail that showed off our unique Big Island flavors with a whiskey base. The Old Fashion, a classic whiskey cocktail, seemed like the most natural place to start so she began developing the Mac Nut Old Fashion. She started by using a fat wash. For those of us not in the know, a fat wash is a technique where you blend fluid (in this case, liquor) with a fatty substance, like butter, bacon, or even nuts, and then put it in the freezer to let it separate. Once you scrape the solidified fats off the top of the liquid, you are left with a flavor-infused liquor. 

Since mac nuts grow here in Hawai’i and are shipped around the world, it was a simple leap for Gabrielle to try it as a fat wash. It worked like a dream. So they blend Four Roses Bourbon at high speed with macadamia nuts and into the freezer it goes. The next day it's pulled out, scraped off, strained, and then put into a bottle for service. For sustainability purposes, Aloha Vibes then uses the whiskey-infused mac nut pulp for the orgeat syrup in their house Mai Tai.  

The fat wash gives their Old Fashion a smooth mouthfeel with a hint of mac nut and standard bitters, which is then sweetened with clove-infused Big Island Honey from OK Farm in Hilo. The final combination is smooth, spicy, and delicious as well as completely unique, showcasing the flavors of the Island in each sip.

The Aloha Vibes team continues to develop exciting and innovative cocktails that support small businesses and honor our islands, yet these delicious drinks wouldn’t be available today if Gabrielle Maser hadn’t followed her passion and valued doing something that brings her happiness. Because sometimes being healthy is more than physical well-being but also about finding joy in our lives.

Swing by and treat yourself to a cocktail at Aloha Vibes or learn to make your own at KonaCocktailAcademy.com. It could be a great way to gather friends and offer some elevated hospitality!

CJ Kanuha is a native Hawaiian professional surfer, born and raised in Kona on the Big Island. Local and international businessman, he is the owner of Ali’i Poke and Aloha Vibes Bar and Grill, and a crafter of artisan wood surfboards. His ideology is to bring everything back to the roots of traditional Hawaiian culture, whether that’s the recipes in his restaurants or the wooden, finless papa he’enalu (traditional surfboard) he sometimes rides. In all areas of his life he endeavors to honor the cultural protocols of the Hawaiian people and show respect in a true demonstration of Aloha.

Aloha Vibes Dinks Menu

Aperitifs:

  • Aloalo Spritz 
  • Pineapple Kona Club
  • Kocomosa 

Highballs:

  • Starfruit Highball
  • Paniolo Highball
  • House Gin & Tonic
  • Mac Nut Old Fashion
  • AV 44 Mai Tai 
  • The Gold Coast
  • Vibes Martini 
  • The Pa’ina Niu 
  • The Island Rose
  • Mamaki Rumgroni
  • Mini Tropical Sours 
  • G Snaps 
  • Mezcal Service
  • “The Kainoa”

After Dinner:

  • Espresso Martini
  • Kuleana Coffee or Chai
  • Amaros
  • Hibiscus Daiquiri
  • House Sky Ginger Lemonade 
  • Hibiscus Soda 

Non-Alcoholic:

  • Fever Tree Tonic 
  • Maui Brew Co Ginger Beer 
  • Coke, Diet, Tonic, Ginger Ale
  • AV Chai Iced Tea 
  • 100% Kona Coffee French Press 
  • House Chai French Press Oat Milk

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