There’s no shortage of things to do on the Hawaiian island of Maui — from the inviting beaches to the legendary nature hikes, along with plenty of water sports, zip lining, whale watching and more. And dining, of course — the island is known for its dining scene, including Mama’s Fish House and the farm-to-table Amasia.
But make time for one or more of the growing number of tasting and sipping tours that are making Maui a food-and-spirit-lover’s vacationland. Here are three I recently experienced.
ONO ORGANIC FARMSSee also10 best U.S. beaches of 2015
I was warned to come hungry for the 1:30 p.m. tour of Ono Farms, where owner Chuck Boerner and his crew farm 70 acres of a 300-acre property on the southeast shoulder of Mount Haleakala, an active volcano.
Starting in a rustic pavilion at the end of a long and winding driveway that climbs through vibrant orchards of bananas and breadfruit, the tour promises at least 12 varieties of tropical fruit for sampling, along with coffee and chocolate, all grown on the farm ($35; children younger than 10 free, onofarms.com).
Boerner, born in Honolulu, came to the east coast of Maui with his parents in 1942, ultimately creating what is claimed to be Hawaii’s largest organic farm, calling it “Ono,” the Hawaiian word for “delicious.”
Boerner has a passion for discovering novelty fruits from tropical climes. On my visit, the big hit was the “ice-cream” banana.
“When you freeze [bananas] and take them out, they have the consistency of ice cream,” guide Maria Sadusky announced, offering a sample.
But even better, she said, is the abiu, a native of the Amazon region, which looks a bit like an orange that got too friendly with a persimmon.
Tour goers cleansed their palates with tart slices of star fruit — so named for the perfect star shape when sliced crosswise — before sampling oddities such as the canistel, native to Latin America and commonly known as egg fruit.
We learned how to prepare breadfruit and, as we walked through the groves, I got a ripe one to take along. The next morning I fried up breadfruit pancakes in our rental-condo kitchen. With butter and syrup, these Polynesian flapjacks — though a tad mushy — made a tasty meal, concocted from a fruit that looks like a football with mumps.
MAUI BREWING CO.
Maui Brewing Co., just over 10 years old, operated out of a crowded Lahaina brew house until the end of 2014, when it opened a big, shiny $15 million brewery in a clean and spacious business park in the Kihei uplands.
From the beer garden, you get views down to the ocean and the distant, uninhabited island of Kaho’olawe.
So far, the only food is from food trucks and carts that park out front. But I was perfectly happy with the tasty Lilikoi Pork pizza ($12) from Outrigger Pizza’s clay-oven trailer.
Lilikoi is the Hawaiian name for passion fruit, and its tangy sweetness makes a delightful pairing with pork, crispy crust and Kula Pumpkin Ale. Raw ingredients came from a pumpkin patch high on the shoulder of Haleakala.
Brewery tours ($15; mauibrewingco.com) include a tasting of the brewery’s four flagship beers (Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA, CoCoNut Porter, and Mana Wheat), along with a souvenir glass and a token for a full-sized house beverage.
My group’s guide, Buck Florian, told us some of the challenges of shipping beer from Maui to 15 states and 13 foreign countries: “There are definitely issues with having a brewery 3,000 miles out in the middle of the ocean.”
Primary ingredients must be shipped from the mainland; about 60 percent of the hops come from the Pacific Northwest. Expanding the market across the seas is one reason Maui Brewing puts its beer in aluminum cans, which are light, easily transported, and protect the brew from sunlight and air.
A happy offshoot of Maui Brewing moving out of its Lahaina digs: A new brewery has moved in. Kohola Brewery (the name is Hawaiian for humpback whale), opened a tasting room in December (koholabrewery.com).
Based in upcountry Makawao, in funky World War II-vintage Quonset huts across the road from Maui Gold’s pineapple fields, Hali’imaile Distilling is making its own island-style joy juice.
The flagship brand is Pau Maui Vodka, made from those high-sugar pineapples grown with the benefit of warm, sunny days, cool nights, fresh water and volcanic soil.
While Hali’imaile has deep-pocket backing, this is a hands-on, small-batch, showcase distillery, where master distiller Mark Nigbur has designed his own pharmaceutical glass stills.
During a 45-minute tour with tastings for adults ($10, children younger than 12 free; haliimailedistilling.com), we found that under the corrugated tin roofs, the huts were warm, musty and aromatic of sweet yeast mashes. Guide Michelle Maros told us the story of making vodka.
“You can use anything with enough sugar to distill to 190 proof, or 95 percent alcohol; it can be from potatoes or from pineapple.”
Take a selfie modeling one of the fake mustaches kept in a jar by the door, a playful trademark of the distiller’s Paniolo Whiskey, named for the bewhiskered Mexican cowboys imported to Hawaii in the 19th century to help with the cattle that Capt. George Vancouver presented as a gift to King Kamehameha. Another brand made here: Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, distilled from Maui sugar cane and bottled as a vanity label for rocker Sammy Hagar.
In the tasting room, island-inspired choices range from chocolate-coconut whiskey to pineapple-orange-guava vodka.
Take a bottle home to Grandma and you never need buy those macadamia-nut chocolates at the airport again.