Hawaii Cocktails & Drinking 101 in Hawaii

Hawaii Aloha Travel > Podcast > Hawaii Cocktails & Drinking 101 in Hawaii

Today’s topic we’re going to cover something that might prove to be quite helpful during your trip to Hawaii. Vacationers all find different ways to relax; whether with a good book, spa time and massages, laying in the sun, or one of my personal favorites, enjoying a refreshing tropical cocktail. Hawaii has some of the most unique and exclusive cocktail concoctions in the US, and we know many folks who can’t wait to wind down with one of the islands’ most popular drinks. Today we’re going to talk about these tropical blends, where to find the best in town, and how to bring a little of it back home with you. And since we’re a family-friendly type of talk show, we’re also going to cover the drinking age (and how those under 21 can still have some fun), restrictions, and what you should know about drinking in public in Hawaii. Cheers!

Some of the most popular drinks in Hawaii are marked by their distinctive, Hawaii-style names. Here’s a few of our favorites: Mai Tai, Lava Flow, Chi Chi, Blue Hawaii (or Blue Hawaiian), li hing mui rimmed martinis, and anything with lilikoi (passion fruit) in it. Mai Tais are mixed with three different types of rum: dark, light, and 151. It’s a blend of the alcohol with pineapple and orange juices, plus an array of other twists that are left up to the bartender’s discretion. Mai Tais are a classic cocktail of Hawaii; just make sure you go easy with all that rum! The sun is known to have a powerful effect on people when they’re drinking heavy amounts of liquor.

Lava Flows I like to call the “dessert cocktail” because it’s like having a tropical (and alcoholic) ice cream shake. They are fruity, delicious, and lighter on the alcohol than Mai Tais, which is ideal for the occasional drinker. Lava Flows get their name from their coloring, and are a mixture of light rum, coconut rum, strawberries, bananas, pineapple juice, and coconut cream. They are served in attractive glasses, usually with a fruit garnish and umbrella. Lava Flows just scream, “I’m on vacation and loving Hawaii.”

Chi Chis are very similar to a Lava Flow, only they don’t contain the rum and they are white in color. Also a little lighter than a Lava Flow, they go down a bit easier and are fun to order, simply for announcing their name in public (especially when you’ve got a good lookin’ waitress or bartender to order from!). Recently made famous in South Park’s “Going Native” episode about Kauai “locals”, the Chi Chi is a signature Hawaii cocktail that is refreshing on a warm beach day.

Bring on more rum with the Blue Hawaii cocktail! Light rum, vodka, blue Curacao, pineapple juice, and sweet & sour make this drink light, refreshing, and colorfully blue. The Blue Hawaii drink was invented by a bartender named Harry Yee who worked at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in 1957. A Bols Liqueurs representative asked Harry to create a new cocktail that included Bols’ newest liqueur, Blue Curacao, and thus Blue Hawaii was created. There’s nothing like sipping on an ocean blue cocktail to remind you of where you made it to for you’re your vacation!

Li hing mui- you either love it or you hate it. It’s a dried Chinese plum that has a salty, sweet & sour taste, and is reddish orange in color. It offers a flavor kick in any cocktail, and is used as a salty rim for an array of specialty drinks. Many people will order a drink specifically for its Li hing mui rim, or will ask to add it to their drink of choice. If you’ve never tried it, make sure you taste its unique flavors at least once while you’re visiting the islands! It’s a local favorite, and can also be found in a variety of different forms (like candy and rubs).

Lilikoi is an incredibly delicious flavor that comes from the yellow ball fruit of the lilikoi vine. Also known as passion fruit, lilikoi usually blooms year round in Hawaii, and is offered in many tropical cocktails. Its sweet/tart flavor gives a fruity taste to any drink, and is served in a variety of ways. You can use the fruit as syrup, fresh fruit in the cocktail for texture, or as infused vodka. It is delicious and a model for tropical Hawaii cocktails.

Once you’ve enjoyed these drinks in the islands, you will likely want to take some of it home with you. Good news! Many of the ABC shops, grocery stores, and gift shops offer the ingredients to making your own tropical cocktail once you’re back home. While we don’t recommend purchasing the rum or vodka on island (unless you’re looking for a specialty brand that is only made here), we do recommend picking up some Li hing mui powder for rimming your cocktails, lilikoi puree for dashing your drinks, colorful umbrellas, and maybe a few unique glasses to serve your home made Hawaii drinks in!

Now we’ll tip you off on some of the laws to remember when drinking in Hawaii. Not overly strict and not excessively lenient, the state of Hawaii’s drinking age is typical; 21. You can purchase beer, wine, and liquor at almost any convenience, ABC, or grocery store, but make sure to make your purchases before 11:00pm, because most places stop selling after this witching hour. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs typically stop serving alcohol at 2:00am, but some hold special “cabaret licenses” and can serve till 4:00am (for those really looking to party!).

You are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages on the beach however, this law has been known to be more on the lenient side (depending on which beach you’re at). If there is a lifeguard on duty, I’d steer clear of bringing beer filled coolers or glasses with your tropical cocktails with you. However, I’m guilty of enjoying a bottle of wine at sunset on a beach that is less crowded and without lifeguards, or having a few beers on the beach during national holidays (4th of July is the best at Waimea Bay on the north shore!) Use your discretion when drinking on the beach, but remember, it is illegal, no matter how much you want to believe it’s not.

If you want to drink and still be outdoors and swimming, we recommend staying at your hotel pool. Most resorts offer poolside bar service and a fun lounge area to kick back in. While you’ll most likely be drinking out of plastic cups, at least you’re getting a little bit of both and still doing it legally!

For those traveling with under 21-year olds, you’re in luck, because there is still plenty to do on Oahu that doesn’t involved liquor. Places like the Aloha Tower, China Town, and Waikiki all offer lively nightlife for anyone to enjoy. Many dance clubs are 18 and over, whereas many popular restaurants allow those under 21 to still be in the bar areas. Dave & Busters is a great way to combine drinks and kids (now that sounds like an oxymoron), as well as Hooters (why not?!) Gordon Biersch, Duke’s, Jimmy Buffet’s, Zanzabar Nightclub, and Rumours Nightclub.

Here’s a quick list of the places we love most for a tropical cocktail near Honolulu:

  • Bar 35 in Chinatown, downtown Honolulu
  • Indigo in Chinatown, downtown Honolulu
  • Brasserie Du Vin in Chinatown, downtown Honolulu
  • The Study @ Modern Honolulu, west end of Waikiki
  • Mai Tai Bar @ Ala Moana Shopping Center, Honolulu
  • House Without a Key @ Halekulani, Waikiki
  • Tiki’s Grill & Bar, east end of Waikiki
  • The Beach Bar @ Moana Surfrider, Waikiki