Born in a U.S. surf bar as a gift to the après-sea crowd, the Spirit of Aloha 65 is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before…
The fact that Stephen Thorp ended up making a drink as unique as Spirit of Aloha 65 wouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone who knows him, as he’s a pretty unique guy. His father was Richard Thorp, an actor who featured in Emmerdale, and he knew Prince Edward growing up. After he left school he headed off to America to make his fortune, ending up in Florida surfing and running a beach bar. To entice business, he made his own drink, a spirit infused with tropical fruit, chilli, and a blend of herbs and spice.
This homemade drink was often enjoyed as a shot or in a long drink after a day of surfing, so it was described as a ‘sundowner’. It became very popular and, when Thorp moved back to England around 15 years ago, he didn’t forget about his creation. He bought and renovated The Idle Hour in Barnes and kept making his own concoction for loyal customers. Enough people said he should bottle it and so, about four years ago, he decided to sell up the three pubs he owned and do just that.
He teamed up with Peter Gutierrez, former managing director of Jose Cuervo International, to help turn his creation into a brand. The result is Spirit of Aloha 65, the name both referencing all the joys of the sun, sea, and sand life as well as the number of recipes it took him to perfect the process. Much like his original creation, Aloha begins life as a neutral grain spirit (NGS) that is infused with fresh pineapple, lemon, ginger, scotch bonnet chillies, and a selection of herbs and spices including nutmeg and coriander.
The only thing that’s distilled in the whole process is coriander. This is not like a gin, where you start with NGS and distil it with botanicals to get flavour. Instead, each ingredient like pineapple is chopped up and left to naturally infuse in tanks over a number of days. Once the spirits are ready, they’re blended together. There’s nothing artificial, all the flavour comes from those ingredients. There is filtration, but some sediment may form in the bottom, so before you pour Spirit of Aloha 65 do give the bottle a good shake.
Though the process hasn’t really changed much since Thorp first made his signature spirit, the production of Spirit of Aloha 65 is now a very professional operation handled by De Kuyper in the Netherlands. Thorp couldn’t find anyone in the UK to make it, as it’s a complicated and slow process, but it’s in good hands. The Dutch booze makers are such perfectionists that whole batches have been thrown out when not thought to be of standard.
Naturally, you might think of Spirit of Aloha 65 as a liqueur. In the US you could call it that, but there’s not enough sugar in it to be classified as one in the EU. It doesn’t meet the criteria to be called a rum, a gin, or a flavoured vodka for various reasons, including not being distilled and being too low in strength, a palatable 27% ABV. This also means Aloha is very on-trend, being low-alcohol, vegan-friendly, and low in calories. The brand is so trendy, in fact, it even makes a hot sauce with the same six ingredients, minus the alcohol, of course!
So it’s tough to know how to categorise Spirit of Aloha 65. The brand describes it as an infused spirit, which is as good a term as any. It’s one of a number of new products that are defying convention and we’ll be covering more soon, as we’re enjoying the boundary-pushing that comes when the market becomes crowded. People find ways to stand out, and Spirit of Aloha 65 certainly does that.
It’s hard not to with a bottle like that. Bright blue with a Hawaiian surfer wearing a lei on the label is hardly inconspicuous. Then there’s the drink itself. There’s nothing that springs to mind that I’d directly compare it to, but the flavours are familiar and balanced so it isn’t challenging at all. I love the earthy, spicy heat of the chilli and the tropical backbone the pineapple gives it, with baking spice adding sweetness and the citrus some brightness.
It’s perfectly drinkable on its own or just with ice and the duality of the refreshing, tropical elements with the warming spice means it suits all seasons in my book. If you’re looking to mix it, Spirit of Aloha 65 is at its best with ginger ale, although if ginger isn’t your thing an aromatic tonic would do the trick too. I’d also suggest you give the Aloha Colada and the Bloody Mary twist a go too, while if you’re truly adventurous mix it with a touch of mezcal and be amazed at the results.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what to call Spirit of Aloha 65, because I can guarantee you’ll want to drink it.
You can buy Spirit of Aloha 65 by clicking here.