As if Hawaii wasn’t dreamy enough, they’ve decided to outdo themselves with a farm to bottle rum, Kō Hana Agricole Rum. Initially conceived as a zero-waste facility and pet project for owner, Robert Dawson , Manulele Distillers has morphed into much more. From harvesting rare sugarcane to redefining rum distillation, the result is a liquor that celebrates both earth and heritage in its purest form.
I recently visited the tropical distillery and was pleasantly surprised. Located in the old Del Monte post office and company market, the distillery is deceivingly simple from the outside. But through its doors, a trendy rum paradise awaits. The distillers have taken it upon themselves to index all available types of sugarcane known not only to the Hawaiian islands, but also to the world. With the help of historical botanists in Florida, they have collected thousands of varieties. Then each season, various canes are chosen and grown from the collection. Hand-harvested single varietals of Kō, or sugarcane, are then pressed to juice and immediately distilled. Unlike most rum distillation which uses processed molasses, Kō Hana rum is made of pure sugarcane.
Each variety makes for a unique rum and distillation process, leading to a veritable smorgasbord of spirit profiles. KEA White Agricole Rum is a clear liquid which captures the full flavor of freshly-pressed native Hawaiian sugarcane. KOHO Barrel Aged Agricole Rum’s caramel and spice bring out the loveliness of Kō stored in oak barrels. KOA Cask Strength Agricole Rum gives a wink and a nod to it’s whisky counterpart with its rich elements of tobacco, honey, and tropical spice. KOKOLEKA Coacao & Honey Rum profiles like a sweet liqueur, blended with raw honey, pure cacao, and Hawaiian cane spirit. But the most amazing aspect is that even amongst the different rums, the cane variety may vary. Thus each new bottle may be a new sipping experience unto itself.
Add to that the variation in cask storage and this is one rum house you do not want to pass up. From whisky to sherry to their own patented honeycomb design, the casks are just as much of an attraction as the plantation itself. If you get the chance to visit Manulele Distillers, I highly recommend the tour and tasting. Not only will you get to sample all the distillery has to offer, you will also get a delightful peek into what a heart-filled (and quite small) operation this really is.
But what leaves a lasting impression is the distillery’s dedication to Hawaiian heritage. It is a celebration of the land and it’s people. Honoring the island’s history of both bounty and industry, it does not try to mask the more uncomfortable details of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the future is born from the past and although you cannot change the fates of your ancestors, you can honor their journeys. By embracing both the natural earthiness and sweetness of the Kō, Manulele Disterllers acknowledge that beauty can be born equally of both positivity and struggle.