- Produced in Kunia, Oahu
- Farm-to-Bottle… Grass-to-Glass!
- Agricole-style rum, or rhum agricole, is the style of distilling rum from pure cane juice. Originating in the French Caribbean, this term distinguished cane juice-based rums from molasses-based rums.
The team behind Kō Hana Agricole Rum take their job seriously. And their job is to do more than just produce rum. They aim to “honor and celebrate the kō [they] have the privilege to plant and grow.” Kō refers to “sugar cane” while hana means “work,” and they come together to reflect the “sugar work” that so precisely and intentionally goes down in producing their rum.
Manulele Distillers are the team behind Kō Hana Agricole Rum. Manulele translates to “flying bird”, which is represented beautifully and cleanly in their logo. The ‘iwa, or great frigatebird, that it depicts is the largest bird in Hawai’i. ‘Iwa meaning “thief”, reflects the bird’s habit of snatching fish out of the mouth of smaller birds! Sneaky, sneaky.
Sugar cane, or kō, is not all created equal. From the 90 varieties of sugar cane that once existed, the 50 types that remain are unique in appearance, taste, and even sugar content! At Kō Hana Distillers, they pride themselves in growing the single varietals to use in their rum. In addition to their lettuce aquaponics farming which produces 5,000 heads every week, they grow 34 varietals of kō! They’ve snagged their varietals from botanical gardens, hiking trails, and backyards for planting in Kunia and Waialua. Some of the varieties are detailed below:
Kō Manulele, their namesake cane, was used in the ancient love ceremony called Hana Aloha. It’s said to have an impact on kindling a deep love across distances. It has purplish leaves, brown pith, and green-stripped yellow and reddish brown stems. Owner Robert Dawson described the kō manulele rum with an “earthiness at the forefront, then finishes with rock candy and cinnamon.”
Kō Papa’a, meaning “hold fast,” was said to encourage long-term love and was used in weddings.
Kō Pilimai, meaning “come hither,” was the original Viagra, said to spark lust. It is yellow-green in color.
Kō Kea has a light yellow stalk and is white on the inside. Fittingly, kea means “white.” This is the most sacred and popular variety of Hawaiian sugar cane and reported to be King Kamehameha’s favorite!
Kō Lahi, meaning “thin,” refers to the the cane’s thin rind. Dawson described the rum made with kō lahi as “very green and grassy with soft notes of cream and butterscotch.”
Kō Pua’ole is flowerless variety that is exceptionally sweet and has fast growth.
Malama ka ‘aina – Care for the land
In my extensive research on local distilleries, I’ve found few businesses who go to the lengths to malama ka ‘aina as do Manulele Distributors. In fact, co-owner and head distiller Robert Dawson mentioned that the entire idea spawned from a biofuel project that took a turn upon learning about the local cane’s alcohol potential.
Dealing with Weeds
In considering the long-term health of the land, they do not use plastic lining to prevent weed growth in their fields, as is a customary agricultural practice. Instead, they’ve found a natural solution! Once the sugar cane has been pressed, it’s left in a very fibrous state called bagasse that is placed on the ground to hold down the weeds.
Another tribute to the aina is in their hand harvesting. Although time-intensive, machete-harvesting two or three times a week allows them to leave the young kō to grow for the next harvest and gather only the ripest, sweetest sugar cane for their distillation. Hand harvesting is healthier for the land and leads to a better tasting product!
Juicing to Fermentation
Once the sugar cane is chopped, it heads for juicing. Pressing their heirloom kō is time sensitive because sugar cane oxidizes just like a cut apple. The cane goes from field-to-juicer in the same day and within a minute of extraction, the juice begins a week-long fermentation with their cacao-propagated yeast!
The distillation happens via their still which sports a 600-gallon stainless steel pot, a copper head, and a four-plate copper column that was built by Artisan Still Design in Alabama. The roughly 10% ABV mixture that was fed into the still emerges between 75%-80% ABV!
After distillation, the rums sit for three months. The white rum is proofed to allow some of the ethanol to evaporate, mellowing out the rum. The dark rums are aged in barrels of American white oak, Bourbon, or Scotch whiskey. Relying on taste rather than time, most of their aged concoctions remain barreled for a year and a half.
After their respect and work in conserving the aina, my favorite thing about Kō Hana Agricole Rum is that they’re always experimenting and trying out new recipes. For example, they’ve been know to age their expressions in Chardonnay and Laphroaig casks and blend the juice of over 30 varieties into one for a special “Collection” rum. Innovation and creativity founded this company and are paving its path into the future. Here is a look at their core products:
Kea, 40% ABV, is the heart and soul of Kō Hana Agricole Rum. This white rum changes taste and aroma depending on the variety of cane used. Some noted flavors are sweet, grassy, buttery, earthy, and peppery. Each bottle indicates the type of sugar cane from which it is derived.
Koa, meaning “bold,” is aged in American oak and bottled at full cask strength, around 55% ABV. This cask-aged rum bursts with flavors of tobacco, tropical spice, and stone fruits.
Koho is bottled at 45% ABV after passing through some months in new oak barrels before its second aging in bourbon barrels. The barrel aging imparts tastes of wood, licorice, caramel, and spice.
Kokoleka means “chocolate.” This 30% ABV liqueur is crafted by soaking local Madre Chocolate Trinitario cacao nibs in the rum and mixing in Maunawili honey. Once removed, they’re rebirthed to make a chocolate bar sold at the distillery!
Date: June 2019
Location: Mud Hen Water
Ingredients: Kōhana rum, house-made avocado pit orgeat, lime, orange curacao, absinthe, angostura bitters
Garnish: Mint, orange rind, one real cherry (no maraschino crap!)
Seconds? I’d indulge on this one again!
Due to state liquor laws, no alcoholic items are shipped via online sales. However, if you are able to visit the tasting room on Oahu, you can arrange for your purchased bottled to ship home. Even so, their online store sports a few cool items, including barware, clothing, honey, and local coffee aged in their barrels!
Address: 92-1770 Kunia Road #227, Kunia, HI 96759
Phone: (808) 649-0830
Tours available, book online.