Located In the small town of Kunia in central Oahu, Manulele Distillers, Inc. is producing some incredible Hawaiian agricole rums from locally grown sugarcane. Their brand name, Ko Hana, is Hawaiian for "working cane" which is an accurate description of what their rums are all about. They grow 34 varieties of rare Hawaiian heirloom sugarcane on-site and harvest it by hand using machetes. Manulele Distillers also is home to one of the largest aquaponic farms on the island which produces 5,000 heads of lettuce weekly.
Ko Hana is an agricole rum, meaning it is produced by distilling freshly pressed sugarcane juice, rather than molasses. Agricole rums have a very different taste than molasses rums - they have more of an earthy, grassy flavor. Many companies produce agricole rums (particularly in the French West Indies), but what makes Ko Hana unique is that they only use one variety of sugarcane in each batch of rum. That means they can produce up to 34 different varieties of base rum!
The distillery tour starts with a sample of sugarcane juice, which is freshly pressed right into your glass. Next, you will see samples of all 34 varieties of sugarcane growing in a small garden outside the distillery as well as their large aquaponic farm. The tour continues past the fermentation and distillation room and to the aging room, where a small number of various types of barrels are working their magic into a wide variety of base rums. The tour concludes with a rum tasting which includes a souvenir tasting glass.
During our visit, we tasted each of the four KEA (White) rums that were available, as well as the barrel-select aged KOHO and the cacao and honey infused KOKOLEKA rums. The different sugarcane varieties produce very different flavor profiles in each KEA rum, from sweet and grassy to subtly floral to slightly earthy. Just as with the KEA, each batch of KOHO is unique and complex due to the variances of cane variety, barrel type, and length of aging. The KOKOLEKA rum is a decadent sipping rum reminiscent of coffee-infused dark chocolate.
Each visit to Manulele Distillers will be unique since they are always producing different products, and not all rum varieties are available at all times. The cask-strength KOA rum was unavailable during our visit, but that gives us another reason to return. Prior to purchasing your tour tickets, be sure to check Groupon for discounts. Also, ask the distillery about shipping options to your home address because this can save a little money and a lot of hassle versus transporting it in your luggage.