Thoughtfully crafted Ko Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum has deservedly made its way onto discriminating cocktail menus around O‘ahu, including those of Morimoto Waikiki, The Pig & the Lady, and Monkeypod Kitchen. When you stop by the Four Seasons Resort O'ahu at Ko Olina, don’t miss the Ko Olina Cooler ($12) at the newly opened Fish House. It’s the restaurant’s spin on the Mai Tai, made with Ko Hana, El Dorado and Jamaican rums; pineapple; hibiscus; lime juice; and ginger soda.
But there’s more to the story than just delicious rum. For Robert Dawson and Jason Brand, the two founders of Manulele Distillers, producers of Ko Hana, it all started with manulele, the storied sugarcane used in love magic, according to legend. The entrepreneurs had originally been planning a biofuel business, but pivoted their idea to O‘ahu-made rum using Hawaiian ko, or sugarcane. Dawson started growing the canes from cuttings he collected; then he connected with ethnobotanist Noa Kekuewa Lincoln, who, together with the Hawai'i Agricultural Research Center, classified, cataloged and DNA-tested the sugarcane. The strains are roughly 900 years old; these are descendants of canoe plants, brought to the islands by voyaging ancient Hawaiians. Meanwhile, Brand spent hours at the Bishop Museum researching each strain’s mo‘olelo (legend). Today, the distillery works with 36 varieties of Hawaiian ko, freshly pressed and fermented.
Even Ko Hana’s distillery is chock-full of history. Located in grassy plains of Kunia, once prime pineapple land, the distillery and tasting room are housed in the former Del Monte General Store and Post Office. The Quonset hut building retains its original steel roof and terrazzo floor. Tours ($18 to $25) are available Wednesday through Saturday. 92-1770 Kunia Road, Ste. 227, Kunia, O‘ahu, 649.0830
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