On a recent visit to Hawaii, we stopped by KoHana rum for a tour and tasting appointment. We took an Uber half way across the island to get to distillery. Along the way, we drove past the massive Dole pineapple plantation, and by Wheeler Army Airfield. The Airfield was one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's primary targets during the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Quick story time! During the attack, Phil Rasmussen, a who took off from the base during the Japanese attack and managed to shoot down a Zero. His plane was badly damaged, but he managed to land at Wheeler Field with no brakes, rudder or tailiwheel. KoHana should really make a rum in his honor... Just saying!
After about an hour of driving we reached the little distillery. The distillery's gift shop used to be the old post office, the store's refrigerators were along the back wall, and the freezers were now the a rum locker. The new tour room is beautiful with a lot of natural light, a huge bar, and the store's original flooring.
The distillery didn’t start out as a distillery at all – the founders started the project as a way to make commercial ethanol from sugar cane. When the market crashed they pivoted into making rum. The first top on the tour was the impressive aquaponic farm which turns out ~5,000 heads of lettuce a week. It all starts with large cisterns filled with Talapia in shallow water. The Talapia poop saturated water flows downhill from the tanks into troughs of lettuce and is collected at the bottom in a large cistern.
After learning about the farm, we were shown to the sugar cane patch next to the distillery. In a quest to preserve more of Hawaii’s biodiversity, the distillery collected more than 30 strains of sugar cane that were native to the islands. We’ve been to a few sugar cane plantations, and every one I’ve seen features massive, very tall stalks of cane, almost all upright and uniform. Some of the canes in the test patch were not like that – some were growing almost horizontally, and Mike explained that the high sugar content made the canes droop. We didn't get a chance to visit their actual commercial sugar cane fields. KoHana has 20 acres under production, all right next to the distillery.
Unlike many distilleries, Maneuelle distillery doesn’t burn its sugar cane for harvesting. Harvesting sugar cane is very hard work. The plant’s leaves are razor sharp, and are often home to massive cane spiders. Burning eliminates these obstacles and makes harvesting easy. Creating agricole rum is also tricky because it requires you to immediately harvest, press, and ferment cane juice before it turns. Harvest just finished a few days before we arrived, so Mike showed us some photos of the experience.
Next stop was where the magic happens – the distillery. Kohana's operation consisted of several small fermentation tanks, and a massive stainless steel pot still with a copper cognac head. The pot still was connected to two small column stills in sequence. After distillation, Kohana's white rum rests in stainless steel for 3 months, and their aged spirits go into either charred new American oak barrels, or into used barrels used American whiskey barrels. KoHana issues their rum with no age statement and cagily said that they age their rum for "as long as it takes to make it delicious." The distillery seemed to use mainly 53 gallon barrels, but did have a few smaller 15 gallon casks around, which would presumably impart barrel flavors much more rapidly. They also use honecomb stave inserts to impart oak flavor and increase the surface area exposed to the barrel.
After the tour we went to the tasting room and got to try a few rums. We started with three very lightly aged expressions made from different types of sugar cane.
KoHana Kea Rum – $30 / 375 ml – 40% ABV
KoHana currently offers three different styles of their Kea (unaged agricole) rums, each made from a different type of cane. The three styles were quite different and I preferred the Lahi so we snapped up a bottle. Solid agricole rum, nice grass and white truffle / earthy flavors. Strong earthy smell.
KoHana Koho Rum – $45 / 375 ml – 43% ABV
Strong, almost whiskey like rum which picked up a lot of oak from the barrel / oak staves used in ageing. Ran a little hot and with plenty of dark fruit. Very enjoyable rum.
KoHana the Hawaiian Collection 2016 – $50 / 375 ml – 40% ABV
This is a blend of the three different cane variants. AT $50 for a 375 ml bottle for an unaged rum the price is steep! Very smooth finish, amped up version of the Lahi Kea rum, with strong earthy, flavors. Wonderful agricole rum.
KoHana rum is on O'ahu island, ~45 minutes drive from Honolulu. They currently offer tours from 10:00 to 4:00 Wednesday through Saturday. Tours are $25 per person.