Kō Hana General Manager Kyle Reutner (Video)

Published by The Rumlab ago about the Ko Hana company

Kō Hana General Manager Kyle Reutner (Video) article cover image
Hawaiian Agricole Rum

By Emily Cruz

Kō Hana Distillers located on Oahu in Kunia, Hawaii is the home of Kō Hana Agricole Rum, one of the world’s finest pure cane spirits. Robert Dawson and Jason Brand officially launched the distillery in 2011 having as a main purpose use the potential of the local sugar cane varietals for the creation of unique products.

Hawaiian sugar cane thrived nearly a thousand years before the plantations ever existed. Sometime between 1000-1200 AD, the first Polynesian seafarers brought to the island varieties of “Kō”, which means sugar cane. The specific varietals were the progenitors of the remaining heirloom ones in existence today.

In April, The Rum Lab presented a Live Stream on Zavvy.co hosted by Federico Hernández from Kō Hana Distillers. This was an “In-Depth tour” with Kyle Reutner, Distillery’s General Manager. Through this online event it was possible to know how this innovative rum is made and the history behind it.

Kō Hana: “Work of the sugar cane”

According to Reutner, what makes this distillery unique among many other agricole rums producers is, first, they grow single heirloom varietals. Initially, they planted twelve acres of cane on Oahu’s North Shore, and planted another fifteen adjacent to the distillery in Kunia. With the help of historical botanists in Florida and the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center (HARC), they have already collected thousands of varieties. Currently, they grow 34 varieties of cane. 

Second, Kō Hana Distillers’ Rum is meticulously crafted under a vertically integrated “farm-to-bottle” principle. They farm everything that goes into their bottles. Indeed, farming is the true cornerstone of Kō Hana. The distillery does not use molasses, refined sugar, or blending imported spirits in the process. They only make rum in one way, and that is the Hawaiian Agricole way. In 2013, they received the “Hawaiian Agricole” designation from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Third, Kō Hana Distillers truly embraces the natural earthiness and sweetness of the Kō, paying attention to the unique characteristics of each cane varietal. It reflects in the production process. They do not burn or mechanically harvest the cane; lend heirloom cane varieties themselves only to careful harvesting by hand, then, those are pressed to juice. Once crushed, they ferment the fresh cane juice using their proprietary yeast strain. A select portion of their rum rests in American oak barrels to further develop and reveal the essence of the cane.

The purest expressions of barrel-aged Agricole rum

The KōHana Rum captures the essence of freshly pressed native Hawaiian sugar cane. Each rum is packed with savory and grassy flavors. As they go through the barrel tasting process, certain barrels have a perfect balance of flavor and character without the need for dilution. 

Besides, each unique heirloom variety of Kō not only looks different but also has a truly unique flavor since they vary in sweetness and terroir. Hence, the varieties’ unique flavors and aromatic properties making each bottle also special and varied:

- KEA: A white Agricole Rum bottled at 80 proof with banana, fresh cream, butterscotch, and subtle earthiness notes. It comes in three single varietals: Papa’a, bright floral rum with a deep red fruit note; Pilimai with baked bananas, lychee and tropical fruits notes; and Mahai’ula, darker, and more savory, salinic, and herbaceous.

- KOHO: A barrel-aged Agricole Rum bottled at 90 proof. It rested in American oak barrels for two years. The nose expresses caramel, and subtle cinnamon notes. New flavors coalesce bringing vanilla, honey, and warm spices to the rich golden brown elixir. 

- KOA: A Cask Strength Agricole Rum bottled at 100 proof with a distinctly red hue with notes of honeysuckle, vanilla blossom, mace, and cinnamon on the nose; caramel, butterscotch, leather, and dried figs on the palate; and cacao, praline and buttery mouthfeel on the finish. It rests for two years in a second use Kō Hana rum barrel, then further aged in an endemic Hawaiian koa wood cask (Hawaiian Acacia) for six months. 

- KILA: Also a Cask Strength Agricole Rum that rests for 18 to 24 months in oak barrels and then finished in individual casks for a minimum of 6 months. It is bottled at 110-125 proof and showcases different flavor profiles created by varied second-use barrels. The mouthfeel is rich and full of elements of coffee, honey, and tropical spices. The nose is complex and full of earthy tobacco and oak with the subtle sweetness of vanilla and pure cane juice in the background. 

- KOKOLEKA: A Cacao & Honey Rum that profiles like a sweet liqueur. It is macerated with locally grown cacao and lightly sweetened with locally sourced honey to create a particular taste. This premium distillate is fermented, bottled, and distilled in small batches. 

Throughout history, Kō has been valued for its vast cultural significance. Kō Hana Distillers keeps doing it by using sugar cane smartly and respectfully. What is more, as Kō Hana Distillers use koa wood in their production process, they partnered with Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI) developed by the Hawaii Forest Institute to return these forests to the native landscape. In this sense, they remain steadfast in their determination to be good stewards of the land. 

From harvesting rare sugar cane to redefining rum distillation, Kō Hana Distillers’ methods elevate and celebrate each cane’s nectar to draw you closer to the pure heart of Hawaii. They always express that their sincerest hope is to honor and celebrate both earth and the Kō’s heritage, and have the privilege to plant and grow to produce the most authentic local rum. 

Therefore, they are constantly looking for new ways to bring the unique flavors from Hawaii to the world. Nowadays, Kō Hana Distillers has their online store kohanarum.com that introduces you to a new sensory experience. In addition, you can find on their website more information about their high-quality expressions and the in-depth tours they organized.


Image: Kualoa Beach, Hawaii, USA | Source: Jones/FeHU3cplLgY/Unsplash.com