When the first major sugar mill opened in Hawaii at the start of the 19th century, it helped usher in an industry that dominated the island economy until recent times. Still, the sweet export existed on the islands for many centuries before that, brought by the first Polynesians nearly a millennium ago. As industrial sugar mills moved on to other countries, Kō Hana Distillers dug deep into Hawaii's past to revive these rare heirloom sugarcane plants for its line of artisan Agricole rum, Kō Hana. While most producers make rum from syrupy molasses, Kō Hana spirits feature the juice of hand-harvested, single-varietal sugarcane (or Kō) grown in Kunia, West Oahu.
Among the four varieties made by Kō Hana, the finest expressions are the KOA Cask Strength Rum and the KOKOLEKA Cacao and Honey Rum, though they express very different flavor profiles. KOA is barrel-aged rum set aside for its superior balance and flavor and bottled at full-cask strength for higher concentrations of alcohol. For example, El Dorado 12 Year is 80 proof, while KOA typically ranges between 110 and 125 proof, which is why some people prefer it on the rocks as opposed to neat. With an almost cognac quality to it, the rum boasts an earthy profile with elements of tobacco, spice, vanilla and a slight hint of bananas.
If KOA will put hair on your chest (metaphorically speaking), KOKOLEKA feels like its seductively sweet sister. Named after the island word for chocolate, KOKOLEKA rum features raw Hawaiian honey and pure cacao for a taste that borders on dessert without the need for an embarrassing little umbrella. The honey mildly increases the sweetness of the rum, but the distinguishing taste is that of cacao for pure yet modest notes of chocolate.
Kō Hana does offer cocktail recipes, but these cane-to-cup rums should be enjoyed without dilution or flavor mixing, other than maybe ice. That said, KOKOLEKA—the preferred choice for those who want the more distinctive experience—deserves consideration as a potential ingredient for French-style desserts.
KOKOLEKA Cocoa and Honey Rum (375ml) retails for $55 and the limited-quantity KOA Cask Strength Rum (375ml) for $75. Both are available directly from Kō Hana Distillers.