Hawaii Island’s first distillery has opened, as well as their visitor center, the Kuleana Rum Shack. Kuleana Rum Works was born on Hawaiʻi Island in 2013 to make and share exquisite rum while creating a thriving local business that celebrates the richness of Hawaiʻi.
The intent is to get people as excited about high-quality rum as they are by making rum from the best ingredients on Earth and without added sweeteners, flavors or colors.
As serious rum lovers, they make super-premium rum in two ways, distill fresh Hawaiian sugarcane juice into elegant rum agricole using 40 varieties of kō (Hawaiian heirloom sugarcane) grown on their farm in Kohala, Hawaii, and they blend rums from around the world – carefully chosen for their purity and rich taste – into delicious and flavorful products not available anywhere else in the world.
For a little history on the Kuleana Rum Shack we asked owner Steve Jefferson for a little background.
“Born and raised here, I’ve always thought that great rum from Hawaii is obvious. But the story of Kuleana Rum began 12 years ago when Jackie and I were sailing around the Caribbean with our then 1- and 3-year-old children. We made it to the French Islands and were pretty stoked to be back in civilization. Martinique, in many ways, is a LOT like Hawaii. It’s a volcanic Island on the same latitude as the Big Island, managed by a first-world country, but really an island nation. As a cool day trip, we hiked to the top of Mt. Pelée and found sugarcane plantation with its own rum distillery. I’ve always like rum, but never had anything better than Mt. Gay. That day changed us. It was the best rum we had ever tasted. I mean really, it was super yummy. And that was when we came up with the idea to move back to Hawaii and make rum from fresh sugarcane juice. Typical French, they found a way to make food WAY better than the American version. As a bit of a back ground, all rum is made from sugar cane products. And the vast majority is made from molasses, the left-over product after turning sugar cane into sugar, some is made from dried sugarcane and a tiny percentage about 3 percent fresh sugarcane juice. Rum that is made from fresh sugarcane juice is known as rum agricole.
So, after coming back to Hawaii from our sailing adventure, Jackie and I joined the real world by getting jobs and trying to figure out a way to pay for our kids education. We turned to our long-time friends Chris and Lora, who we’ve known for almost 30 years to help us start Kuleana Rum Works.
We taught ourselves and after some time realized we could actually make rum. We then had to learn how to make really good, out of this world, best in the universe type rum. That is when we heard about Noa Lincoln and HawaiianKo. At the time Noa is a PhD student Stanford University who was researching ko. Most people think of this green stock (PROP: Holds up one green stock of sugar cane) when they think of sugarcane. But thanks to Noa, we actually now know that ko comes in 40 beautiful colors and flavors. (PROP: holds up colorful ko). THIS we realized was going to be the secret sauce, literally, to Kuleana Rum. What we learned from him was: sugarcane originated on earth 10,000 years ago in Papua New Guinea. Sugarcane migrated around the world in two paths. The one we all know is the that ended up in the Caribbean by Europeans. The secret of this magical plant sugar cane travelled slowly overland west from Papua New Guinea through Asia as one culture invaded the next. A single variety of the Papua New Guinea sugarcane was eventually discovered by Europeans during the Crusades in the 11th century and went on to become the entire sugar industry for the European colonies in the islands of the Caribbean. The other path most people don’t know is that for three thousand years, the early Polynesian way finders put sugarcane in their canoes, as one of the very precious resources they wanted to bring to their new lands. Fast forward to 1,000 years ago and the Wayfinder landed in Hawaii. Super stoked we were on to something awesome, we rented fields on the kohala mountain road and planted sugar cane. Much to the dismay of our children, we all worked, including bayla, Grady and jack, in the sugarcane fields most weekends, cutting, weeding, and stacking sugarcane. We bought a juicer and still. We did the very hard manual process of creating fresh sugar cane juice (Hold up a glass jar of juice) while learning to use our still and make rum.”
If you want to learn more about taking a tour and visiting the Kuleana Rum Shack, visit @kuleanarumworks @kuleanarumshack on Facebook and Instagram.