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Made in Hawaii: Manulele Distillers

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Sugar cane in the islands takes you back to a simple time in Hawaii.

Stalks swaying in the breeze, and plenty of cane juice to go around.

But just before fading into oblivion, cane could be making a mini-comeback.

Set deep within the agricultural lands of Kunia sits Manulele Distillers.

A company on a mission to create the world's finest pure sugar cane rum.

Every varietal of heirloom sugar cane grown in Hawaii has a history of its own.

Robert Dawson is Co-Founder of Manulele Distillers, a farm and distillery that makes Kohana Hawaiian Agricole Rum.

He became interested in the history of cane in Hawaii and reached out to local historians who were more than happy to provide a century of research on the crop.

"I had a record before I ever saw it, well it looks like this it's banded, it's purple with yellow stripes, the leafs look like this oh and by the way this is how much sugar is in it oh and by the way this is what it tastes like," Dawson said. 

He quickly realized that each cane on record not only had a different story, but a different flavor. And he was on to something.

"The thesis was if the juice tastes different between the different varietal the rum will taste different at the end. Of course now we have proven that concept, we have 36 varieties behind you and we do everything in single varietal and if you try three of our white rums made from three different sugar canes you'll notice they're different," Dawson said.

Out of the still, distilled cane juice is clear rum. To give it that dark color, and to enhance the flavor. 

The KoHana rum is placed in charred oak barrels and aged.

"We have cherry buds, we've got port casks, lots of used bourbon barrels, new American oak, chardonnay. What we try to do is chase deliciousness and find these perfect nuances from used barrels that will add something in addition to the Hawaiian cane that we're using for our agricole rum," Kyle Reutner, KoHana Hawaiian Agricole Rum said. 

The rum is produced from farm to table or more accurately, from grass to glass in Kunia.

Everything is local except for the french bottles Dawson chose for packaging.

A few of the high end barrel selections of KoHana rum, are adorned with images carved right into the glass.

KoHana enlisted renown hula art photographer Kim Taylor Reece to help.

"We brought in French glass bottles and then we etched a different hula dancer on each of the small batches that we produced. So right now this is our sixth edition and they're small batches, there's only 150 bottles so it makes a really special gift, not everyone can have one," Reece said. 

Manulele Distillers, finding a new use for a classic crop. And it's Made in Hawaii.

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