The Job That Lured Top Bartender Kyle Reutner to Leave His Night Job

Manulele Distillers, which makes Hawaiian agricole rum, offers tastings, tours and a nice selection of high-quality rums Reutner drinks himself.
Inside the tasting room at Manulele Distillers, which produces Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum in Kunia. Here, you can purchase bottles of the high-quality spirit, learn more about Hawai‘i’s sugar cane industry or take a farm tour.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox


First, Robert Dawson and Jason Brand had a plan to make high-quality rum from ancient Hawaiian sugar cane varieties. The pair started collecting these rare varietals—from botanical gardens, along hiking trails, from backyards—and planting them on old Del Monte land in Kunia and Waialua. Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum was quickly a hit with bartenders and rum aficionados.


Then, last year, Manulele Distillers, which produces the rum, opened a tasting room in the old planation general store in Kunia and started offering tastings and tours of its facility, sugar cane fields and Kunia Country Farms, a two-acre aquaponics farm that specializes in growing greens for restaurants and wholesale.


SEE ALSO: Be The First to Take Kō Hana Rum’s Distillery Tour


Part of the tour visits Kunia Country Farms, a two-acre aquaponics farm that specializes in greens. This salad mix is grown for Zippy’s Restaurants.


There are 91 different Hawaiian sugar cane varieties growing here. This one, lahi, is the favorite of Kō Hana brand manager Kyle Reutner.


The company had lured veteran bartender Kyle Reutner from his post as bar manager at The Pig & The Lady to work here as the Kō Hana brand manager. He apprenticed here for a year first, learning the whole process of producing this rhum agricole, from harvesting sugar cane to distilling and bottling the spirit. (Rhum agricole is the French term for cane juice rum, a style of rum originally distilled in the French Caribbean islands from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice rather than molasses.)


This month, adding to the company’s collection of high-quality rums, Manulele released a new kind of rum, a premium, farm-to-table spirit—or grass-to-glass, as Reutner likes to say—infused with local cacao and honey.


The newly released Kokoleka is a result of a collaboration between Manulele Distillers and Madre Chocolate.


Called Kokoleka ($40 for a 375 ml bottle), this rum is a result of a collaboration between Manulele Distillers and Madre Chocolate. The rum, made in the style of a rhum agricole from Martinique and cachaca from Brazil, is infused with Trinitario cacao, an heirloom hybrid variety grown on the Hāmākua Coast of Hawaiʻi Island, and blended with Maunawili honey. The result is a smooth, sippable liquor that makes for a great after-dinner apéritif. The sweetness from the honey balances the cacao, which is rich without being bitter. (It’s even better mixed with Mexican Coca-Cola, which is made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.)


This is one of the rums you can taste now on the hourlong Kō Hana Rum Tasting Tour ($25 per person) at the distillery. Here, you can also sample Kō Hana’s Kea ($30), its white rum; the Koho ($45), a barrel-select rum that’s matured twice in oak barrels; and the Koa ($75), a premium rum that’s aged in small batches and bottled at full-cask strength. Each bottle is labeled with the type of sugar cane used—lahi, manulele, pāpaʻa—to make this rum.


“I’m the biggest rum advocate of all time,” Reutner says. “I can drink daiquiris all the time. In fact, I do. I consider it the perfect drink.”


Manulele Distillers, 92-1770 Kunia Road, #227, Kunia Camp, Waipahu, 649-0830,