Sugarcane, known as kō in Hawaii, originated on Earth approximately 10,000 years ago in Papua New Guinea. It was brought to the Hawaiian Islands about a thousand years ago by Polynesian wayfinders, early explorers using traditional navigation methods. In their double-hulled sailing canoes, the wayfinders brought essential items necessary to maintain continuity between their culture and their future. Kō was one of these items.
For centuries, kō was an important part of the culture, used in cermony, commerce and planted as an important component of the Hawaiian field system. It was cultivated into more than 50 varieties, each with its own moʻolelo (story and history) and distinct flavor profile.
In the early 1800’s the world’s demand for sugar rapidly grew and by 1835 Hawaii’s first sugar mill was opened and sugar became the dominant industry. It was during this period that many of the Hawaiian heirloom kō varieties were replaced by commercial hybrids engineered for large-scale production.
That is until recently when Kuleana Rum Works – working with Stanford University PhD and Hawaiian native Noa Lincoln – brought them back into cultivation and began using them again, this time to create very special, uniquely Hawaiian spirits. Dr. Lincoln classified approximately 40 varieties of kō and Kuleana Rum Works has replanted all of them on our farm on the Hawi Coast on the Island of Hawaiʻi and ensures it lives on.