Steve Jefferson and his wife Jackie, both born and raised in Hawai‘i, were sailing around the Caribbean with their two small children. While ashore on the French island of Martinique, they had their very first taste of Rhum Agricole – rum made from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice instead of molasses. Blown away by the quality of this style of rum, they made an ambitious plan to return home to Hawai‘i and make their own rum Agricole with fresh sugarcane juice grown on the islands.
Kuleana Rum Works was established with partners Chris Schlarb and Charlie Sander with a mission “to discover, make and share delicious rum that celebrates the richness of Hawai‘i”. Jefferson doesn’t take this mission lightly, hence the company name, "Kuleana" – a Hawaiian concept that describes a combination of rights & privileges that you get if you're willing to be responsible for something. The newly formed company purchased 45-acres near Upolu Point at the northern tip of the island of Hawai‘i to grow heirloom Hawaiian sugarcane.
Jefferson heard about the work of a Stanford University Ph.D. candidate, Noa Lincoln, who has discovered ~40 species of kō (rare, native Hawaiian heirloom sugarcane) that could trace their lineage back to the original two or three varieties of cane brought by the settling Wayfinders about 1,000 years ago. The team decided on the spot to plant these varietals on their 45-acre farm and make them the basis for their spirit company.
Kō was used in daily living as well as commerce. When big sugar was being produced in Hawai‘i, all of the Hawaiian heirloom varieties were replaced by commercial hybrids engineered for large-scale production.
With 2,500 miles of open ocean, the salt air naturally balances the soil which leads to healthy plants. Tradewinds bring showers and provide the freshest air and water on earth. This makes for delicious rum which is why they never add sweeteners, flavors, or coloring to any of their products.
It’s the slow, multi-millennial cultivation of kō that makes Kuleana Rum so special. Each varietal of heirloom cane has a unique story and flavor profile that cannot be duplicated by molasses or processed sugar. Our super-premium rum pays homage to this piece of treasured Hawaiian history and ensures it lives on.
The team built the island of Hawaii’s first distillery and added Whiskey icon, David Perkins to the team to expand their offerings to help elevate rum as a category – to do for rum what Perkins’ High West Distillery did for whiskey. In addition to making ultra-rare Rum Agricole from kō (Hawaiian heirloom sugarcane), we also 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.
Kuleana Rum Works launched in 2018 with three products designed to be best in class for every type: a light cocktail rum (Huihui); super flavorful fresh juiced rum (Hawaiian Rum Agricole); and a beautifully aged rum to compete with whiskey (Nanea). The company soon received high scores for each. In 2022, they launched Hōkūlei, a huge sipping bomb designed to stand up to the best sipping spirits in the world.
As part of our Kuleana, we make our products with deliberate intent and personal accountability, and nothing on our farm is wasted. The crushed sugarcane is used for mulch, compost, and cattle feed, and we utilize drip irrigation from our own solar-powered well. Tradewinds bring showers and provide the freshest air and water on earth. With 2,500 miles of open ocean, the salt air naturally balances the soil which leads to healthy plants.
That’s why we never add sweeteners, flavors, or coloring to any of our products.