Spirit of Aloha

Courtesy of Ko Hana Rum

Celebrate this quintessential Tiki cocktail with a toast to Hawaiian-made rums

A number of boutique distilleries have launched throughout the Islands as of late, with each creating signature craft spirits boasting remarkable flavor, unique-to-the-region character and terroir-driven appeal. This includes artisanal rums produced using locally sourced ingredients, such as heritage sugarcane varietals.

Located in Kunia, where they also offer farm tours and tastings, Manulele Distillers is home to superb Kō Hana Agricole* Rum. Hand-harvested Hawaiian-grown sugarcane is pressed and distilled to create small-batch, pure cane rums, including White, Barrel-Aged and Cask Strength. Also featured, the rich and deeply flavored Cacao & Honey Rum made from Hawaiian raw honey and pure cacao blended with premium cane spirit.

* Rhum agricole is a style of rum made using sugar cane. In contrast, most rums use molasses.

From Kauai, award-winning Kōloa Rum Company is an artisanal distillery producing premium, single-batch rums since 2009. Their selection includes White, Gold, Dark, Spice and Coconut – all are made with island-grown raw cane sugar and are distilled in a vintage copper-pot still using filtered water from Mount Wai’ale’ale. Visit the Tasting Room and Company Store located at Kilohana Plantation in Lihue to sip and shop for a rum lovers’ selection of barware and supplies. For added convenience, they also blend and bottle a ready-to-drink Hawaiian Mai Tai Cocktail.

Speaking of the Mai Tai, a snippet on its origins and back history: Two men lay claim to having created this iconic rum-based Tiki cocktail. Donn “Don the Beachcomber” Beach, considered the founding father of Tiki culture, concocted his version in 1933 (called the Q.B. Cooler) while the Mai Tai by Victor J. Bergeron, AKA “Trader Vic” of the Polynesian-style Trader Vic’s chain of restaurants, made its debut in 1944. The Mai Tai name itself comes from the Tahitian phrase, “Maita’i roa ae!”, meaning, “Out of this world!” – which was reportedly declared by Bergeron’s friend upon tasting the drink for the first time.

While similarities are apparent, Don the Beachcomber’s cocktail has additional ingredients, including Angostura bitters, for nuanced depth and complexity, and also Falernum – a sweet almond syrup spiced with ginger and cloves. Trader Vic’s version uses Orgeat syrup – also made with almonds yet without the warm spices. Both syrups lend distinct characteristics to their respective original recipes.

Fast-forward to the mid-1950’s, with Bergeron, hired by this point to look after the libation line-up at hotel cocktail bars in Hawaii, introduced a remodeled version of the Mai Tai to the cocktail menu at The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki. Redesigned for maximum tourist appeal, he augmented with pineapple juice and other sweet, fruity, colorful ingredients. It was a success, thus sealing The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai’s fate as becoming – and remaining – one of Hawaii’s most revered rum cocktails.

While there are now more versions floating around than you can shake a cocktail umbrella at, it’s worth getting back to the roots of this iconic drink and giving one or both of the originals a whirl.  

“Okole maluna!” Bottom’s up!


Kō Hana Mai Tai

Makes: 1 cocktail

The original Mai Tai is complex in flavor and subtle in color and sweetness. Kō Hana Rum pays homage with a version that harkens back to this.


2 oz Kō Hana Hawaiian Agricole Rum – KEA

3/4 oz Dry Curaçao

3/4 oz lime juice

1/2 oz Orgeat syrup

Shake and pour over crushed ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a sugar cane swizzle stick and finish of a sprig of fresh mint, lime wedge or edible flower.


Cocktail recipe by Kō Hana Rum (Manulele Distillers, LLC). Photos courtesy of Kō Hana Rum and Kōloa Rum Company. 

Alison Kent is a seasoned food, beverage and travel writer, recipe developer, certified chef and best-selling cookbook author with an abundance of culinary experience under her toque. Follow her @Alicatchef

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