ocean vodka: ‘life’s a beach, so enjoy a cocktail’

Sons Sye Vasquez, Shay Smith, and parents Diana and Kyle Smith l-r credit Kristin HettermannOcean Vodka may be made with deep ocean mineral water, but this Maui company is flying high these days with the opening of their brand-new, state-of-the-art organic farm and distillery on Oma‘opio Road in Kula earlier this year.

We had an opportunity to participate in one of their preliminary distillery/farm tours, led by Ocean Vodka’s president Shay Smith. “We weren’t farmers before, but we are now,” he said with a laugh.

Ocean Vodka is a family effort and a true labor of love. Three generations of the Smith family have grown up on Maui. The Smiths’ deep love and respect for the ocean and the natural beauty of their home ultimately led to the creation of Ocean Vodka in 2005. Currently, Ocean Vodka is marketed in 25 states and 3 provinces in Canada, and is expanding quickly in South America and Asia. Ocean Vodka has been the exclusive vodka of Hawaiian Airlines since 2007, and is the best-selling spirit from Hawai‘i.

Ocean Vodka is certified 100% USDA organic, and is the only vodka in the world distilled from organic sugar cane. “Our farming method for our raw ingredient, organic sugar cane, is based on estate planting which allows us to get around each clump of sugar cane to be able to select harvest,” Shay said. “Select harvest allows us to harvest the ripe sugar cane in a clump, and gives us a rolling harvest. So when we’re harvesting one ripe clump we know there’s another ripe clump next to it coming in the next few months. This process allows us to work through our fields consistently, making small batches from just the ripe cane. From a conservation standpoint, it allows us to nurture the land and rehabilitate the soil, since we won’t have to replant these for eight to ten years.”

Finding organic sugar cane on Maui initially presented a challenge for the Smiths. But they struck gold at the old Pioneer Mill site in Lahaina, where cane was still growing in the fallow fields. They worked with a friend to obtain 50 organic cuttings. “This cane was farmed old-school style, pre-GMO, so it was an all-natural hybrid,” Shay said. “Currently we have five acres planted of sugar cane on property, and by end of the year we hope to have ten to fifteen acres of planted cane.”

Standing next to Ocean Vodka’s shiny new sixty-foot distillation column, Shay told us column distillation is superior for vodka because the ultimate goal is to make a clean, colorless, odorless product. “Our process within this column strips out everything except for the raw alcohol,” he said. “Our deluxe machinery takes us out of the realm of a draft distillation process and into the realm of creating ultra premium spirits.”

Ocean Vodka’s 6,000 square foot warehouse and bottling center is totally self-sufficient, and sustainable. In addition to 100% solar power, they also have their own waste water system. Mobile tanks are used for storage of water and sugar cane juice. And speaking of water, it’s sourced from 3,000 feet below Hawai‘i Island, and is deeply pure and full of naturally occurring minerals. Once the water is brought to the surface on the Kona coast, it’s organically purified and desalinated through reverse osmosis—natural filtration that removes sodium, while retaining rich minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. “When our pure refined spirit—the result of our proprietary column distillation process—is blended with deep ocean mineral water, Ocean Vodka takes on a unique, mineral-rich flavor found in no other vodka,” says Shay.

Ocean Vodka continues to rack up awards for its high-quality, handcrafted spirit. In June, Ocean Vodka won top honors in the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Global 100-Mile Cocktail Contest, which featured recipes with ingredients locally sourced within a 100-mile radius of the presenting property. Selected as the featured vodka in the cocktail recipe created and submitted by Four Seasons Resort Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay chefs Oyvind Naesheim and Jeremy Sidman, the winning “Lokahi Cocktail” was inspired by the universal idea of unity—lokahi in Hawaiian. (See recipe in sidebar.)

And in July, Ocean Vodka received a Triple Gold Medal for extraordinary taste and packaging in the 2013 Beverly Hills World Spirits Competition, an elite contest which recognizes the very best of the industry’s top luxury, classic, and reputable brands.

Ocean Vodka has also partnered with Surfing Goat Dairy, their neighbors on Oma‘opio Road, to create a specialty line of martini-inspired goat cheese and Ocean Vodka truffles, which may be purchased at both businesses.

“We want to fully develop the farmable portions of our land, and we’re looking at crops in addition to sugar cane, including corn,” Shay said. “We’re also considering product expansion into whiskey, bourbon, rum, and estate bottling.” With the Smith Family’s track record, we think the sky’s the limit for this Maui company.

–heidi pool

We hope that you will enjoy making these recipes featuring Ocean Vodka, let us know!

Lokahi Cocktail
Four Seasons Resort, Manele Bay

2 oz Ocean Vodka
1-½ whole calamansi lime
½ oz Lehua honey syrup
6 chunks of fresh pineapple
2 Maui Vanilla bean (split lengthwise with vanilla beans open)
4 ginger pieces, cut into matchsticks

Muddle calamansi halves with ginger sticks, vanilla bean and pineapple in a shaker until the pineapple is almost crushed into juice and the vanilla bean is split open.

Pour the Ocean Vodka into the glass with the muddled contents and add the honey syrup. Add ice to the ingredients and shake vigorously.

Strain into a martini glass and place dehydrated pineapple slice on top of the drink.

A featured cocktail at 2013 Ka‘anapali Fresh 

1 ½ oz Ocean Vodka
¼ inch piece of fresh ginger
1 oz fresh blueberries
½ oz fresh lemonade
Muddle blueberries & ginger in the bottom of a shaker.

Add Ocean Vodka & lemonade and bruise, pour into a chilled martini glass, garnish with 2 fresh blueberries.


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