The Deep-Sea Vodka Maker
by Jen Russo
Ocean Vodka is a family-owned Maui company, but their product isn’t distilled on the Valley Isle. This is no great secret; president Shay Smith will be the first to tell you. “Yeah we get criticized by the competition because we don’t distill the spirit here, but we are making it here,” he says. Smith says two factors influence the off-island distillation: a desire to keep the vodka organic, and quality control.
The process by which Ocean Vodka gets to market is fascinating. It starts with organic sugar cane, grown free of pesticides and with no genetic modifications. The cane juice is then distilled by master Bill Scott on the Mainland. This product is combined with MaHalo Hawaii Deep Sea water from Kono’a Koyo U.S.A.—pulled from 3,000 feet below sea level and desalinated—in a Maui warehouse, then bottled by Smith’s parents. The result is 80-proof, virtually flavor-free booze. No other vodka is made this way.
“We set out six years ago to create a Hawaii product,” Smith explains. “Our goal was to be as popular as macadamia nuts, but we didn’t want to make a tourist product. We wanted a local product to compete on the world market.”
It’s working—Ocean Vodka can be now found in at least 10 states, plus Canada and Japan. “We are committed to making a difference to our planet through being an organic product,” says Smith. “And being a Maui company.”
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE from MauiTime’s January 13 cover story “20 for ’11: Who Matters on Maui?” featuring twenty movers and shakers in art, food and politics who are shaping our island’s future.