Spirits of the deep sea
A pricey new vodka blends desalinated Kona ocean water and eco-friendly ethanol
A MAUI-BASED startup company is plunging into the premium liquor market with a new vodka that uses water drawn from a half-mile below the Kona waves and alcohol distilled in Idaho from organic corn and rye.
Hawaii Sea Spirits LLC is positioning its new Ocean brand vodka not just as a smooth, pure-tasting spirit as good as big-time, high-priced brands such as Grey Goose; the company is also touting Ocean as the vodka for the ecologically conscious.
The product is scheduled to hit the market next month at a price of $35 to $40 per bottle.
Shay Smith, Hawaii Sea Spirits' 29-year-old president, said Ocean wants to "compete with the best vodkas on the market."
Part of what makes Ocean different is the water it uses. Ocean has partnered with Koyo USA Corp., maker of MaHaLo Hawaii Deep Sea Water. According to Koyo, its water originates near Greenland and travels halfway around the globe to Hawaii before being drawn from 3,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, free from any impurities.
Koyo markets the desalinated mineral water in Japan and has opened a posh water bar in Waikiki, where it sells the drink to beachgoers. Ocean vodka will introduce Koyo's water to a whole new audience, one that is looking for a little kick.
What's more, Hawaii Sea Spirits is organic, its alcohol produced by DRinc., an Idaho distiller that makes organic vodkas and grain alcohols.
ASKED if people concerned enough about dietary impurities to demand organic products will be clamoring to buy vodka, Smith said that was not the point. Pesticides used in nonorganic farming inevitably make it to the oceans, Smith said. And part of Hawaii Sea Spirits' aim is to protect the oceans that Smith and his family enjoy, he said.
"If you do it right, hopefully it doesn't hurt anything in the end," he said.
So could drinking Ocean martinis really help the environment? (Assuming the vermouth is also organic.)
"Drinking can save the planet," Smith joked.
Bringing the product to market has hardly been easy, said Sye Vasquez, Smith's brother, who is the company's director of sales. The process, which included getting approvals from federal alcohol regulators, took 18 months altogether, Vasquez said. In addition to their sweat equity, as well as that of their wives and parents, Kyle and Diana Smith, the partners, have made a six-figure investment in the company.
Although the alcohol is distilled in Idaho, it is blended and bottled by the family at a plant near Kahului, Smith said. The company hopes eventually to set up its own distillery on Maui in partnership with DRinc., Smith said.
In the meantime, Smith said, Hawaii Sea Spirits is near to closing a deal with a distributor as a final step before going into stores and restaurants.
"The product's ready and that's the hardest part," Smith said.
Hawaii Sea Spirits' decision to make vodka versus something that could be made with locally grown produce, such as rum from sugar cane, was simply a matter of preference, Smith said.
"Rums are good alcohol, but it's not what we particularly indulge in," he said.
And making something the Smiths like to drink has an added benefit come pau hana time.
"You can go home and enjoy the fruits of your labor," he said.