Kai Vodka is preparing to splash down in Hawaii
LONGTIME Hawaii beverage business man and restaurateur Marcus Bender is about to make his mark on the industry -- again -- but of course the name Maker's Mark is already taken.
Bender and his far-flung team of beverage industry illuminati have been developing Kai Vodka and Kai Lychee Vodka for three years and it is about to hit the market.
Kai Vodka, made in Vietnam, is billed as the world's first ultra-premium rice vodka, while Kai Lychee Flavored Vodka is the first lychee-flavored vodka.
"There are lychee liqueurs, but no lychee vodka," he said.
Though made from rice, Kai is not sake because sake is brewed, while vodka is distilled.
Inspired by a Vietnamese rice-based spirit called Ruou, the Kai vodkas is made from Yellow Blossom Rice cultivated only in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam. It is pot-distilled and transferred to a column-still where it is redistilled twice, Bender said. "That's how we get the refinement of the product," which he describes as "very nice, very sweet and very palatable."
The ultra-premium designation is not just about pricing, Bender said.
Most vodkas are made in "big refineries that basically create the spirit, the alcohol, and then people fool with it."
"Because ours is handcrafted, it is unique ... because of the quality and care that's taken in the making of it," Bender said.
Suggested retail for the 750 milliliter bottle is under $30, while a larger, one-liter bottle is aimed at the bar business.
Bender consulted with UH MBA students and beverage industry marketing experts on the bottle design, "sort of modeled after a lady's figure" and intended to reflect a Pan-Asian feel. The name kai can mean sea, in Hawaiian. It means pleasure in Japan and happy gathering in China, "so as you go through different countries and ethnicities it has a positive meaning, which is important."
Ironically, kai has no meaning in Vietnamese, which Bender and his partners find amusing.
Presentation of the name on the bottle was a project in itself. It was important not to make it so Asian that western folk would think it is sake, Bender said.
KAI should appear on store shelves the first week in June after the official June 2 launch at the Monkey Bar nightclub event at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki. He's pleased to debut his product in Hawaii "and then from here expand it out to the rest of the U.S. and the world."
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org