- Established in 2005
- Distilled in Kula, Maui
- Ocean Organic Vodka is the fastest-growing ultra-premium vodka on the mainland
- The 6,000 square foot warehouse and bottling facility is entirely solar powered!
Hawaii Sea Spirits Organic Farm and Distillery located in Upcountry Maui is a true family business. Started by 27-year-old Shay Smith with the help of his parents in 2005, OCEAN Organic Vodka is now sold in all 50 states, Canada, and Japan.
Smith, a Maui real estate developer, read a newspaper article about one of the state’s lesser known natural resources – desalinized deep ocean mineral water off the coast of Kona. With the support of his family, he challenged himself to tap this natural resource and create an organic liquor in Hawai’i, giving himself a ten year deadline. It is safe to say that he smashed that deadline.
The Sugar Cane
In 2006, Smith bought an 80-acre farm in the Kula district of Maui. Alongside some friends, he extracted 50 organic sugar cane cuttings from the old Pioneer Mill site in Lahaina and planted them on five acres of the Kula farm. No grains, potatoes, or corn for this vodka! Smith and his team selected varieties for their straight and tall growth and excellent sugar and juice contents. Smith says that estate planting methods allow them to target only the ripest canes during their machete-aided harvests, as they situate the plants 12 feet apart. This method is also beneficial from a conservation standpoint, providing rehabilitation time for the land, with replanting every 8 to 10 years.
The water for Ocean Organic Vodka comes from Koyo USA Corp., a bottling company that leases space from the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority. It was the first company to desalinate and trademark the deep seawater it collects via a 2,300-foot pipeline that juts 3,000 feet below sea level off Big Island’s Kona coast. Koyo, despite its past faults that you can read about here and here, sells this water for up to $12 a bottle in Japan, where it is believed to have health benefits. Before deep ocean currents transported the water to the Kona coast, it originated as glacial melt in Greenland. The desalination process removes sodium by reverse osmosis while retaining over 70 minerals including magnesium, potassium, and calcium. With each bottle comprised of 40% alcohol and 60% water, the distinctive taste of the desalinized deep-ocean water is evident at first sip.
After harvest, the sugar cane is juiced in a crusher and fermented in tanks before distillation. Their distillery equipment comes from Vendome Copper out of Louisville, Kentucky, including their custom 60-foot-tall continuous column stills. This still design gives master distiller Bill Scott excellent control over consistency, ridding the distillate of any impurities. A single pass through their still is equivalent to 30 or 40 passes through a traditional still. Yielding a 193-196 proof product, which is almost pure alcohol, deep ocean water cuts it down to 80 proof (40% ABV) before bottling. Once the final product is ready, it heads to the bottling room for filling, corking, and packaging!
The OCEAN Organic Vodka bottle resembles 14th century glass fishing floats, indicative of the Japanese influence in Hawai’i, recognized as washed-up beachy treasures around the world. The bottle’s tilted axis mirrors that of Earth’s at 23.5 degrees; it almost feels like holding a globe! Scott points to this unique bottle design for OCEAN’s success in the crowded vodka market.
Organic Ocean Vodka, 40% ABV, is their flagship product. With only the slightest hint of mineral flavor, it has a neutral aroma and warm finish. The pure, clean taste is ideal for cocktails featuring fresh ingredients!
OCEAN Cocktail Contest
Hawaii Sea Spirits hosted three annual Ultimate Ocean Vodka Cocktail Contests with their partners at the Sheraton Maui from 2014 to 2016. Each year, they received hundreds of state and national entries. Each year, six finalists teamed up with local chefs who devised the perfect dish to pair with the cocktail creations. The mixologist behind the winning OCEAN Organic Vodka cocktail received $500, a three night stay at the Sheraton Maui, and their cocktail appeared on the Sheraton’s menu for the entire year. Event ticket sales and proceeds from the winning cocktail went to these local charities: Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua (Maui’s Voyaging Society), Women Helping Women, Make-A-Wish Hawaii, Grow Some Good, Imua Family Services, and Whale Trust Maui.
The 2015 winner was Ross Steidel’s Salty Poi Dog:
1 ½ oz OCEAN Organic Vodka
¾ oz Thai Basil and Black Peppercorn Syrup
¾ oz Yuzu Citrus (¼ oz Yuzu Juice and ½ oz Lemon Juice)
2 ½ oz Fresh Squeezed Pomelo or Grapefruit Juice
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper Rim
Rim half of Collins glass with salt and pepper. Then, combine the remaining ingredients and shake for 10 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into the glass. Garnish with on sprig of Italian Basil. Make a toast and enjoy!
The field full of sugar cane growing just outside a vodka distillery may have incurred some questionable speculation from rum-enthusiasts. But Hawaii Sea Spirits didn’t forgo the rum all together. They released Deep Island Hawaiian Rum in late 2014. WAVE, the clear rum, was a tribute to the family’s ties to surfing and reflective of their respect for the ocean and its energy transfer system, waves. Due to naming conflicts with another spirits distributor, at the end of 2018 they rebranded to Kula Organic Rum, a nod to the distillery’s locality.
Vodka vs. Rum
OCEAN Organic Vodka and Kula Organic Rum have the same list of ingredients. How can this be? Although they’re both made from sugar cane and deep seawater, the difference lies in the distillation. By law, vodka is a a neutral spirit distilled at or above 190 proof and it must “be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” Traditionally, vodka is based on the fermentation of grains or potatoes, but fruits and other sugars can also do the job. On the other hand, rum distillation cannot exceed 190 proof and sugar cane, in any of its forms, must be the base for the distillate.
Kula Organic Rum, 40% ABV, is made from the same primary ingredients as their vodka. This rum has a tropical floral aroma and a taste distinctive of cane juice-based rums.
Kula Toasted Coconut Rum, 35% ABV, is formulated from Kula Organic Rum that is flavored with caramelized coconut sugars. They also add natural caramel coloring derived from burnt sugar. While the rum base is organic, the coconut additions are not.
Kula Dark Rum, 47.5% ABV, is their white rum mixeded with a solera blend of rums that have aged up to ten years. Rum esters and rum extracts impart a richness and smoothness into the dark rum. Burnt-sugar derived caramel coloring is also added.
Hawaii Sea Spirits collaborates with their neighbors just down the road at Surfing Goat Dairy. If you get to the distillery for a tour, keep your eye out in the gift shop for their dairy-and-boozy collaborative truffles!
Hawaii Sea Spirits, located at the base of Haleakala’s slopes, also has an outdoor event area for celebrations and gatherings called The Point. Overlooking the stunning Maui shoreline, this expansive space can host up to 1,600 people! Contact Hawaii Sea Spirits for more information.
Be on the lookout for more new products from Hawaii Sea Spirits, such as whiskey, bourbon, and estate bottling. Rumor has it, they’re on the way!
Address: 4051 Omaopio Road, Kula, Hawai’i 96790
Phone: (808) 877-0009
Open daily from 9:30am – 4pm
Gift shop open from 9:30am – 5pm and shop the eStore here.
Tours available every 30 minutes for $12/person, book here.