Ocean vodka opening-012
 Vodka isn’t the first image that comes to mind during talks about sustainability. But Ocean Vodka wants to change how we think about vodka. While still a drink for adults, their vodka is sustainable, gluten free, and made locally from organic sugar cane and deep ocean water that’s been desalinated. At their grand opening in Kula, they celebrated their new farm and solar-powered distillery by offering free tours to the public, a free BBQ lunch to all visitors, and live music. To the disappointment of some, there were no vodka tastings at their opening. After all, it was a wholesome family event!
Some highlights of the tour for me:
  • Discovering that there at are least 50 different kinds of Polynesian sugar cane. And they are working withMaui Nui Botanical Garden to document the cane varieties and also collect stories and lore on the names and origins of these varieties.
  • The same sea water they use comes from the deep ocean floor near the Big Island . It’s very pure and is the same water used by biologists to raise seahorses. Seahorses are like “canaries in a coal mine” and are very sensitive to pollution in the water. This same deep sea water is also surprisingly Hawaii ’s #1 export as bottled desalinated mineral water to Japan .
  • Their sugar cane is hand harvested and sets an example for the rest of Maui , which has some controversy around sugar cane burning. Ocean Vodka’s sugar cane grows beautifully, in tall, healthy clumps and the County of Maui has granted their seal of approval on their hand harvesting methods, under the County agricultural designation of “estate farming.”
  • Our tour guide, Shay Smith, was extremely funny and fielded all sorts of questions including what happens on the bottling line when there’s a jam up. If you want to know, take the tour! The tour will be interesting to most tourists, not just foodies, would-be entrepreneurs, or gardeners.
  • The other highlight for me was meeting other people who I didn’t know would be there. Maui ’s such a small island, it’s hard for most people to go to an event without running into friends or family.
Peter Liu was armed with a big camera in hand and Aimee of Life in Paradise was scoping out the scene. Dania Katz was also there but not visible, masterminding behind the scenes.
Sylvia and Ben Kikuyama, a web design and social media husband-and-wife team, were also enjoying their visit. They “talked story” about how they met at a class Sylvia was teaching, back when Maui was a film school extension campus for a West Coast university.
Eli Gawinel of Maui Qigong also shared some history of Ocean Vodka  -and knew some fascinating things about community development.  She said the company started in downtown Kahului using deep sea water but imported the alcohol to make their vodka. They tested their product, refined it, learned the ropes, and step by step, developed a market for it.
That for me, was the most inspiring thing to hear. Ocean Vodka didn’t just start out with a big farm and distillery. They started out small, seven years ago, growing inch by inch. It makes me think that more things are possible here on Maui, whether it’s a Maui co-working space or a time bank. Take the time, learn what works, test the market and then flourish, just like Ocean Vodka.
For other worthwhile posts about Ocean Vodka’s Grand Opening, check out The Frew Group’s post on Celebrating Spirits, Sustainability and LovePeter Liu’s professional photos, and my short teaser on Ocean Vodka’s name.  More pics and info on the grand opening can be found exploring the hashtag #oceanvodkamauior on Facebook.