The ocean is endless in its bounty: a plethora of delicious fish, crustaceans, and mollusks; Maldon sea salt; The Deadliest Catch; tales of half-naked half-fish ladies, mythological sea gods, and sunken treasure.
And now, even vodka.
Nestled along the western-facing slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano in the rich agricultural region of Kula, Hawaiian Sea Spirits Distillery and Organic Farm is doing something the world of spirits has never seen before: taking deep ocean water and turning it into premium booze.
The Smiths—a third-generation Hawaiian family—began experimenting with ocean water as a more eco-conscious, sustainable ingredient for vodka that was still unique in both taste and process. In 2005, the Smiths settled on using one of Maui’s largest life forces—the ocean that surrounds it—to create a vodka that pays homage to the nature of the island. Their self-proclaimed “family affair and true labor of love” combines sustainably harvested, organic sugar cane with mineral-rich seawater, which is sourced from 3,000 feet below the coast of Kona on the nearby Big Island.
Of course, there are all sorts of strange things from which vodka can be distilled, including rice and even quinoa. But it’s the seawater—along with distilled sugarcane, which is more typical in rum than vodka—that lends Ocean vodka its refined, subtle taste and solidifies it as one of the most innovative takes in modern vodka-making.
To get a better understanding of the process behind this one-of-a-kind vodka, I sat down with Hawaiian Sea Spirits’ master distiller, Bill Scott, to talk shop.