Where they’re from: Started by Hawaii native Shay Smith, the vodka hails from the 80-acre Hawaii Sea Spirits farm and distillery on Maui, which also produces a line of rums and a gin.
Why we’re drinking these: We tried and quite enjoyed Ocean Organic Vodka a few years back at the New York Wine and Food Festival (credit, in part, to the cool blue bottle). It was here we also learned about the unique way the spirit is created. “I started this project 18 years ago,” Smith says. “I was taking agricultural land and turning it urban for affordable housing. So you’re retiring agriculture and changing the overall feel of an area. In that process, I was like, I’d like to create a value-added agricultural product that could be produced in Hawaii and sold around the world. Because Hawaii really isn’t known for its exports.”
Fortunately, the island did have some organic sugarcane to work with, and ergo, the state’s first distillery was formed (note that not all of the sugarcane comes from the island). The real key to the product, however, is the water, which is desalinated ocean water from a depth of 3,000 off the coast of Kona. “Water down there is 42 degrees and very mineral rich,” Smith says. “And that water hasn’t seen the surface for about 2,000 years.”
While the vodka’s been around for a while, the brand also just launched a bottled vodka Espresso Martini. “We were having so many requests for it by visitors to the farm,” says Jim Grannan, Ocean’s COO. “But to make one from scratch, you have to have all the right equipment.” What makes this ready-to-drink interesting is that it’s not actually quite ready to drink — you have to shake it with ice in a cocktail shaker to activate it and have it develop a froth/crema.
Let’s give them a taste.
How they taste: The vodka (40% ABV) is slightly sweeter than the usual clear spirit, featuring a velvety mouthfeel, a hint of salinity, a little grassiness and some citrus notes (primarily lime and orange) that come out on repeated sips. It’s rich and crowd-pleasing, easy to drink on its own but fantastic in cocktails.
The Espresso Martini (20% ABV) has a subtle sweetness (via some added tapioca and agave) and comes out very coffee-forward. it’s delicious and thankfully lacking the artificiality and tinniness that many Espresso Martini RTDs possess.
Are American Drinkers Ready to Embrace the Sipping Vodka?American Liquor Co is making vodka from all four classic ingredients at once, with an emphasis on flavor — not neutrality
Interesting fact: The Maui wildfires from last fall did impact the farm and distillery. “We had moments where we almost had to evacuate,” Smith says. The company has hosted several events to help people who lost their homes and jobs to the fires.
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