Cacti and kiawe trees signaled my arrival at The Hawaiian Sea Spirits Farm and Distillery, a former organic cattle ranch in Maui’s Upcountry that has become best known for producing Ocean Vodka, rum and deep-ocean mineral water. The Smith family (Kyle, Diana and Shay) founded their distillery in 2005 to add value to agriculture (in this case, sugar cane) while raising awareness for ocean conservation. I took a half-hour, $10 tour with a guide named Greg that illuminated their process and happily culminated in sips at an open-air bar.
Over 100 varieties of sugar cane grow globally, including 50 native to Polynesia. It takes two years to raise cane from seed, and 12-15 months for plantings. 25 varieties grow on-site, each identified by Hawaiian names like Lu’u Kona, Ula Ula and Iluopua. Each variety has a different flavor profile and yield, though for vodka, it doesn’t matter, since the ideal is flavorless and colorless. For rum, the type of sugar cane is of course more vital.
Sugar cane crushers yield juice and mulch for fields. Fresh juice joins yeast in tanks for 2-3 days. 10% liquid enters the pot still, where it’s heated and cooled into distillate.
Master Distiller Bill Scott oversees the column still, along with a 6,500-square foot warehouse. This sugar cane vodka can go from farm to bottle in 9-14 days.
The Smiths also partnered with a company at NELHA to produce deep ocean mineral water containing calcium, potassium and magnesium, all good for blood. Water is apparently Hawaii’s #1 export. This water sells for $15-20 per bottle. The Japanese market is happy to pay the premium.
After the tour, we sampled the vodka, rum and deep ocean mineral water at an outdoor bar, which was just as relaxing as you might imagine. Nearby, I saw a covered patio with green picnic tables and benches, and a Martini Garden that yields cuttings to help fuel cocktail recipes. Yes, resident chickens act as fertilizer and help keep the property bug free.
You’ll also find a gift shop with clothing, glassware, memorabilia, Surfing Goat Dairy chocolate truffles made with house spirits, and of course bottles of the good stuff.