Look, but don’t drink

KULA — The founder and owner of the Maui-made Ocean Vodka will be opening up a new production facility in Kula next week for the public to tour and see.

But they won’t be able to taste.

“We were looking for a Napa feel, like driving through the valley and into the farm,” Shay Smith said, referencing the Napa Valley wine tours in Northern California. “Because that’s a big thing in Hawaii; inviting somebody to your home is the ultimate form of respect.”

But unlike Napa Valley wineries, the Ocean Vodka Farm and Distillery will not be able to offer vodka tasting. The county is not permitting it due to liquor regulations. Sampling at wineries is permitted but not at distilleries, Smith said.

On April 27, the Ocean Vodka Farm and Distillery will hold its grand opening and open its 80-acre Kula farm to the public for tours, Located below Surfing Goat Dairy on Omaopio Road, the farm boasts a 6,000-square-foot warehouse and about 5 acres of organically grown sugar cane.

The solar-powered facility includes a pot distillation system, a state-of-the-art boiler and a 60-foot column still distiller.

The highlights of the tour are the blending tanks, which mix sugar cane with deep-sea, mineral-rich water from the Kona coast, and the bottling line, which produces travel-sized bottles of Ocean Vodka for Hawaiian Airlines. The bottling line is manned by two to 10 people and can produce more than 200,000 cases, or about 1.9 million quarts, of vodka per year, Smith said.

Outside the tank and bottling building, those on the tour will be able to view the Martini Garden, which will highlight locally grown products that can be used in culinary cocktails with Ocean Vodka.

For example, there will be recipes for the “strawberry lemondrop” that uses strawberries from Kula Country Farms.

That’s “always a big favorite,” he said.

The recipe for the “lemon blossom,” which is mixed at the Four Seasons resorts on Lanai, uses lavender from Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm.

“I found if you get a little more creative than cranberry and vodka, there’s a lot of different ways to help local farms,” Smith said.

The farm and distillery offers a sharp contrast from the industrialized facility in Kahului, which has handled much of the production over the past 6 years. The Kahului facility has never offered tours, he said.

“Now (the new site) is always going to be open, and we’re going to have to have somebody out there waving to people and guiding them around,” he said.

He emphasized the importance of the tours.

“A big part of this facility is to educate people on green manufacturing and green farming, and how all those things support a healthy ocean,” he said.

During the opening-day celebration, tours will run at 11 a.m., 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. When the facility begins daily operations starting April 29, the tours will be open everyday at 9:30, 10:30, 11:30 a.m., 1 and 2:30 p.m.

Tours are $10 per person, or $25 including lunch. Children 11 years old or younger get in free.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.