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Isle distilled liquors get national TV time

By Erika Engle

LAST UPDATED: 2:26 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Marcus Bender's Kai Young Coconut Shochu and Kai Lemongrass Ginger Shochu both were featured Friday on NBC TV's "Today" with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.

Kai Young Coconut Shochu was deemed "Best Shochu" at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this year. Both it and sister-spirit Kai Lemongrass Ginger Shochu won Double Gold Medals in the competition. "Out of 1,100 entries … I'm just blown away," said Bender, managing director of Kai Vodka LLC. Four flavored vodkas by Island 808 won silver medals, and one won a bronze medal at the competition as well.


» Results by medal (.pdf)

The newly launched Kai brand spirits were chosen for use on "Today" by Tony Abou-Ganim, author of "The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails," who had also served as a judge in a recent Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America contest. In the competition, Hawaii's Tim Rita Jr., president of U.S.B.G. Hawaii and mixologist at the Halekulani's Lewers Lounge, placed with a cocktail combining Kai Young Coconut Shochu with other ingredients to create an aperitif; and with a dessert drink featuring Kai Coconut Pandan Vodka. Pandan is related to the oft-seen pandanus tree and "has a nutty, vanilla taste (while) lemongrass has a crisp citrus bouquet," said Amy Bender, Kai business relations manager.

But, your columnist digresses. Abou-Ganim used both the Kai shochus in his cocktailing demonstration with the hostesses, explaining that shochu ("soju" in Korean) is a rice distillate and was the "hot category" at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America convention.

The entire Kai collection of five vodkas and shochus will roll out at Tango Contemporary Cafe Monday, with three servings for $8 or five for $12.50 offered for tasting.

Time to heed the pro-bono call

Ad 2 Honolulu has just opened what could wind up being floodgates from whence nonprofits will deluge the young advertising professionals with entries, hoping to be selected the 2011-2012 beneficiary of its annual pro-bono campaign.

The free public awareness campaign, often valued in the neighborhood of $1 million, will include marketing, public relations, creative executions and advertising in television and print and on the radio and Internet.

The local Ad 2 chapter, itself a nonprofit, has quite the track record of winning first-place accolades with the pro-bono campaigns it creates for Hawaii nonprofits each year. Its latest first-place win was awarded last month for its work on behalf of the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank.

"Giving back to our community is such a great feeling, and I am excited to continue our efforts this year," said Kristane Gaspar, Ad 2 public service co-chairwoman. "Every year we receive a huge response from local nonprofits, and we hope they continue to apply."

Applications are available via download from or via email from Gaspar at Application deadline is July 31.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by email at

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