At 89 years old, one is supposed to retire. But San Francisco–based entrepreneur and philanthropist Maurice Kanbar still has work to do.
The creator of Skyy Vodka in the late '90s (he sold it to Campari in 2002), Kanbar is pouring his love of two things—the local community and the perfect vodka martini—into the launch of his new brand: Blue Angel Vodka, which will donate all of its earning to charitable causes, starting with the Bay Area's LGBTQ community.
"Maurice is not a big drinker, but he likes to have a martini a day," says Blue Angel COO Tsach Gilboa, who tells us the story of how Blue Angel—possibly one of the cleanest vodkas yet to hit the market—came to be.
When he started to get headaches from drinking vodka, Kanbar did his homework, talking with doctors, bartenders, and industry experts. The headaches, he found, were to do with the congeners (minor chemicals) that result from the fermentation process.
Through trial and error, Kanbar learned that multiple distillations will filter out those impurities. Skyy vodka is distilled four times; the new Blue Angel, six times, for a smoother, neater flavor.
"There isn't a day in which Maurice doesn't think about how he can improve or fix something, how he can make things better, and how he can help and support other people's projects," Gilboa says. "The mission of this new company is to give all the proceeds to charity."
Over the past 50 years, Kanbar has proved quite the patron of Bay Area arts and culture, having donated generously to such institutions as the Exploratorium, the SF Symphony, KQED's Image Makers, the SF Girls Chorus, and the SF Film Festival. The launch of Blue Angel Vodka, timed with Pride Month here, will directly support the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and its world premiere of the new musical, Unbreakable, starring Tony Award winner Andrew Lippa; as well as the post-production of 50 Years of Fabulous, a documentary film about the Imperial Council of San Francisco, the oldest LGBT charity organization in the world.
Blue Angel has fronted the costs of two separate fundraisers—one for SFGMC (at the Lookout on June 16th, 6:30-9:30pm) and one for the Imperial Council (at Beaux on June 13, 6-9pm)—and hopes to raise $10,000 at each. You can go and drink vodka cocktails knowing that half your drink proceeds will benefit to the respective charities. (Also watch for more Blue Angel–hosted fundraisers for arts, education, and healthcare down the road.)
// See 50 Years of Fabulous on Sunday, June 17 (11am) at Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. (Castro); tickets ($14) are available at frameline.org. Catch Unbreakable June 22-23 at the Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St. (Civic Center); for info and tickets ($25-$99), go to sfgmc.org. For more information on Blue Angel Vodka ($20/bottle), go to blueangelvodka.com.
(Learn more about 50 Years of Fabulous and Blue Angel Vodka's support of the film in the video above.)