Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is drawing to a close. Last week we talked about impactful organizations and initiatives that work to celebrate, honor, protect, help, and support the AAPI community, from a global scale to a neighborhood level, and how you can get involved. This week, we’re going to talk about a few of our favorite AAPI-owned brands that you can know, love, and support. The goal is to keep pitching in with these causes, and keep shopping these brands, all year long--May is a reminder to do all we can be doing, and find and share new resources, but every day of every month is an opportunity to be an active participant in valuing the AAPI community and bettering equity and inclusion.
Some of these brands may be ones you already have in your fridge, some will be exciting new discoveries. Either way, these brands are all too easy to support considering how special, unique, and just plain fantastic they are. Why wouldn’t you want to expand your imbibing horizons, shaking things up with iconic drinks that may be new to you like makgeolli? Why wouldn’t you want to celebrate cultures and traditions, and pair Asian ingredient-spotlighting beverages with Asian dishes? These brands and beverages embody visibility and representation, but they’re also simply beautiful drinks on their own.
If you haven’t yet tried the aforementioned makgeolli, let’s get into it--because MAKKU is the brand you’re going to want to meet it through. Carol Pak founded the brand after really digging into this beverage on travels throughout Korea. Makgeolli is Korea’s oldest alcoholic beverage, something people there are forever familiar with, and more recently, it’s been coming into its own with a modern craft movement. Carol wanted to bring that excitement, as well as everything good about makgeolli, to people in the US, where imbibers could either rediscover it or learn about it for the first time.
Makgeolli is really its own beverage category, but you can think of it kind of like a Korean rice beer. It’s made from rice, water, and a traditional fermentation starter called nuruk. Thanks to its unfiltered finish and carbonation, it’s got a little body and creaminess, some fizz, tartness, and sweetness. MAKKU takes a traditional approach with an original variety, but, taking inspiration from trends in Korea, there are also versions made with irresistible fruit flavors, like Mango, Blueberry, and Passion Fruit. Obviously, we think you should try them all.
Jeremy Kim and co-founder John Dalsey set out to “fight the claw.” Why should hard seltzer have to feel all the same? Why should the flavors all be one-note, and not vibrant? Why can’t hard seltzer be craft? Why can’t it focus on quality and real ingredients? Why can’t it be versatile and crowd-pleasing, and also a great way to showcase Asian fruits and their flavors? Kim and Dalsey’s creation, Nectar, broke every hard-seltzer mold.
Nectar hard seltzers come in lychee, Asian pear, yuzu, and mandarin flavors. They expertly balance big, bold fruitness, sweetness, and tartness with crisp, refreshing effervescence. The Nectar brand, itself, radiates all that is special about these seltzers and their appeal through its fun, relatable online presence and, importantly, its connection to the community, like donating profits to different Asian community organizations at different times. Get to know all the Nectar varieties and introduce your friends to them with a handy variety pack.
Lunar is another quality craft hard seltzer brand born out of a will to represent Asian flavors in the beverage alcohol space and also to treat drinkers to hard seltzer that’s made with love and an attention to detail. In flavors like Lychee, Passion Fruit, Yuzu, and Korean Plum, Lunar’s seltzers are the work of founders Kevin Wong and Sean Ro. Inspiration struck one night when they were eating out in Manhattan. It hit them that beverage options always seemed to fall short when it came to Asian flavors and Asian and/or Asian-American-owned brands. They wanted to have those drinks in the first place, and, importantly, have them to pair with Asian dishes--and all dishes, really.
Kevin and Sean got to work to bring those beautiful Asian fruit flavors to the mainstream market in the US. The brand they’ve created certainly succeeds at that mission--finally there’s an option for those who have been seeking this representation and these flavors, and consumers who didn’t even know what they were missing can now seriously upgrade their imbibing routines. (Try all the flavors for yourself here!) Along the way, Lunar is also actively engaged with the community and how it can give back and push forward through charitable donations, advocacy, and partnerships with community organizations.
Drunk Fruit’s cans pop on any shelf, inviting you to either enjoy radiant Asian fruit flavors for the millionth time or, in a transcendent sensory experience, discover them for the first--and certainly not last--time. Just look at those colorful labels, splashed with the sweetest little fruit cartoon characters you ever did see. They’re almost too cute to drink--but of course, drink them we will.
Drunk Fruit is the brainchild of Kenn Miller, Steven Tang, and their friends William Zeng and John Zhang. On his honeymoon in Japan in 2019, Kenn developed a love of fruity, fizzy Chuhais, Japanese cocktails that mixed shochu with carbonated water. He told his friends about it and they wondered, even with hard seltzer on the rise in the States, why couldn’t they get these Asian flavors? According to Drunk Fruit’s website, the group bought a bunch of fruity Asian snacks as inspiration and got to experimenting. And we’re so glad we did, because now we all get to enjoy flavors like Melon, a riff on the classic icy Asian treat, the Melona bar. In the variety pack, you can also try (and love) Lychee and Melon.
While brands like Nectar, Lunar, and Drunk Fruit bring Asian flavors to hard seltzer, Japas Cervajaria is bringing them to another place they’re underrepresented: craft beer. Maíra Kimura, Yumi Shimada, and Fernanda Ueno are craft beer lovers and industry members who came together to unite their passion for beer and their passion for ingredients connected to their Japanese heritage. The three live in Brazil--they named their brewing company “Japas” to take back a term that is often used to describe those of Japanese lineage in Brazil, without permission. From that launchpad springs a forever growing brand of innovative beers that combine tradition, storytelling, and experimentation, taking classic beer styles into fresh territory for a finished product that appeals to beer geeks and beer novices alike. Come for the beer and stay for the Asian flavors, or vice versa--either way, you’ll be an instant Japas fan.
Try Yuzu Nama Biiru, a lager inspired by the super fresh, unfiltered lagers people love after work at Japanese Izakayas; the Mask Series, a variety pack of beers inspired by four traditional masks in Japanese culture; Oishii, a witbier reinvigorated with ginger; and Matsurika, a pilsner-style beer made with the jasmine petals of Japanese Matsurika tea.