Hold your White Claw, there’s a new seltzer show in town. Lunar is bringing Asian-inspired drinks to the scene, and supporting AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) causes en route.
In a crowded field otherwise known as hard seltzer, Lunar is operating differently. The brand is keenly focused on Asian ingredients, especially radiant fruits like yuzu and lychee. The lineup is strong, refreshing, and session-able, as everything clocks in at a sub-5% ABV level. Better still, the flavors really pop, unlike so many seltzer producers that seem to be after the buzz first and foremost, and the flavor and balance somewhere down the line.
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The brand launched in 2019, just after a fateful hangout in New York. Founders Sean Ro and Kevin Wong were out on the town and capped the evening with some Korean fried chicken at a favorite neighborhood spot. For libations, it was the usual short list of Big Beer offerings and not much else. Yawn.
“The impetus for the brand was that we ultimately did not see anything on the menu that we saw ourselves in,” Ro says. It’s all part of a hyphenated identity and Ro and Wong, along with many other AAPI’s experience. As Ro says, it’s the “funny in-between-ness and cultural duality” his community faces, “that we awkwardly neither fit in back in Asia for being too American nor in America as minorities,” he says.
Meanwhile, Crazy Rich Asians was storming the global box office. K-Pop, J-Pop, and more had made their way into American speakers. Americans were sipping bubble tea and the ever-shifting culinary angles were trending towards Filipino cuisine especially. So, why not an RTD canned seltzer — one that could stir up some sorely-needed representation?
Dubbed Asian Americana in a can, Lunar is after the tastes the owners grew up with. Ro and Wong source ingredients from all over Asia, some so unfamiliar to the American system that just getting them approved renders them unavailable. For example, the duo looked to bring in winter melon (Wong’s go-to boba flavor and the backbone of a soup with meatballs he grew up with) but Ro says the FDA needed to study it for two years because nobody had tried to use it in an alcoholic beverage before.
“There is absolutely no shortage of Asian fruits and flavors on our radar,” Ro says. “Including but not limited to Asian pear, persimmon, or calamansi, just to name a few.” Unlike a lot of hard seltzers, Lunar goes with a sugar base and builds atop that. The result is relatively unique and immensely drinkable, on their own or in tandem with any number of dishes, from soup dumplings to Pad Thai.
While seltzer remains a largely Millennial thing, the Lunar team has been getting good feedback from older drinkers. Wong says they used Sean’s mother as a gauge for the plum seltzer, ultimately earning the approval of her fastidious palate. “Once we got the okay from her, we knew it was good to go,” he says, adding that a lot of older people like them so much they don’t even realize there’s alcohol involved.
Of course, Lunar’s rise has come almost entirely during the pandemic. And not just any pandemic, one that has alienated minorities, especially AAPI members. Asian hate has become its own awful pandemic, much of it unfolding right here in the states. Just about every news cycle, there’s another gut-wrenching viral video of an AAPI being beaten or verbally assaulted. Wong says Sean’s girlfriend was assaulted recently, just paces from her home. “As many in our community has already said, enough is enough,” he adds.
Lunar is offering support by giving back to its community. It happens in a multitude of of ways, from playing hype-man for fellow AAPI brands to speaking out against racism. “Since the beginning of the lunar New Year, we’ve been supporting and effectively highlighting a different non-profit every month,” Ro says. The last four months have seen the brand support Send Chinatown Love, Hate is a Virus, Cafe Maddy Cab, and Apex for Youth. “Quote frankly, given our mission and the impetus for Lunar, everything we do is in some way in support of the AAPI community,” Ro says.
The brand’s philosophy is more holistic when it comes to philanthropy and backing just causes. “What is essential is that brands have a deeply meaningful, genuine, and honorable purpose,” Ro says. “Giving back to the community then is simply an organic byproduct of said purpose.” He adds that it’s about cutting though the noise and establishing real connection, emotionally, but perhaps more importantly, from a humanity standpoint.
The seltzer brand has a range of new products coming up, including a forthcoming heritage line, inspired by travels to Thailand. It came from a meeting last winter where Wong reminisced about the amazing mango with chilis he enjoyed from street vendors while abroad. “We decided to launch a new product line that really pushes the boundaries of hard seltzer and RTDs by embodying deeply authentic and culinary elements of our heritage,” Ro says. He adds that this kind of thing is so often miscategorized as “exotic.”
The new line involved collaborations with NYC establishments like Taiwanese eatery 886 and Vietnamese joint Di An Di. The flavors, pineapple cake and tamarind rice paddy herb, are unlike anything in the sprawling drinks category. Perhaps in bringing something so deeply reflective to the table, more will follow suit, can in hand.
This feature is part of our Brands Giving Back Series, where we’ll bring you all the latest news on brands that are giving back to the community, and how you can support them by shopping online.
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