“Supporting minority owned businesses is not only the right thing to do — it is smart business.”

That’s the advice of Bill Sanders, the chief marketing officer for Napa-based Yao Family Wines. “Consumers, especially millennials, want to know the corporate values of the brands they support,” he adds. “With awareness of Stop Asian Hate and Black Lives Matter so high, retailers can make a tremendous difference by supporting minority-owned brands.” 

Emerging data indicates that consumers are choosing brands based on their values and ownership. Drizly data concurs: After adding options to search for brands by minority ownership, sales of Black-owned brands share grew by 240 percent. 

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“I’d ask retailers to showcase the stories of the people behind the brands,” says John Noe, the CEO of New York-based soju brand Yobo. “For brands like ours, the idea wasn’t born in a corporate boardroom and didn’t emerge after months of consumer research and testing. They were born from gut and heart. From the name to the way it looks, down to the way it tastes, they’re all expressions of personal stories from people with big dreams and high hopes.”

As Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month 2021 commences in May, BevAlc Insights spoke with the leaders behind AAPI-owned drinks brands to showcase their unique products and share insights on how retailers can make the most of these dynamic brands. We urge retailers to support these and other AAPI-owned brands and professionals in the drinks industry, not just this month, but year-round.

“What the most recent violence against Asian Americans teaches us is that despite living in the same communities and openly sharing our culture and our food, we’re still considered outsiders,” says Noe. “Right now, probably more than ever, we could probably use a fresh cast of characters shining their light in the forefront.”

Highland Brewing

The first brewery in Asheville, North Carolina since Prohibition, Highland Brewing has been making a splash with its suds since Oscar Wong founded the brewery post-retirement in 1994. Regionally distributed across the southeastern United States, Highland is the largest North Carolina brewery, and proudly family-owned and female-led by Wong’s daughter Leah.

Lunar Hard Seltzer

The United States’ first Asian craft hard seltzer brand, Lunar calls itself “Asian Americana” — a reference to founders Sean Ro and Kevin Wong’s New York City roots. Crafted with Asian fruits like lychee, winter melon, and yuzu, Lunar hard seltzers eschew artificial ingredients for authentic Asian flavors and a bit of real sugar. Lunar also donates a percentage of its monthly profits to AAPI charities to improve diversity and representation for the AAPI community. 

Yobo Soju 

In 2015, Carolyn Kim founded Yobo, a premium, modern, American-made soju brand; its name is a Korean term of endearment similar to honey or darling. “Asian-American spirits brands are all about fusion,” says Noe, who notes that Yobo is produced from grapes grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York, making it a fusion of Korean and American culture. “Yobo, like many other Asian-American spirits, is less about a story about what it means to be Asian, but more about what it means to be American.”

Yao Family Wines

The Napa Valley winery founded by NBA star and global humanitarian Yao Ming crafts premium wines from Napa Valley terroir. “Every single bottle of independent winery wines that a consumer purchases matters a great deal to wineries like ours,” says Sanders. And purchases also allow Yao Family Wines to give back, when fundraisers were halted due to Covid-19, Yao Family expanded their charitable efforts significantly. “We reached out to organizations like the Museum of Chinese in America in D.C., the Chinese American Museum in New York, and several Asia Society branches, and created virtual wine tasting experiences for their supporters,” says Sanders. “By supporting these organizations, we do what we can and what we must to support the community that has been so good to us over the years.”

Lucky Envelope Brewing

Lucky Envelope Brewing is centered on the idea of “culturally inspired beer,” and their products — from classic West Coast IPAs to German-style lagers — utilize traditional brewing techniques from around the world. Founded in 2015 by Ray Kwan and Barry Chan, the name Lucky Envelope is an homage to the Chinese tradition of giving red envelopes to celebrate the Lunar New Year. For Kwan and Chan, the name evokes warm memories from New Years past, and happy milestones.

Baird Brewing Company

This brewery is a fusion of its husband-and-wife founders team’s backgrounds: American-born Bryan Baird and Japanese-born Sayuri Baird. Their brewing background crosses borders as well: Bryan and Sayuri traveled from Japan to study brewing in the Pacific Northwest, but launched their venture in Tokyo in 2000. The Baird Brewing Company motto is simple: “Celebrate Beer.” At the end of the day it translates to high-quality craft beers made with intention and sold with pride in both Japan and the U.S.

Asian Brothers Brewery

Asian Brothers Brewery brings together the cultural diversity of Southeast Asia in a drinkable form. With a diverse team representing the Hmong, the Mien, the Lao, the Cambodian, and the Vietnamese people, Asian Brothers strives to celebrate the diversity of Asia. Their handcrafted brews made just south of Sacramento, California utilize regional flavors such as sweet Asian-style hops, mint, honey, and durian.

Drunk Fruit Hard Seltzer 

Drunk Fruit Hard Seltzer is committed to sharing the love for Asian fruits and flavors, bottled without any additional sugar. At just 95 calories, these are some of the lightest hard seltzers on the market and offer a unique, colorful option for health-conscious consumers. 

Maivino 

Maivino delivers fine wines at a great value by packaging their wines — like Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc — in eco-friendly pouches. Because these pouches are airtight, Maivino wines stay fresh for up to 30 days after the first pour, offering an environmentally-conscious, vegan option for drinkers who may not want to consume an entire bottle at one time. 

Makku

Carol Pak is the force behind Makku, the first canned version of makgeolli, a traditional Korean fermented rice alcohol. A creamy and slightly tart beverage that’s gluten-free and clocks in at 6% ABV, Makku is a unique beverage alternative perfect for sipping on its own or using as a base for creative cocktails. 

Hobo Wine Co.

For nearly two decades, Hobo Wine Company has been crafting wines with a special focus on Sonoma County, where founder and winemaker Kenny Likitprakong was born and raised. An active member of 1% for the Planet, Hobo Wine Company donates a full percent of the company’s gross revenue to environmental organizations.

90+ Cellars

One of America’s fastest-growing wineries, 90+ Cellars prides themselves on being a “modern-day négociant.” Founder Kevin Mehra works with wineries to grant access to exclusive, premium wines to quality-conscious drinkers at incredible prices. Together with wine director Brett Vankoski, 90+ Cellars delivers high-value wines at affordable prices. 

Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey

The San Diego-based team behind Skrewball Whiskey is all about letting standard flavors fall to the wayside in exchange for unique, innovative whiskey. Cambodian native Steve Yeng first developed a popular whiskey-based peanut butter cocktail while working as a bartender, and came together with his wife and business partner Brittany Merrill Yeng to launch the brand. A fast consumer favorite, Skrewball is devoted to exploring alternative flavors and having fun.