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Since coming on the scene in 2020, Drunk Fruit, a hard seltzer company with Asian-inspired flavors, has quickly gained traction in the DMV and around the country. Its fruity and crisp flavor profiles are unique to the U.S. alcohol industry, but not to the cultures their drinks pay homage to.
Kenn Miller, one of the co-founders along with Steven Tang, William Zeng, and John Zhang, says their brand vision is encapsulated by the idea of bringing in Asian flavors, and representation, into the alcohol space. “There’s a lack of representation when it comes to that,” Miller says.
They’ve set a goal of making a “portfolio of products” that represent the Asian flavors they love. The products aren’t just business—it’s personal, too. Miller says identity plays a big role: “Being Asian-American myself, we cherish and relish in the things we grew up with.”
Miller and the other founders aren’t originally from the DMV; they all met while attending the University of Chicago, but they knew the D.C. area would be a place their ideas could thrive. “It was part of our strategy,” Miller says. “First is the concentration of Asian-Americans [here] and second, we wanted to have a local presence.” With Miller now calling Northern Virginia home, he’s thrilled to actively share his vision.
Among Miller and his friends, alcohol is also tied to fond memories. When the group was getting started, they noticed an apparent lack of Asian-inspired alcoholic beverages. “We wanted to use that as an opportunity to share the unique sort of flavors that were akin to us growing up as Asian-American kids,” Miller says.
From there, they got to work crafting the perfect drink. Each flavor Drunk Fruit has picked was chosen carefully, Miller says. “We went through a number of other flavors we were formulating … but we gravitated toward lychee, yuzu, and melon because we were thinking, ‘What would you commonly find at an Asian grocery store?’”
Each flavor is drawn from a special connection. Their lychee flavor was made with a popular Asian jelly cup in mind while their citrus yuzu flavor pays homage to Ramune, a Japanese sparkling drink Miller describes as being similar to Sprite. The melon flavor was inspired by the Melona popsicle bar and tastes light and refreshing.
When they were starting out in 2019, they worked out of their home kitchens, crafting mixtures of seltzer water with fruit juices. Eventually, they decided to partner with brewing professionals to perfect the concoction. The experimenting stage was important for the team to develop an understanding of their flavors, but Miller explains that working with a brewer on recipe formulation is “standard in the industry.”
Once the group realized their vision, they still had a long road ahead of them. While Miller is able to smile about it now, the obstacles the team faced were enough to close many businesses. They had plans to launch sooner than late 2020, but like many other businesses, the pandemic derailed them, “Everything shut down. In fact, our brewer stopped making alcohol whatsoever and started making hand sanitizer,” Miller says.
Even with that roadblock, they pressed forward. Now, they have production facilities in South Carolina and Pennsylvania.
One moment along the journey stands out in Miller’s mind. “I randomly got up at like 4 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘I’m going to try to get into contact with the buyer from Total Wine,’” he recalls. So he headed out to the store in the freezing cold and just waited, hoping to catch the person in charge of purchasing alcohol for the store to sell.
It worked. The buyer walked in and Miller pitched the drinks successfully. “He loved the concept and the product,” Miller says. The experience solidified that Drunk Fruit was not just good, but had the potential to get big.
From there, the connections grew and so did the buzz. Miller says the company has received a lot of support from the Asian community, including the organizations Ascend Greater Washington and Asian Hustle Network. D.C. is one of the biggest hubs of Asian Americans in the United States, but non-Asians also love the drink. Now, you can find the internet constantly buzzing with people posing with Drunk Fruit drinks or spreading the word to their friends via social media.
Collaborations are part of their “hyper-local strategy,” Miller explains, to foster connections with other Asian-owned businesses. Along with being in stores and available for delivery, you’ll frequently find their drinks at pop-up events across the DMV, generally organized by restaurants or larger companies.
The team loves working with other businesses and felt a particularly warm welcome from CHIKO, Maketto, and Bun’D Up, which all served as early partners. The team would reach out to chefs, owners, and anyone else who might help them get a foot in the door.
Even though the Asian American community has been a huge supporter of Drunk Fruit, Miller expresses that their drinks are for everyone. “The greater vision is also to have people of non-Asian descent become familiarized with these flavor profiles,” Miller says.
Drunk Fruit’s vision is quickly coming into focus and they’ve been busier than ever. Now they’ve grown to distribute in eight states.
Drunk Fruit is working to continually innovate in the alcoholic beverage industry by bringing in new flavors. Through this, they hope to spread the Asian flavors they love, but don’t commonly see in other alcoholic beverages.
In August of 2022, they launched a new drink, Yoju Original, which is a mixture of the Korean alcoholic beverage soju and yogurt seltzer. Miller describes it as similar to a “creamsicle or a cream soda,” tasting both creamy and refreshing.
Yoju is the epitome of innovation–it’s hazy in color and has the perfect mixture of yogurt, seltzer, and citrus. In the market, you won’t find anything quite like it.
Next month, three new flavors of their Yoju will hit the shelves: white peach, lychee, and mango.
They also have some exciting news about Drunk Fruit in the pipeline, though they aren’t quite ready to announce it yet.
You can order and find locations to buy Drunk Fruit and Yoju on their respective websites.