The founding trio of a new hard seltzer crafted in Kansas City hopes the drink will add much-needed inclusivity to the craft seltzer space.
Kin Seltzer is a collaboration between Joshua Lewis and Kearra Johnson of UpDown Nightlife, and Eric Martens of Border Brewing Company.
Currently, leading seltzer brands target their marketing predominantly to white audiences, Lewis said. Kin hopes to welcome more folks, and especially the Black community, into the seltzer space.
“We understand that the demographic that seltzers target is not an inclusive demographic,” Lewis said. “It’s driven by white people. We wanted to finally give some ‘flavor’ and add a lot of cultural aspects to what people are drinking, why they’re drinking it, and where they’re drinking it.”
“We wanted it to be different,” Lewis continued. “We wanted it to actually touch more people.”
Because of that, Kin aims to provide a more inclusive experience than a typical seltzer, Johnson added.
“When they experience this, we want it to feel like they’re drinking something that they’ve never experienced before — one that is very memorable,” Johnson said.
Kansas Citians won’t have to wait long to try Kin for themselves, as the seltzer is expected to launch May 7 at locations throughout the city, according to Lewis.
The UpDown Nightlife founder referenced Tribe Street Kitchen, Block 15 Tavern & Exchange, Brick House KC, Society KC, Westport Ale House, Waldo Social, and Lotus as just some of the spots where Kin will be served, adding that plans to add more bars and retail partners are in the works.
“Everywhere that you can think of somebody being social, we plan to be there, but we’ll roll out slowly with those spots,” Lewis said.
‘Top Tier’ recipe for success
To reach new and wider audiences, the Kin founding trio realized they had to create something unique, they said, both in terms of the ingredients and the branding.
Martens takes the lead on the production side, crafting Kin with real fruit, which he said makes it a one-of-a-kind product on the market that can be just as good at brunch as in a nightclub.
“The edge as far as the recipe goes, in my view, is really that real fruit aspect,” Martens said, noting that other seltzers use creative wordplay to imply that their products use 100 percent real fruit, which is not truly the case.
“Ours is the only one I’ve seen — there may be others, but the only one to my knowledge — that is only made with real fruit and not made with any artificial or unnatural flavorings,” Martens said. “That just results in a better product, to be honest.”
The intentional choice to use real fruit — Kin’s first flavor is called “Top Tier,” and features a combination of pineapple and peach, along with a hint of lemon and lime — does limit the seltzer’s shelf life and cost more to produce, Martens acknowledged. However, those trade-offs are worth it, he said, because Kin has the flavor and quality of a “premium product.”
“The flavor can’t be matched unless you do it that way,” Martens said. “We’re able to do this higher quality product with a natural, shorter shelf life, but the result is something that’s — in my humble opinion — far superior to anything that’s on the market right now.”
Johnson, the creative director for UpDown Nightlife, takes command of the marketing and design for Kin, making it one of the first Black woman-owned seltzers.
She’s able to easily engage audiences who may be interested in seltzers but rarely drink them, she said, because she’s part of that demographic.
“I can reach that audience because I know what they like to see,” Johnson said. “I know how they like to feel when viewing content, and then also know what they’d like to see while holding this can in their hand.”
Even her friends were surprised that she joined a team to create a seltzer, Johnson said, though she expects they will understand once they taste Kin for themselves.
“I’ve had some of my peers come up to me wondering, ‘Why a seltzer?’” Johnson said. “Their minds are really blown. I think once they taste it and experience it, it will all make sense to them.”
Just like the flavor and ingredients, the branding and marketing approach for Kin is purposefully different from other seltzers, Johnson said.
“For the can brand, we really wanted to give the typical seltzer a look that was a little more elevated,” Johnson said. “We wanted to appeal to the audience who wants to bring it to any occasion and have it take that occasion to another level.”
Kin is made to facilitate the celebration of moments big and small, Lewis added.
“People celebrate all the time,” Lewis said. “They celebrate small things, big things, promotions, marriages, getting a raise — whatever.”
“It’s not just a celebration when there’s 1,000 people in one spot,” he continued. “It could be a celebration between you and your wife, or you and your cousin. UpDown has done that for years, so this is another avenue for us to do the same.
Because of the trio’s backgrounds in the Kansas City social space, the partnership just made sense, Martens said, noting all three were aligned in their objectives for Kin.
“When I started a craft brewery, I wanted it to be for everybody, not just people who already liked craft beer,” Martens said. “We were already kind of talking the same language.”
“We already had a lot of experience creating beer for people who don’t like beer, to put it bluntly,” Martens added. “We’re used to that mindset of, ‘Here’s a group of people who don’t drink this thing. How can we — from a recipe all the way through the branding — think in terms of getting them to try it and getting them to like it.”
Through his work with UpDown Nightlife, Lewis has collected plenty of data and knowledge about the social spaces in Kansas City, which he said he’s now using to bridge the gaps.
“I just feel like I have the ultimate knowledge of, not just the Black culture — we’ve thrown parties at places that everybody goes to,” Lewis said. “I like to call myself the guy that bridges the gap in nightlife spaces, and this is just one of those gaps that I feel like it was time for us to fill.”
Riding a new wave
Looking beyond the coming product launch, the trio sees plenty of success for Kin, with Lewis noting that seltzers are “the new wave” in the craft drink space.
“If I’m being totally honest in my brain of all brains, I think we’re going to be the biggest seltzer in the world, because we’re going to accommodate everyone and not just a particular audience,” Lewis said. “We’re going to improve our processes, learn how to scale it, get some more money behind us, and then literally be the best seltzer in the world.”
Kin will be available at “every single bar in the city” within 18 to 24 months, Lewis added, in addition to liquor stores and anywhere else people can purchase alcoholic beverages.
Johnson shared Lewis’ belief that Kin can reach unprecedented heights, saying that a focus on authenticity and product quality will allow the team to achieve their lofty goals.
“We just have to double down on authentic storytelling, because I think a captivating story will always get anyone’s attention,” Johnson said. “Combine that with this amazing product that we already have, I think that will take us exactly where we need to be.”
Not surprisingly, Martens was in alignment with his co-founders on his expectation for Kin.
“The ceiling is pretty much unlimited … because we’re doing something unique with the recipe that is scalable, but also with the branding and marketing angle,” Martens said. “This new demographic angle, that’s what really makes it unlimited, because it’s not saturated. It’s a market that really doesn’t even exist yet.”