Available in delicious citrus flavours and portable, very Instagrammable cans — the Hong Kong-based brand from co-founders Jonathan Der and Flora Ma makes a pretty good case.
The health-conscious alcoholic drinks category is a small one.
Sure, you have your “runner’s beers”, packed with vitamins and minerals and fruits and electrolytes claimed to aid in post-exercise recovery; there’s kombucha, gut-friendly and allegedly buzz-provident to drinkers with the very lowest of tolerances; the wine lover in your life will fill your head with numerous studies and reasons Why Drinking Wine Is Good, Actually; and then, of course, there’s that friend who only drinks fill-in-the-blank mixed with soda, swears by it, making wild claims about “no hangovers” and why it, too, is Good, Actually. (Confession: I’m that friend.)
But at the end of the day, we’re not ordering at the bar — whatever our reasons — because we’re there to make the healthiest choice, are we? We’re there to have a good time. Anything to make that good time healthy-ish, is just, well, icing on the cake. And that’s something that Jonathan Der and Flora Ma, the co-founders of Hong Kong’s ONLY Beverages, understand very well.
“The goal was to make a drink that allows you to be able to enjoy yourself while minimising alcohol’s impact on your body,” says Ma.
Der and Ma and set out to launch Hong Kong’s first zero-sugar, zero-carb, naturally flavored, premium vodka soda with three simple goals in mind: creating the highest quality, best tasting, and yes, most health-conscious alcoholic drinks in the market.
The name “ONLY” represents their commitment to pure sparkling water, premium alcohol and “true-to-fruit” natural flavours, and it’s safe to say their first launch — ONLY Vodka Soda, with 5x-distilled vodka in two citrusy options: Tahitian Lime and Yuzu Ginger — is true to the founders’ mission, while offering a 4.5% ABV with a mere 80 calories per can.
At HK$360 for a pack of 12, it’s a low-cal, high-fun option that’s right on the money. Did we mention they’re tasty, too? Thanks to Der and Ma, junk trips, beach BBQs and your next T8 day at home just got a whole lot better, even for a tequila soda devotee like me.
To celebrate the launch, Lifestyle Asia reached out to Der and Ma to learn how ONLY Beverages came together, their beverages of choice and what they’ve got planned for the future.
Let’s start at the beginning, what inspired you to start ONLY?
Jonathan Der: Flora and I are both from Vancouver, and every time we visited in recent years, we noticed more and more people gravitating towards “better for you” ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages. We would return to Hong Kong — a city renowned for its endless range of social activities — and wonder why there was such an enormous gap in the market for these health-conscious, convenient RTD products.
Flora Ma: So we decided to create our own! We wanted to make something that offers consumers an enjoyable drinking experience with minimal impact on their health. The majority of RTD drinks available here are high in calories, sugar and carbs, and rarely provide nutritional information. I like to know what I’m putting into my body, so the options at hand didn’t appeal to me. You’ll notice our cans clearly display both nutritional information and ingredients, so consumers know exactly what’s inside. This level of transparency was a must for us.
Are you both vodka drinkers yourselves?
FM: Absolutely! I’m a huge vodka fan — it’s been my spirit of choice for more than a decade. Growing up in Vancouver, I was quite health-conscious at a young age, so I tended to opt for vodka sodas given their low calorie content and neutral, clean taste profile. So it’s definitely not a coincidence that our first line of drinks is a vodka soda — I made my dream drink!
JD: Back in the day I would usually start with beer, although as the night progressed, I’d switch to vodka sodas. But as I get older, I’ve found that I can’t handle beer like I used too, as it makes me puffy, bloated and sleepy. So now vodka soda is my drink of choice — specifically ONLY Vodka Soda.
Shots or cocktails?
FM: It depends on the occasion. I love trying new and delicious cocktails at Hong Kong’s many amazing restaurants and bars, but there’s also a time and a place for tequila. A well-timed shot always puts me in a happy and fun mood!
JD: What she said, but if I had to choose one, I would choose tasty cocktails — just make sure they’re not too sweet!
Who is ONLY Vodka Soda for?
FM: ONLY Vodka Soda is for anybody who is looking for a delicious, convenient and better-for-you alcoholic beverage. As someone who loves both the social drinking experience and staying fit, the goal was to make a drink that allows you to be able to enjoy yourself while minimising alcohol’s impact on your body. We found this to be especially important when we were working in our corporate careers, and believe this applies to most of Hong Kong’s urban professional millennials as well!
Why launch a vodka soda brand instead of a vodka? Would you ever do the latter?
FM: We chose ready-to-drink vodka soda because we wanted to create something unique which didn’t already exist in the Hong Kong market, as opposed to just another bottled spirit. With ONLY Vodka Soda, consumers can forget the hassle of mixing and measuring ingredients, and can just crack open a can and get the same consistently flavourful sip each and every time.
JD: ONLY Vodka Soda is also just the first product launched by ONLY Beverages. As a business, we focus on developing quality, delicious and convenient canned drinks with a “better for you” approach. What attracted us to creating a canned cocktail brand is we wanted to change the way people in Asia drink as well as change the perception of canned drinks with our sleek, premium look and feel.
Let’s talk flavours — what inspired your choices?
JD: We’ve launched with two deliciously refreshing citrus flavours — Tahitian Lime and Yuzu Ginger. When most people think of a vodka soda, they most likely think of a vodka soda with lime, so we knew we had to launch with Tahitian Lime — our elevated take on that classic cocktail — as one of our first flavours.
FM: But we also wanted a flavour which was a little more adventurous, and as a Hong Kong company, one with an Asian influence. Yuzu Ginger was the perfect combo, having a more exotic flavour profile, and just enough bite to keep things exciting. Our upcoming flavours are also inspired by the region, so stay tuned for the next drop!
Do you have any other spirits you’re thinking about canning down the line?
JD: 100%. ONLY is just getting started, and we plan to release more exciting and innovative RTD beverages with other spirits in the future.
Anything else we should know about ONLY?
FM: Both Jon and I left our careers in real estate and banking to go full time into this venture. Neither of us have a background in the beverage industry, other than a lot of drinking experience and a passion to revolutionise the way you drink alcoholic beverages!
JD: Our business was born during COVID, which created its fair share of challenges. While we’d have loved to be able to fly down to Australia and taste test our products in person, we had no choice but to do everything remotely via Zoom and then have our manufacturer ship… many… batches of samples and revisions to us in Hong Kong. But where there’s a will, there’s a way!
ONLY Vodka Soda is available online and throughout Hong Kong at liquor stores, private member clubs, hotels and e-commerce platforms (including Deliveroo, foodpanda mall and HKTV mall). For more information, visit drinkonly.co.