How This Alcohol Industry Newcomer Created a Japanese Whiskey Brand for the U.S.

Ann Soh Woods tapped her network to acquire a traditional distiller to permit her to market their product.

In this ongoing column, The Digest , Entrepreneur.com News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to obtain products in to the mouths of customers.

When Ann Soh Woods founded Soh Spirits in 2012, she didn’t have any experience in the alcohol industry. To increase her challenges, Soh Woods had to convince a normal Japanese distiller that she was the proper person to distribute its rice whiskey in america.

"We couldn’t go in cold," she said. "You need to be referred by someone they respect. That was an extended process … [that involved] going there, making the effort and showing good faith."

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Fortunately, Soh Woods had built a network of contacts in Japan. For a long time, she had worked in marketing and entertainment, so she constantly traveled to the united states.

"After we started floating this notion around, it had been great, because [my friends and contacts] started coming around with different ideas," she said.

Those conversations resulted in a gathering with Soh Spirit’s eventual distiller, however the whiskey makers were still skeptical their product would sell in the U.S.

"The turning point was showing them the look of the bottle," she said. "They really enjoyed it and were surprised. They could observe how this might play here and how it might work."

Soh Spirits’ Kikori Whiskey came onto the marketplace in 2015, and is currently sold in about 800 U.S. stores, including BevMo, Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joe’s, aswell as at bars and restaurants in the united states, such as for example Nobu. Kikori was the first Japanese rice whiskey going to the American market, the business says. The business also sells a yuzu liqueur, Yuzuri.

Image Credit: Jakob Layman

While rice whiskey is a fresh category in the U.S., Soh Woods said the business benefited from a recently available surge of interest in Japanese whiskey — thanks partly to a favorite Japanese TV series on a whiskey maker — that even result in shortages.

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"People started recognizing it as real category and started requesting it in bars and restaurants and retailers," Soh Woods said. "We started selling quite nicely on our very own."

Still, marketing is actually vital that you the startup. Soh Woods said she employs a three-prong marketing system that targets consumers, distributors and the alcohol industry.

"I’m always considering those three different audiences and how better to market to them," she said. Fortunately, "Our audience is amply trained in what they’re drinking. We are able to start geeking out with them, and they’re going to match us."

Social media plays a significant role, particularly Instagram. But just how many glamour shots of bottles is it possible to possibly released there? There’s a limit, of course, which explains why Soh Woods challenges her team to take work house with them — work in cases like this being creating new cocktail recipes.

"Whiskey cocktails are rising," Soh Woods said. "Whenever we started this [our intention was] to maintain cocktails. Many people, [especially] women, are reaching for them."

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If all this sounds like the very best job ever, Soh Woods ensures all her hires (currently she employs 10 full-timers and some freelancers) have a creative side, and also hobbies. Cocktail books are required reading at Soh Spirits, and the team shares pertinent articles. And, of course, new creations are taste-tested.

"It’s work," Soh Woods assured Entrepreneur. Sure.

Here are a few whiskey cocktail recipes supplied by Soh Spirits:

The Balancing Act

• 1.5 oz Kikori Whiskey• 1.5 oz Yuzuri Liqueur• 1.5 oz Yakult• 0.5 oz Lemon Juice• 0.25 Tsp. Simple syrup (2:1 ratio sugar-water)• 1 Egg white

Dry shake the egg white in a tin. Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice, then add the egg white and shake. Double strain right into a coupe. Garnish with a skewered Japanese rice candy.

Rashoman AKA Golden Chrysanthemum

• 1.5 oz Kikori Whiskey• .75 oz Yuzuri• .5 oz Lillet• 5 dashes Shishito Pepper bitters(BarMatt)• Lemon Twist

Stirred and served up in a coupe glass.

Mignonette Martini (Saul Ranella, Hog Island Oyster)

• 2 oz Kikori Whiskey• 1 oz Hog Tonic Syrup*• 0.5 oz Lo-Fi dry vermouth*Hog Tonic Syrup: utilizing a quinine tincture, lemon and orange peels, sugar cane and local botanicals. If making in the home, Jack Rudy tonic syrup is a great substitute.

Stir and serve over a big clear ice cube in a rocks glass. Garnish with lemon zest, making sure expressing the oils outrageous of cocktail

Fuyu (Marco C., Chaya DTLA)

• 1.5 oz of Kikori Whiskey• 1.5 oz of Rice apple milk*• 1 oz of Cinnamon apple tea• 0.5 oz of simple syrup*Heat rice milk as 4 slices of apples, simmer until apples are soft, then strain and cool.

Garnish with apple slices and a cinnamon stick.

Matcha Sour

1 oz Kikori1 oz Yuzuri1 oz lime juice1 oz aquafaba.5 oz *Matcha Simple SyrupDouble shakeServe in a coupeGarnish with Angostura bitters*Matcha simple syrup: make 1:1 simple syrup and stir in Matcha Powder until

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