When Ann Soh Woods founded Soh Spirits in 2012, she didn’t have any experience in the alcohol industry. To add to her challenges, Soh Woods had to convince a traditional Japanese distiller that she was the right person to distribute its rice whiskey in the US.
“We couldn’t go in cold,” she said. “You have to be referred by someone they respect. That was a long process … [that involved] going there, taking the time and showing good faith.”
Fortunately, Soh Woods had built a network of contacts in Japan. For years, she had worked in marketing and entertainment, so she constantly traveled to the country.
“Once we started floating this idea around, it was great, because [my friends and contacts] started coming around with different ideas,” she said.
Those conversations led to a meeting with Soh Spirit’s eventual distiller, but the whiskey makers were still skeptical their product would sell in the U.S.
“The turning point was showing them the design of the bottle,” she said. “They really enjoyed it and were surprised. They could see how this would play here and how it could work.”
Soh Spirits’ Kikori Whiskey came onto the market in 2015, and is now sold in about 800 U.S. stores, including BevMo, Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joe’s, as well as at bars and restaurants across the country, such as Nobu. Kikori was the first Japanese rice whiskey to hit the American market, the company says. The company also sells a yuzu liqueur, Yuzuri.