Ann Soh Woods, Founder Kikori whiskey, will not let the unknown scare him. When he started his own Japanese rice whiskey company in 2015, he did it without the experience or knowledge of how to make whiskey and run a business. And instead of trying to integrate into white-dominated industry, he went against his instincts to avoid the spotlight, becoming the voice and face of his brand.
So Woods continues to use its position in the industry to amplify the voices of Asian Americans in the Pacific Islands. In April, he sponsored A. “Supersy cocktails” pop-up Austin bartenders with Sharon Yong և Kaer Maiko, noting Asian ingredients and culture. For Asia և Pacific Island Heritage Month in May, Kikori begins a new tradition of focusing on three Asian-American artists. The company will also donate $ 10,000 to an Asian-American non-profit organization chosen by each of the artists. Through the ongoing campaign, people will have the opportunity to benefit from the works of the presented artists Instagram:.
We recently spoke with So Woods about the challenges a Korean-American brings to mainstream rice whiskey, and what she does to celebrate the Asia-Pacific community in Asia. This interview has been edited և condensed.
IMBIBE. What made you create your own brand of rice whiskey?
Anne So Woods. I had the opportunity to evaluate what I wanted to do in my career in the course of my life. And I wanted it to embrace the passions of my time that were whiskey, Japanese culture և Hello Kitty. So I got two out of three in Kikori. And I’m really lucky that I was able to pursue something that I really love and enjoy. I do not have to start making this Japanese rice whiskey. I just knew I wanted to create something that would incorporate those passions, I did not have much experience. I was a summer housewife at the Olive Orchard և it’s kind of my hospitality experience.
Or it was scary, at the same time, I did not know what it would take, how difficult it can sometimes be. But I was so passionate about the whiskey, cocktail, hospitality industry that I think it really worked for me without that experience. I do not know, it would be the same today, because there are many more nuances.
LA was my first market. And I was so pleased and surprised that they adopted something new, something dynamic that displayed Asian culture, flavors and ingredients as we used rice. And they say that this was the first rice whiskey that came from Japan, which later, now there are others.
“I did not really want to be involved in any media or press, or expose my name or face for a while. I was afraid that it might not be taken seriously. “
How difficult was it to create a whiskey brand as an Asian woman?
We were not many, I know I do not have the face that people assume is the founder of whiskey. I did not really want to be involved in any media or press, or expose my name or face for a while. I was afraid it might not be taken seriously. Or they may think that because it is lighter on the side, a little softer, it will be a whiskey for women. You know what, it’s absolutely wonderful, but I just did not want to dig a pigeon hole. By the way, most of our drinkers are male.
But it is ridiculous because it was so fearful that it could not be taken seriously. Because I certainly did not know of any other Asian American out there who was doing what I was doing. There was no precedent for that, I did not want to be that first person. I’m reconciled with that, but I’m not comfortable with it yet.
Do you think this concern is cultural or personal?
I do not think so [Asian women] raised for self-promotion; we are not brought up to be in this position by all means. And so I feel like I’ve never been to any region. That was a lot, you know, keep your head down, do your job, which I’m happy to do. For so long I was just happy to do it. But I understand that we really need to get out of it.
And so, if I could help other people do that, that would be great too. It gets easier over time. But that’s definitely not the role we’re brought up to include. I mean, it would never have occurred to me growing up. Sometimes I’m surprised that I’ve come so far. Of course, I had a lot of help from both men and women. There were a lot of people with me on this train, but I always like to say that I am surrounded by a lot of women, a lot of Asian women, because sometimes it was almost a shorthand.
And I love the question of whether it was me personally or how we were brought up. Because I never really thought about it. But it was really about not rocking the boat or making it sound. It was so much just focusing on your work մասին on what you can do that I’m sure it’s due to my huge level of inconvenience.
The brand celebrates the Asian community, and last year you mentioned bartenders on a social media campaign. Can you talk about what else the brand is doing to boost Asian voices?
“Cocktails are all from different flavors, from mango sticky rice to Twin Dragon almond cookies. It was really fun to taste flavors that people do not usually expect to be able to make a cocktail, to create an amazing cocktail. ”
So one way is that there is a duo from Austin, Sharon Young և Kaer Maiko. And they make a leaflet called Daijoubu, which means “Good” in Japanese. We have a similar mission, not only to enhance the API business community, but the community as a whole. So, we come up with ideas, and to see them flush it out, it’s really fun. The cocktails are all from different flavors, from mango sticky rice to Twin Dragon almond cookies. It was really fun to taste flavors that people usually do not think they can make a cocktail, to create an amazing cocktail.
The campaign we have for May is about raising Asian artists. And instead of traditional artists, we thought it would be good to show a musician, an illustrator, a comedian. Sometimes they work in areas where they are also out of the box. And it was really fun to give them a platform, to vote, to show what they do. We have this charitable component, which is also really important because, as you know, we have had some really difficult years in the Asian community. And I hate that feeling of helplessness. So if this is one I can help with, I would love to.
Even for our pop-up events, we only use Asian vendors. We do this in accounts that belong to the API և it’s actually a little tougher than you might think. But we have found some, we will move to New York in June. And what was really great about it was the spread we got from all over the country, from De Moyes to some parts of Oklahoma. There is a whole population of Asians who do not see or hear outside the big cities. And it would be good to support them as well.
You started in 2015, but over the last few years you have come to realize the potential of diversity. Have you noticed that in the liquor industry?
Of course. I think this is a drastic change since I started. It is not only at the level of trade, hospitality, distributor, more attention is paid to diversity. And not just talk, but walk. And I love those discussions about what they can do, because I think it helps every business. We know from corporate data that having diversity can really help the end result.
As we as a whole become more diverse, there is more opportunity to present these flavors. There is a willingness to be open-minded. And it’s so refreshing for me.
I have one too yuzu liqueur. When I started, [it was difficult] explain the taste of yuzu without having yuzu, as it is kind of hard to get fruit. But now I can not believe how many people understand what yuzu և understands what the taste profile is. It was really amazing for me և he և is happy that they are now open to these flavors that once seemed overwhelming, are now almost essential.
What are Kikori’s future plans?
Frankly, we are still expanding. We will be in about a dozen markets in the coming. We are slowly getting out of there, but we have to cover the whole country. So there will be new cities and new states. It’s our focus right now, to hand over Kikori to those who want it in all these different states. I’m really glad to know that there have been inquiries about Kikori in these states.
I think that succeeding with Kikori brings some responsibility as an Asian American. And that’s why we’re doing these campaigns to support our Asian community. And I gladly accept that, I hope I make a difference.
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