In November, Ann Soh Woods, founder of Soh Spirits (makers of Kikori Whiskey and Yuzuri), released a brand new, limited-edition Kikori expression called Kikori Ten. This variation is made with 100 percent rice on the island of Kyushu, Japan, and has been aged in sherry casks for 10 years. With only 312 bottles available on the market, whiskey lovers will need to hurry.
In the male-dominated spirits business, Ann is a rarity as a female owner of a whiskey brand. The company just opened a new office in Los Angeles and has filled the space with pieces in promotion of L.A.-based female POC artists. Soh Spirits is shaking up the booze game with its innovative rice whiskey formula and the company’s mission statement of inclusivity.
Hyphen Magazine had a chance to catch up with Ann to talk about childhood pretend Hello Kitty tea parties, her love for Japanese culture and breaking down racial and gender barriers in the spirits industry.
Tell me a bit about who you are and how you got into whiskey.
I am a Midwest born, Korean American woman who is the founder and owner of Kikori Whiskey, the first ever Japanese rice whiskey introduced in America.
While I had no background in the spirits industry, I did have a passion for food, wine, spirits and Japan. I have to confess that my love for Japan began with Hello Kitty, but eventually I moved on to admire the culture, food, art and, of course, the many great spirits in Japan. I wanted to bring a sophisticated, unique spirit to the United States that was refreshing, would go well in cocktails and represent the beauty of Japan.
Talk about the importance of your representation as an Asian American woman in the whiskey business.
I started to say there are not nearly enough Asian American women in the spirits industry, but that’d be the least of it. There are not nearly enough women in the industry! This is beginning to change, but there is a long way to go. I am aware and try to speak up when I can on behalf of women in the industry. Growing up as an Asian American in the Midwest and attending college in Texas, I understand the feeling of being an outsider, and I want to break down barriers whenever possible.
How did you get started in the industry? How did you start this company?
I started this journey because I wanted to create a specific spirit for the United States and thought there might be others that would enjoy it as well.
I was lucky enough to have friends who knew how to connect me to various distilleries in Japan. We chose one to work with and, once we had our liquid, I hit the market hard, selling Kikori by hand, often by cold calling!
We got a great response from consumers, and distributors started cold calling me. I hit the ground running and never looked back.