We had a lot to discuss with Suntory's master blender Shinji Fukuyo this morning in the San Francisco store. While I snapped a few photos, Andrew Stevens (the booze man in the SF store, if you didn't know) waxed philosophical about the trends he's noticed in the retail environment. I threw out a couple of zingers as well, for instance: why even sell Yamazaki to retailers at this point? Give it all to the bars and restaurants who will sell individual pours to the public and maximize the impact of each bottle. Do I really care at this point whether I get my six bottles of 18 year? Those bottles mean very little to our overall sales numbers in the grand scheme of things. Another deep thought I shared: do you think the guys who shell out for the Yamazaki Sherry Cask edition are the ideal Suntory customers, or do you think they're more often than not just trophy hunters who have never bought one bottle of Toki or Hibiki and have little interest in supporting the general Suntory brand? Because in my experience, the guys who lust after Yamazaki today have no interest in Toki; yet that's the very whisky Mr. Fukuyo is most interested in promoting right now. It's an interesting situation because Toki was made specifically for the U.S. market. It was made with the interests of the American drinker in mind, but it's definitely a primo session whisky if there ever was one. It's the type of whisky you drink in a Highball or on the rocks in large volumes. But do our customers in America still drink that way? I don't know. I get the feeling most people want Japanese whisky these days because it's rare and exotic rather than because it's delicious. That synopsis begs the question: can you build a new foundation of whisky drinkers on something like Toki? Something that stresses drinkability and finesse over rarity and age?
"We're all gonna find out together!" I said with a big grin as we shook hands on the way out. Both Andrew and I were honored by the visit and the chance to exchange ideas with Suntory's head honcho. I'm hoping we didn't overwhelm him!