The maker of Japanese Yamazaki whiskey, visited thekas, ate bar food to understand how Indians want their drink

Shinji Fukuyo, Executive Officer and Chief Blender, Suntory Spirits Limited
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Shinji Fukuyo, Executive Officer and Chief Blender of Suntory Spirits, talks about how he spent the last year visiting India’s smallest bars.
  • Beam Suntory is the maker of the iconic Jim Beam and Teacher’s whiskey.
  • It recently launched its first Indian whiskey, Oaksmith.
You haven’t seen the true Indian drinking scenes, unless you have visited the ‘aahatas’ or ‘thekas’.

So, when the world’s third largest producer of liquor – Beam Suntory, decided to launch an Indian whiskey, it needed to know what Indians like. The maker of the whiskey and the Executive Officer and Chief Blender of Suntory Spirits – Shinji Fukuyo, came down to India six times last year. He visited bars, pubs, aahatas, and nip joints to observe how Indians like their whiskey.

Fukuyo is the maker of Yamazaki whiskey, which is often found in the list of best whiskeys in the world.

“In Japan, we have a practice called Gemba, which basically means - the real place. The idea is you go to the source to do your research and understand consumer behaviour. While online research and surveys are fine, we understand that we can truly know what consumers want only if we go on-ground and interact with them,” said Fukuyo.

India is the world’s largest consumer of whiskey.

Beam Suntory which is also the maker of the iconic Jim Beam and Teacher’s whiskey, along with several other brands. - , knew they had more to offer in India. It is now launching Japanese luxury brands like Yamazaki, Hibiki and the gin Roku in the country.

Food for thought

Last week, it launched its first Indian whiskey, Oaksmith.

Before this, Fukuyo visited Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad to understand the nuances of Indian food and flavours and what could match perfectly with the whiskey.

“These visits help us understand how we should make our product. It is important to understand the pulse of the consumer and know what they want before making it. From these visits, I also got to experience what Indian bar food tastes like and what flavours would go well with it,” he said.

And what’s the biggest difference between India and global markets? Indians don’t mix it up!

“Indians love their whisky truly! They do not drink whisky in elaborate cocktails as many do in the US. Here, they drink it neat, on the rocks or with water and/ or soda. The US market demands whisky that has more mixability for cocktails,” said Fukuyo.

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