Ann Soh Woods grew up traveling to Japan often and developed a strong connection to and passion for Japanese food, drink and culture. This passion is what drove her to develop and launch the first Japanese rice whiskey in the US, Kikori, creating a now growing category thanks to her innovation and breaking molds in a male-dominated industry. Now you can find her spirits in retailers and on cocktail menus across the country including all Nobu restaurant locations. We sat down with Ann to talk about snack nostalgia, achieving perfect matcha froth and how to throw a killer party. Now we’re thirsty for some whiskey!
On a scale of Oscar the Grouch to Martha Stewart, how much do you like to host at home?
I love bringing people together! I definitely have the Martha vibe. I also love my home, so it’s a pleasure for me to host guests there. We often have people stopping by (especially for a Kikori Whiskey cocktail), so I try to always keep the basics stocked, from all cocktail necessities and Champagne to cheese and nuts or something decadent like caviar (which I have to hide from my husband since he would eat it before any guests arrive!) I also love to mix it up – from a formal, tented dinner in my backyard to honor a friend, or a themed Bastille Day party (which is really an excuse to eat moules frites) to “make your own pizza” parties or Korean BBQ (with karaoke, of course). I love themes and it is truly a joy for me to share my home.
What’s your favorite icebreaker?
Cocktails! I have Kikori cocktails usually pretty much ready to go and will have guests shake it up, stir or add the garnish to get the evening started. And besides the booze, any fun nostalgic snack like fondue, deviled eggs, French onion dip or spicy Japanese nuts, which are so addictive. You know, we are all just kids at heart. I can present the fanciest appetizers, but people always gravitate toward the old school dips or something that reminds them of their childhood, and it sets the mood.
If you are looking at a drink menu, what will you never order? Always order?
Though I am usually willing to try anything once, I may draw the line at certain edible garnishes such as Cheetos, soggy cereal, mushrooms or hot chili peppers. I also will rarely order a margarita with pre-made mix as it tends to be full of high fructose corn syrup. I mean, we are already consuming calories with the alcohol – no need to dump on the sugar.
I always order the Old Fashioned, it is a classic and in the hands of a professional mixologist, never disappoints.
Favorite host/hostess gift to give?
I love to give a matcha tea set: a bamboo whisk, spoon, tea and beautiful ceramic tea bowls. If it’s for a friend, I will return and show them how to make a mean matcha tea - it’s all about the wrist in the whisking!
You are stranded on a dinner party desert island and can only bring one beverage, one appetizer and one dessert, what do you choose?
Kikori paired with pan fried gyoza and always the crowd pleaser, a Tres Leches cake from Porto's in Glendale, CA.
What’s your go-to party playlist?
Buena Vista Social Club, Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Bruce Springsteen and my husband always slips in Eminem and Missy Elliot to keep it interesting…
What’s your hidden talent?
Wouldn’t you like to know? I have to maintain some dignity.
What’s the last thing you drank?
Kikori Umami Sour cocktail at Hog Island in San Francisco.
If you could invite 7 people to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be?
Dorothy Parker, Jon Stewart, Michelle Obama, my husband, Jane Austen, Yayoi Kusama, Princess Margaret.
I would serve lobster and have everyone wear a plastic bib.
What’s the best party you’ve been to?
My wedding in Acapulco overlooking the bay—family, friends, margaritas and fireworks!
I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
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