This interview with Victor Ambrosio is part of a collection of interviews with people who are dedicating their lives to working with Japanese Drinks:
Japanese drinks are exploding onto the bar and restaurant’s scenes of the biggest cities in the world in the past few years, which can often leave unfamiliar consumers confused and overwhelmed by types of sakes, Junmai, Ginjo, Daiginjo, and like to like shochu types, Imo, Kome, Kokuto, etc. One of the best source’s consumers can turn to are those importing, as they always know them inside-out and can help maximising the ways to enjoy them.
This time we sat down with Victor Ambrosio, Managing Director of Avihops S.L Spain, and we had fun discovering key aspects of the Japanese Drinks industry in Spain.
Who is Victor Ambrosio in one sentence?
I could say I´m a businessman, father of three, who slowly has fallen into Japanese drinks.
At what point of your career things shifted to have an eye on Japanese Drink’s imports and risk it all?
I started my company in 2013, focused on craft beer. At that moment, I knew I wanted to have Japanese craft beers in my portfolio. The first company I contacted and with whom I continue working was Kiuchi Brewery, the brewers of Hitachino Nest beers.
Would you highlight any failures so far? How did you deal with them? (hope not many)
I´ve had too many (laughs). Most of the times my failures have come by thinking with my heart and not my head. I´m very passionate about drinks, and because I love a drink, it doesn´t mean it is going to sell.
In addition, a very important factor in an import company is the logistics network. There are many variables involved and too many things can go wrong. You learn with failures and experience, after 7 years I´m still learning how to improve and reduce my costs.
The interest in Japan and Japanese Gastronomy is increasing worldwide and it is a good opportunity to promote their drinks
Which item in your portfolio is the hardest to sell in Spain?
Awamori. At the moment it is very difficult. If there is a lack of knowledge about Shochu, imagine about it cousin, which is only produced in Okinawa. Some people will define its smell as a farm barn and its taste as gasoline, which doesn´t help when it comes of selling it, but if you taste a good one, you will be shocked by it earthiness and funk which will make you fall in love.
And the easiest?
Hitachino Nest beers, they have a great branding and taste incredible. Also, you don´t have to explain anything when selling a beer as everybody knows what it is. That´s an advantage they have agaisnt Sake or Shochu.
What are your perceptions on the upcoming Shochu movement that seems to be waking up on the export market?
When you are in silence, a whisper sounds loud. Shochu is staring from zero in Western markets, so the small movements that we see, looks as if it was waking up, but it is far from it. There are tons of thing to do yet. I´m confident that it will grow, but I don´t really know until what extend.
A little bird told me you are a big fan of Shochu, what is your favourite type, and way of drinking it?
Yes, I´m a huge fan of Shochu. I like to try all types, but usually I tend to go more for Imo (sweet potato) with ice or little water.
Any Shochu brand you would recommend to a beginner? And why?
More than a brand, which they may find difficult to find in Japan, I will recommend instead by ingredient, depending on what other types of drinks they enjoy.
If they come from a sake or wine background, they can start with a Kome (rice) Shochu, especially with vacuum distilled ones, which are more fragrant, delicate and fruity.
Instead if they like more powerful drinks, like mezcal or peated whisky, they definitely should go for Imo Shochu, one atmospheric distilled and with black koji will blow their minds.
Or if you prefer sweeter drinks or a rum fan, try a Kokuto (brown sugar) Shochu from Amami Islands. Mugi (barley) Shochu, should be also an easy one to star with.
What does Sake need to do in order to be more accessible to the local/vast market in Spain?
In my opinion, sake has three great handicaps in Spain.
First is the lack of knowledge of the market. We´ve been thinking for years that sake was a rough spirit that you drank in a shot after meals. So many people are afraid of trying it thinking it will be high strength. We need people to know what exactly sake is, and how incredible it can pair with Spanish foods, not only Japanese.
Secondly is the price. Spain is a wine country, with excellent wines and relatively cheap. A good wine costs 3 or 4 times less than a good sake. This makes people fade away from asking for sake in restaurants.
Finally, the labelling. Once you explained the product, made the people enjoy it, they cannot read what’s on the label. It is impossible for them to remember the name of the brewery and look for it. Also, they will not know the additional information that is stated in the label, such as the consumption recommendations, the style of the sake or type of rice. This makes people afraid of buying a it in a store as it is like tossing a dice without knowing what they will find.
Any Japanese Drinks pairing and Spanish Food you think everyone should try?
Sake with paella. Rice with rice can never go wrong. It pairs incredible. And me, being from Valencia, where we eat paella very week is a thing we should all try
Which Sake would make you blow your wallet? (we won’t tell your wife)
Luckily, I enjoy more robust sakes, such as Kimoto or Yamahai Junmais, which are cheaper than Daiginjos, but I have to confess that I am crazy about koshu sakes, and those can be really expensive. I reserve them for special occasions.
Outside of Japanese Drinks, what can we find in your Victor Ambrosio’s Drinks Cupboard?
Besides Japanese drinks, I enjoy Scotch whisky. Usually go for peated and cask strength. I like to try all types of spirits, so besides 30 or so bottles of whisky, you will also find some rum, mezcal, bourbon and even pisco.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone trying to become an importer?
My recommendation is to do spend the time in advance learning about the procedures and use expert companies although they can look more expensive. One bad import can sink your company easily.
Anything else you would like to add?
The interest in Japan and Japanese Gastronomy is increasing worldwide and it is a good opportunity to promote their drinks also, which have been left behind. The Tokyo Olympics should help to boost the brand Japan and help spread its culture.
Ambrosio y Valera International Hops, SL
Address: Calle Acequia Calvera 16. 46910 Sedavi
Telephone: +34 649 892 621
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