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ImpEx Beverages Carves Out Upscale Niche With Prestige Whisky Portfolio

January 30, 2018

California-based ImpEx Beverages was founded in 2008 as an importer of upscale, connoisseurial spirits, a space that appeared ripe with opportunity.“We saw a demand for more diverse, niche options—spirits that were emerging outside the mainstream,” says ImpEx president and co-founder Sam Filmus.

ImpEx initially focused on Scotch whisky, and today the company offers a variety of sought-after Scotch labels—including Speyside single malt brand Tamdhu, whose Batch Strength 002 expression ranked number-8 on Whisky Advocate’s Top 20 list for 2017.

The ImpEx Scotch portfolio also includes Islay single malt label Kilchoman. Founded in 2005 as the first distillery to be built on Islay in more than 120 years, Kilchoman’s releases consistently garner high scores in Whisky Advocate. ImpEx also handles a number of independent bottler (IB) labels, including the Exclusive Malts range from Creative Whisky Co. Ltd., which regularly scores in the 90s. The portfolio’s other IB single malts include Islay offering Port Askaig from Elixir Distillers, and the Chapter 7 collection. “We take pride in being part of the popularization of single malt Scotch whisky,” says Filmus. “We faced a lot of rejection (on our single malts) when we started out, but now the requests come our way.”

World whiskies comprise the second key focus for ImpEx. “As we evolved, we saw opportunities to diversify the portfolio with brands that fit the ImpEx philosophy of offering unique products,” says Filmus. “The first step was Japanese whisky.” ImpEx offers three Japanese whiskies, led by rice whisky Fukano, whose 2017 edition ranked number 20 on the Whisky Advocate list. (Fukano’s success gave ImpEx two brands on the Top 20 list, a distinction shared only by Diageo, Moët Hennessy and Beam Suntory.) The two other Japanese whiskies in the ImpEx fold are Ohishi, a rice whisky produced on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu, and Kurayoshi, a blended malt bottled by Matsui Shuzo in the Tottori prefecture, northwest of Kyoto.

The Japanese brands are part of a broader commitment to world whiskies, which have become a vibrant segment in the whisk(e)y space. “Appreciation of world whiskies is growing rapidly,” notes Filmus. “We’ve added an Irish whiskey (Tipperary), and we also now have a Welsh whisky (Penderyn) in the pipeline.”

ImpEx grew out of JVS, a California distributor started by Filmus and his family two decades ago, initially with a focus on Eastern European wine. With offices and warehouses in northern and southern California, JVS covers the entire state. Today it carries more than 1,200 SKUs across brandy, mezcal, vodka, Scotch, world whisky, rum and craft spirits.

JVS distributes all the ImpEx brands, but also has its own focus on world whiskies, handling such brands as Indian whisky Amrut (number-5 on the Whisky Advocate list), Stalk & Barrel from Canada, The English Whisky Company and Australian label Sullivans Cove. The JVS craft lineup includes Corsair, Colorado Gold and Catoctin Creek.

Outside of whisk(e)y, JVS is currently focused on mezcal, and works closely with the importers of labels Real Minero, Ray Campero and Wahaka. “Our relationship with those brands’ importers goes far beyond the average one,” says Filmus. “My reps often visit the palenques, and each of them has a unique story.”—David Fleming

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