BCCJ Member Spotlight: Rory Bluett (Proximo Spirits)

Written by BCCJ
July 1, 2024


Written by BCCJ
July 1, 2024

With hundreds of years of experience distilling high-quality Irish whiskey, Proximo Spirits-owned ‘Bushmills’ has finally arrived in Japan.

Calum Kelly from the BCCJ team met with the man responsible for bringing the rich history of Irish whiskey to an Izakaya near you. In this interview, Rory Bluett shares his story, bringing to life one of the most iconic whiskey brands in the world.


Could you tell me a little bit about your background and what brought you to Japan?

I did a four-year degree in economics in French, then I started my career in finance. I was working at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland and I quickly transitioned into the alcohol industry where I’ve now been working for around 12 years.

I had worked in mature markets like France as well as emerging markets like India, too. First I was working at French company, Pernod Ricard and now I’m about 6 and a half years at  “Proximo Spirits”, which is actually a Mexican spirits company. I’ve been working specifically on the Japanese market now for about 3 and a half years now. The first year and a half of that I was based in Ireland due to the pandemic, but come April 2022 I was finally able to arrive and am now serving as head of Proximo Spirits in Japan.


What was your approach to landing in a completely foreign country, navigating a new market and introducing an at-home, household name in Bushmills to Japanese consumers?

Firstly, I knew that my Japanese colleagues are hard workers, so I wanted to show that I have the same sense of work ethic and commitment as they do. So the first year I was here I put my head down, put in the hours inside and outside the office and ensured the output was there too. I spent a lot of time in the field as well getting to know my Japanese colleagues. Despite the language and the cultural differences. I think they could see my level of commitment and that’s helped me in my time.


Although Bushmills is a household name in Western markets, the brand is very nascent in Asia. So for Bushmills, as for Irish whiskey as a whole, is still very small in Asia and a lot of Japanese consumers have not tried or are even aware of the brand. But Irish whiskey is growing. It’s dynamic, albeit having a small base in Japan and Bushmills is playing its part  in bringing Irish whiskey to the forefront in Japan, and we have big ambitions for the future of Bushmills here.


I’ve noticed a growing interest in Irish culture in Japan.

You know, Irish whiskey is growing and the Invest Northern Ireland alongside the British Embassy Tokyo have been very supportive in the promotion of products such as Bushmills in Japan. They’ve given us plenty of opportunities to participate in different events that they are organising and have helped to push us to where we are.




Japan is known as a nation with an accustomed taste for exceptional whiskey. How do Japanese consumer tastes and values differ from those in Northern Ireland and other global markets?

When it comes to drinks, Japanese people, and this is a generalisation, don’t really like sweet drinks. You’ll go to a bar and typically the drinks there tend to be “spirit-forward” as we call it, where you are still able to taste the spirit. That is one of the reasons why the highball is so popular in Japan.

If you want to do business in whiskey in Japan, you need to have a flavour profile when it comes to the Highball. Luckily for us, Bushmills works very well here as it is fruity and malty, which still holds nicely as a highball and also pairs well with the soda water.


What has been your most rewarding experience since beginning your Japan chapter with Proximo Spirits? 

When I started this role in December 2020, I was on my own. Luckily the business has grown over the past few years, so I moved here and we’ve been able to build the team. We’re now 7 people and I work here with my 6 Japanese colleagues. There’s a great sense of satisfaction from being able to grow the business and build a team of committed and talented people. That’s probably been the most satisfying experience I’ve had in my time in this role.


That’s fantastic growth in a just a few years.

We’re lucky that our brands compete in segments that are growing. Proximo Spirits is primarily a tequila company, a spirit that has also seen considerable growth over the last few years. Bushmills has also been able to ride on that growth. Even though the alcohol industry in Japan, including beer, is flattish or in decline here, the segments that we operate in are dynamic and that has helped us grow the business.


On the flip side, what have been some of the biggest challenges here?

I think understanding that there is no “quick win” in Japan. It’s something that I had to figure out pretty quickly. I guess I’ve come to understand and learn that in Japan, success is built over time. You really need to be in it for the long run and invest in relationships. Luckily for us and our business, that matches what we want to do.

(Taking a long-term approach) is something that I quickly understood from my interactions with our distributor here. It’s not a negative point, but it’s something that took some getting used to. We really needed to come around to this idea because the market wasn’t going to change for me or for the company I work for.



What are you most looking forward to this year and next? Where can we find Bushmills, and hopefully you?

I’m most looking forward to working closely with our distribution partner Asahi breweries to bring Bushmills to more consumers across Japan. We find that when Japanese consumers try Bushmills, they really like the taste and keep coming back.

Me personally, you can find me jumping around a few izakayas in a good yokocho. One of my favourites is “Harmonica Yokocho” in Kichijoji. These are the places where you’ll probably find me hanging out on a Friday or Saturday night. I like Harmonica Yokocho as they’ve been good partners and supporters of Bushmills so I often end up over there.


What is your preferred way to drink Bushmills?

I have two… In fact, I have three!

Firstly I like to drink whiskey neat. I think a good whiskey doesn’t need to be diluted or have anything added to it. Bushmills has a whole range of whiskies, starting from the “Original” which is our standard. If you want to explore and enjoy the full flavour of the whiskey, [drinking it neat] will allow you to do so.

I wouldn’t be in Japan if I didn’t like highball, as I was saying earlier, it’s more session-able. It’s easier to drink more of than drinking neat whilst still being able to taste the flavour.

Last, I like classic cocktails. Old fashioned would be my drink of choice. There’s a good bar in Ginza, called “mixology heritage”. They’ve been good supporters of Bushmills there and they do a really mean old-fashioned.




After thanking Rory for taking the time to speak with us, I remarked on how I suddenly was overcome with an urge to head to the izakaya to beat back the Japanese summer heat with an icy highball or two. 

If you want to find out more about the Bushmills brand in Japan, you can do so below at https://www.bushmills.eu/