Bar Benfiddich, Tokyo
To be bestowed the title of Roku Industry Icon in the same year his Bar Benfiddich celebrates its 10-year anniversary seems an apt way of honouring Hiroyasu Kayama.
The Japanese mixologist has long been at the forefront of the drinks industry as one of the first proponents of the ‘farm-to-bar’ philosophy, well before trends around sustainability and local sourcing became as widespread as they are today. But, most of all, he has built a reputation as one of the most committed professionals in the cocktail world, hardly leaving his bar since it opened on 1st July 2013.
Kayama-san stumbled upon a bar job in Tokyo after he moved to the capital from the dairy farm where he grew up in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. That early-life imprint was to become a cornerstone of his cocktail philosophy later in his career, when he opened Bar Benfiddich: rather than leaving his family farm behind, Kayama took it over in order to grow the highest-quality fruits, herbs and botanicals to use in his drinks. He earned the moniker ‘farmer-bartender’ thanks to his home-infused liquors, from vodka distilled with Japanese wintersweet flowers to homemade absinthe. Indeed, Bar Benfiddich has often been likened to an old medical store, with countless bottles of elixirs and infusions lining its shelves.
Kayama didn’t stop there in his innovation. His bar – of course – features no menu, as he prefers to speak to each client and craft unique concoctions to their particular taste. To highlight each botanical, he designed a line of glassware beautifully inlaid with a nook for a flower, herb or branch to be displayed as part of the cocktail itself, bringing his guests a little closer to his farm. Lately, he has stopped using bartender spoons altogether, replacing them with juniper tree twigs.
It all paints a picture of an unlikely YouTube sensation, yet the bartender has achieved this too: his how-to videos, in which he appears immaculately dressed and smiling intriguingly while he mixes and shakes his signature cocktails, often rack up close to one million views.
Bar Benfiddich has turned into an unmissable pilgrimage on any aspiring bartender’s itinerary, and Kayama isn’t only a tireless student of foreign liquors and infusions, but also a kind and generous mentor to many in the sector. The bartender has always said that he will continue manning Benfiddich’s bar for as long as he can, and being anointed the Roku Industry Icon can only put more wind into his sails.