Hiroyasu Kayama has a unique approach to cocktails and to what he offers in his bar, with no menu and a lot of his own home-grown ingredients, it is fascinating to understand more about how he creates drinks for his guests.
So, Bars and Clubs sat down with Hiro to chat about this approach, his farm-to-bar ethos and how he is the first person to bring the Japanese food concept of Kochu Chomi into the world of drinks.
In explaining the concept behind his Bar BenFiddich in Tokyo, Hiro said: “Bar BenFiddich has been open for six years, I create a lot of cocktails because I have a farm and I grow my own plants. This is what I bring to the bar to create the cocktails.
“I don’t have a menu in the bar, but people in Japan are very happy to wait while we talk about the kind of drink they like and then I make them a drink.”
So with no menu, the question is how do people know what they can drink? Firstly the bar is small, with just eight seats and two tables, so it is a much more intimate setting, which means Hiro is able to talk with the customers in much more detail about drinks.
“Because there are a lot of bottles on the back bar, it can be really hard to make a choice, so first I welcome the guests and then ask them what they like and which way they would like to go with their drinks. It’s all about communication. Because there is no menu that personal interaction with the guests like almost like deep-diving. So it is very common for me to get to know my guests and get to know what they like through a lot of communication.”
It’s this type of interaction that has helped elevate Bar BenFiddich to be one of the world’s best bars, Hiro adds: “I try to get close to the guests and communicate with them and this helps to create relationship with the guest, which hopefully makes their experience and special one and helps them to enjoy the drinks we make.”
The Japanese concept of kochu chomi is basically the idea of chewing plain white rice and side dishes alternately and then mixing them in the mouth. This helps to create different complementary flavours as well as different contrasts and textures.
Hiro has brought this concept to drinks: “Kochu chomi is different to what is trendy now, pairing, it is also not a completed cocktail. It is a cocktail that you build in your mouth. It is also a way of Japanese cuisine, eating rice, eating fish or meat and mixing those in the mouth and I have adapted this into the drinks world, using Nikka whiskies and creating a marriage in the mouth.”
While this is common in cuisine, as far as Hiro is aware he is the first person to bring this to drinks. It’s a concept that works for example the combination of Miyagikyo Single Malt and red grape with a caramelised sugar and cinnamon powder. You take a few bites of the grape, keep it in your mouth and then sip the whisky and chew some more, this then comes alive in your mouth. This kochu chomi experience is designed to highlight the sherry and sweet cask aspects of the Miyagikyo Single Malt, and it works.
“For example you have a Miyagikyo whisky and you have the food and it is there as the individual ingredients. Then they go round and round in your mouth, creating a marble but it is still independent. With this we can create flavours the complement or contrast and we can also create different textures.”
With this ethos of creating combinations and different drinks having a signature cocktail would be perhaps unlikely, but there is one drink that proves popular in his bar.
“The most famous cocktail in my bar is the Fresh Campari cocktail. But I don’t use Campari, I use Campari ingredients. Campari has many ingredients and I bring together lots of flavours and spices and muddle these together to make fresh cocktail.”
It is a fascinating experience to talk with Hiro and understand more about how he looks to create flavours and experiences in his drinks and for his guests and just how important communication is to help deliver his unique approach to cocktails.