Did you catch our last Japanese bar instalment, which introduced the wonderful Bar Zoetrope located in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo?
Well, Bar Benfiddich is located a short 10-minute walk from Zoetrope, in Nishi-Shinjuku (West-Shinjuku) on the tenth floor of a Tokyo high-rise. It’s not the easiest place to find, but you’ll be glad you did.
The cocktails and liqueurs available at Benfiddich will take you on a journey like nothing you have experienced before. The flavours and expressions found in the bar’s craft are unique, so find the high-rise, get on the elevator, and don’t look back.
Hiroyasu Kayama is the man behind the bar. The name Benfiddich is actually a reversed translation of his last name in Gaelic, just FYI for those of you who thought it was a pun on Glenfiddich whisky. I thought the same at first!
Kayama started working in bars at the age of 20 and, after moving to a few different establishments, he settled at Bar Amber in Nishi-Azabu in Tokyo, where he stayed as head bartender for over six years.
Then in 2013 the wind of change came crashing, and he decided to go out on his own, and create something new. This was the birth of Benfiddich, and Kayama hasn’t looked back since.
Once the elevator dings, take a left and open the door. You’ll find a small space, about the size of a Tokyo apartment, with low lighting and a mix of Bohemian and Victorian decor, usually filled with eager cocktail lovers.
The bar is large and grand, and Kayama will probably be in the middle of it, creating one of his wonderful concoctions.
Bar Benfiddich has grown popular globally, in part due to Kayama’s keen interest in botany and the natural world of spices, herbs, fruits, and plants. He won first prize at “The Botanist Foraged Cocktail Contest” in 2015, and has been heralded worldwide at a cocktail maker and the closest thing to a modern day alchemist.
He harvests home-grown plants and herbs, taken from his family’s farm on the outskirts of Tokyo, which he then uses to break apart and rebuild classic liquors like Campari, Amaro and gin.
Renaissance music will be playing softly in the background as you grab a seat and gaze over at the bar, where deep shelves hold numerous glass jars, filled with Kayama’s latest creations.
Countless oddly shaped decanters, wood hanging from the ceiling, and a large bucks head on the wall bring together the traditional and the modern, to tell any visitor that something special is going on here. When you finally taste the cocktail prepared for you, your guessing will come to an end, and you’ll “know” what that something special is.
Whisky, absinthe, gin, and Amaro are the foundation of the cocktails created at Benfiddich and, if seated at the bar, your preference will probably be the first question you’re greeted with. There is no menu in Benfiddich, as most of the cocktails Kayama creates are decided in that instant, once your tastes have been understood.
Then the show begins. Kayama will produce your chosen spirit, grabbing fresh herbs from a branch or fresh berries from a bowl, as he carefully and skillfully creates your drink. Decanters will be opened, egg whites will be mixed, and in the end, a wonderful creation will be placed in front of you in a stylish glass, specifically chosen to bring the flavours of your cocktail out.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also get the interesting story of how Kayama discovered your cocktail’s recipe, and you might also receive a little gift of a medicinal, dried herb taken from his farm on your way out.
Bar Benfiddich is a unique experience and one you won’t soon forget. For the lovers of whisky, the bar holds an impressive collection, and as a whisky lover himself, Kayama can create some pretty amazing cocktails using Japanese whisky.
Don’t miss your chance to experience what one of the world’s last alchemists has to offer!