Hiroyasu Kayama isn’t the only bartender in Japan to advertise farm-to-bar cocktails, but he’s the only one with a farm the size of a football pitch to play with. Ninety kilometers northwest of his bar, on what used to be his parents’ dairy farm, he grows mint, hops, wormwood, chamomile, yuzu, anise, hyssop and a whole lot more. Some is distilled in the 20-litre alembic on his farm, some will be infused in vodka, some muddled into an Old Fashioned, or – his latest enthusiasm – roasted at the bar counter then brewed with liquor.
After swapping his wellies and worker onesie for a cream jacket and wingtips, he opens his 14-seat sanctuary in the frenetic Shinjuku district. All the motifs of a classic Japanese bar are in place – fresh fruit bowl, yes; seamless movement, yes; vintage glassware, of course; menu, no – but the atmosphere is more that of an illicit drinking den. The windowless room has absinthe fountains and wormwood sprigs hanging from bare cedar beams, jars of mysterious infusions on the shelf, and a bartender that might be pouring tonic water on his homemade imitation Suze, made from gentian foraged in Switzerland, or using his farm-distilled absinthe with marc, calvados and creme de cacao for a brilliant sort-of-a-Sazerac. Kayama’s resume includes stints as a formal hotel bartender, a flair bartender and a fruit-focused mixologist, and all aspects of his craft are on show in Bar Benfiddich.