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A Sip With Japan’s Greatest Bartender: Kayama San

A Sip With Japan’s Greatest Bartender: Kayama San

These days it’s hard to know whether Hiroyasu Kayama is Japan’s greatest bartender or the bar industry’s greatest Youtube sensation.

Since opening his bar, BenFiddich (which ranked No.56 in the world’s top 100 bars and No.17 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars this year) in Tokyo’s Shinjuku in 2013, Kayama san, as he’s affectionately known, has become somewhat of a sex symbol thanks to his series of ‘How to’ videos that have been variously described as seductive, sexual and porn, and on average attract anywhere from 100k to over 1.2 million views each.

You only need to look at the comments beneath his videos to get an idea of the impact he’s having on both his female and male followers.

A case in point is his how to make the Smokey Corpse Reviver cocktail video that attracted comments like this:

“found myself undressing, wtf”

“If only I had a woman that looked at me the way Kayama san does”

“Shake me like you shake that cocktail kayama-sama”

But unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, our modern day Don Juan of drinks is married with three children. Isn’t it always the way?

Nevertheless, The Bureau was fortunate enough to catch up for a sip with the Japanese bartending heart-throb recently when he presented a masterclass at Rabbit Hole as part of his brief tour of Vietnam. 

Here’s what we asked him between sips.

B: How old are you?

KS: 36

B: What’s your philosophy as it relates to customer service?

KS: I am the sole owner and operator of BenFiddich, so customer service is very important. Unfortunately BenFiddich was briefly closed while I was in Vietnam, though.

B: How would you define the bartending industry in Asia at the moment?

KS: There are many bars opening in Asia today, including in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Vietnam, which is great. And each country, of course, has a different culture which contributes to the overall bar culture of Asia.

B: How does the Vietnam bartending industry compare to the rest of Asia and Japan at the moment?

KS: I’m very impressed, because the young bartenders here are very eager to learn – I could feel the passion. 

B: When you travel around the region doing masterclasses, what trends in bartending are you seeing emerge?

KS: As I mentioned earlier, the young bartenders are very eager to learn in Southeast Asia and they already know a great deal, which is great. 

B: Which bars have you visited in Vietnam? How were they?

KS: In Danang I went to Bar Libre and The Craftsman Cocktail Bar. In Saigon I’ve been to Rabbit Hole, of course, and Ryu , which were very good experiences. I also went to Baroness Club, but only briefly. I was really impressed by the way every bar I went to handled their ice! 

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B: How would you describe Saigon’s bar culture at the moment?

KS: The generation of bartenders here is much younger than in Japan. They love learning and they’re interested in many trends. I believe in five or 10 years time, the bar culture in Saigon will become big.

B: What advice do you have for bartenders in Vietnam?

KS: Just stick at it!

B: What’s your all-time favourite drink?

KS: Absinthe and whisky sour highballs

B: What does the future hold for Kayama san?

KS: I want to continue BarFiddich until I’m 100 years old. I’m a lifetime bartender, so my dream for my three children is that they become bartenders too and that they will continue on the BenFiddich name.

*In case you were wondering, ben (or beinn) in Scottish Gaelic means mountain, while fiddich (or feidh) means deer. In Japanese, shika means deer, while yama means mountain

Feature photo by Mike Palumbo. Follow Mike on Instagram at @mikepalumbo_


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