"Farm to Table" is a dining movement that promotes serving locally sourced food preferably through direct relationships with the farmer. Intended to provide better quality ingredients, it fosters a closer connection between producers and consumers. That same sentiment can be found in Bar BenFiddich (also seen as Ben Fiddich or Benfiddich). Here, the proprietor and bartender, Hiroyasu Kayama, is also producer, or as he would describe himself, "a bartender with a field". And it's in this small bar that Kayama practices what he calls, "Farm to Glass" principles, growing many of the ingredients used in his natural drinks. The concept is simple: he makes cocktails with ingredients harvested from his own fields and adjusts the equipment around them. The execution is unmatched. Bar BenFiddich is a regular on the 50 Best Bar List, placing #32 in 2021 and #48 in 2022. It's quintessential "cocktail bar Japan" and should be a mandatory stop for any craft cocktail enthusiast or professional mixologist visiting Tokyo's best cocktail bars.
Like many of the cocktail bars hidden in plain view across Tokyo, Bar BenFiddich is on the upper floors of a nondescript high-rise in West Shinjuku. The only indication that it leads to this fabled bar is a faded sticker on the callbox announcing: "MIXOLOGY & ELIXER BAR BenFiddich" Take the rickety elevator to the 9th floor and step inside.
BenFiddich is no ordinary bar. You'll find yourself surrounded by a variety of curiosities. Shelves lined with infusion-filled jars, oddly-shaped carafes filled with experimental liqueurs, and dried wormwood hanging from wooden rafters make the space feel like an alchemist's lab. This atmosphere of mystery and exploration is further enhanced by the presence of Kayama himself, who, clad in a white jacket sporting stains of purple and green, looks like he's just stepped out of a apothecary.
Herbs, twigs, sprigs, branches, leaves and spices lay out in the open. Kayama will grab one of the juniper berry branches and start stirring gin. Kayama's approach to cocktails is far from ordinary. Eschewing a traditional menu, he asks patrons to choose from four foundational spirits: whisky, gin, absinthe, or amaro. This isn't about mixing drinks; it's about crafting personalized experiences.
The Story Behind BenFiddich
The name of BenFiddich, much like the place itself, is inspired by nature. [Ben] → [Mountain] and [Fiddich] → [Deer]. And this focus on nature permeates the bar's ethos and flavors.
By day, Kayama can be found on his farm in the city of Chichibu, nurturing a myriad of plants that later find their way into his elixirs. The fields are abuzz with plum trees, hop bines, watermelons, each serving a unique purpose. It is from this rich harvest that Kayama distills his absinthe, transforming the fruits of his labor into liquid gold. This innovative farmer-bartender doesn't shy away from experimentation, whether it means aging bottles in a swamp or distilling the essence of his farm's terroir in a coffee siphon.
As night falls, Kayama makes the 90-kilometer journey to Tokyo. There, behind the lacquered wooden door of his bar, his farm-to-glass philosophy takes the center stage. Ben Fiddich isn't an ordinary bar; it's a place where absinthe, herbal liqueur, and aged spirits dance together in a mesmerizing symphony of flavors. When Kayama isn't a farmer tending his fields or a bartender crafting his drinks, he's an archeologist, searching for ancient valuables. Through his travels and online buying, he's sourced vintage vermouth and cognacs ranging back from the 1930s to 1950s, which he'll mix (at very reasonable prices) into his recipes. Chances are good you're drinking something a century old.
An Experience Like No Other
Do try to get a seat at the bar and immerse yourself in the magic. Kayama, clad in his famous white suit stained with purple and green, is a true showman. Watching him at work, plucking fresh herbs, tasting, sniffing, and tweaking until satisfied is an art form in itself. Then, with a flourish, your bespoke cocktail appears, served in an Art Deco glass that has been hand-picked for its presentation.
The price for this immersive experience, you wonder? The all-inclusive cost of each cocktail, including a 10% "seat charge" and a 10% service charge/tip, averages $20+ USD. A perfectly reasonable price for an establishment of this caliber.
Customers rave about the imaginative cocktails made with high-quality ingredients and the quiet, epic ambiance. The bartender and his team of just two bar backs are hospitable and welcoming, diligently curating a drink to everyone's liking in this dark, quiet setting. Be warned, though: there's a five-minute grace period, and reservations are crucial.
It’s important to note that this place takes its craft seriously. With each cocktail carefully perfected, don't expect to be served in a flash! Patrons recommend the smoked gin & tonic and the fruit brandy-based cocktails, but it's worth letting the mixologist surprise you. Just tell him.
Another unforgettable creation is the "Fresh Campari Cocktail". Not content with merely using bottled Campari, Kayama prepares his own version right in front of you. This feat of mixology involves the careful blending of 13 ingredients, including angelica root, cardamon, and swertia japonica, among others. The end result is a stunning rendition of a classic Campari cocktail, imbued with a depth and complexity that can only come from Kayama's meticulous craftsmanship. Photos: https://note.com/benfiddich/n/nb305820b709f