Food & Drinks

Japanese cocktails magician at city bar

kayam

Procera Gin CEO Guy Brennan (R) with Hiroyasu Kayama, award-winning Japanese bartender and owner Bar Benfiddich. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • There is no fitting way to describe a Japanese cocktail more than eccentric.
  • Egg yolks, tabasco sauce, and black pepper have a place in the drink, and so are tomato sauce and soy sauce.
  • Multiple award-winning Japanese bartender and owner Hiroyasu Kayama has brought this oriental magic to Kenya.

There is no fitting way to describe a Japanese cocktail more than eccentric. Egg yolks, tabasco sauce, and black pepper have a place in the drink, and so are tomato sauce and soy sauce.

When it comes to cocktail crafting, the people of the “Land of the Rising Sun” have little regard for convention. And with this adventure comes the magic.

Multiple award-winning Japanese bartender and owner Hiroyasu Kayama has brought this oriental magic to Kenya.

Kayama will be in the country this month to showcase a variety of handcrafted cocktails made from different local and Japanese ingredients and train local bartenders and mixologists.

Kayama’s Bar Benfiddich in Tokyo was voted the 32nd best bar in the world in 2021 by World’s 50 Best Bars. It is also the fifth-best bar in Asia’s 50 Best Bars last year.

It is not difficult to see how he has earned these accolades. With his speed with the equipment and ingredients, his skilful movements around the bar counter and the way he holds the shaker with kung fu-like deftness, watching Kayama prepare a cocktail is an ecstatic experience.

But it is the ability to tell what herb, spice and garnish go well with what spirit that sets this bartender apart.

So, how does the Kenyan bar scene compare with the Japanese one?

“The two countries have different cultures and attitudes towards alcohol. Being here allows me to bridge these differences by crafting drinks using Japanese methods and Kenyan ingredients,” said Kayama during an interview at Hero Bar, Trademark Hotel, Nairobi.

Kayama says he is inspired by the passion of Kenyan bartenders working to raise the profile of the country’s bar scene.

“Bartending is a lucrative career globally at the moment and bartenders are some of the best-paid professionals in the beverage supply chain. Kenyan bartenders could earn a lot of money in Dubai and Europe, but they have chosen to work here to promote the industry,’’ he says.

Skills transfer through interactions and inter-continental exchange programmes between top bars and involving mixologists is one of the trends in bartending globally at the moment.

This allows mixologists to gain exposure and acquire new inspirations in their craft. On what it takes for a bar to be recognised universally, Kayama says bartenders have to be extremely passionate about their work.

“They must be willing to push boundaries. The sad reality, though, is that only a few bartenders in the world have this kind of passion,’’ says Kayama, adding that the bolder and more flexible one is, the better they become.

Kenya’s bar scene may be going global, but this rise has also highlighted wide gender gaps in the industry. In Kenya, like elsewhere in the world, the majority of bartenders are male.

“Out of 10 bartenders in Japan, only two are female. The picture is slowly changing, with more women taking up a career in mixology.”

Kayama says that as the industry evolves, it has a good chance to support female talent.

Is there a business case in this endeavour? Senior brand manager Josephine Katambo at East African Breweries Limited (EABL) #ticker:EABL thinks there is.

“Kayama’s visit to Kenya is part of efforts to unite the mixologists community and promote responsible drinking,” says Josephine Katambo.

During his stay, Kayama will conduct cocktail masterclasses as well as introduce cocktail fans to innovative drinks.

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