You’re trapped on a desert island, but the good news is that you can bring five bottles of booze with you to pass the time for you and your friends. Look, there’s even ice and bar tools—you’re all set. What would you choose?
Let's not mince words, Hiroyasu Kayama runs one of the world's finest bars. Tokyo's Bar BenFiddich, located on the ninth floor of an office tower in Shinjuku, is an absolute sensation, and Kayama is the dedicated mad scientist behind the endeavor.
Kayama at Bar BenFiddich
He churns out wildly inventive concoctions from a bar he keeps stocked with an eclectic range of vintage spirits, herbs he grows in his own garden and dozens of tinctures and ingredients he produces from them, as well as a seemingly endless range of tools, gadgets and glassware. All of this makes him an excellent candidate for our desert-island booze series, so we checked in with him to see what he would select to bring with him and why.
"It's Underberg," proclaims Kayama. "Because it's good for the body." Indeed it is, made from a secret recipe incorporating herbs from 43 countries.
But it's more than that. The cult-favorite bitter digestif is said to be a cure-all for everything from a bad hangover to too much food, and it's the just the type of magical elixir you could imagine Kayama putting to use in some imaginative fashion. Or maybe he just doesn't want to be hung over.
"Because this is also good for the body," says Kayama, who apparently is quite concerned with his health and well-being while stranded on an island. The Botanist is made by Bruichladdich and incorporates 22 wild, foraged botanicals picked on Islay, which clearly appeals to Kayama's own sensibilities.
He puts The Botanist to use at BenFiddich, too. On one visit, he muddled the gin with dried wormwood flower and fresh wormwood leaf, which he combined with a steeped mixture of honey, fresh lime and hot water, along with a house-made club soda incorporating lemon, rosemary and mint, which he carbonated at the bar with a massive canister of CO2. He poured it all into a massive goblet and topped off his Garden cocktail with four more fresh herbs. That's what goes into a single drink at BenFiddich, and hey, we told him he has all of the tools he wants, so he may as well use ’em.
Whiskey is one of Kayama's favorite spirits categories, so it's no surprise it works into his top five. As for why he chose Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve, Kayama knows exactly what he plans to do with it. "Because I want to drink it before going to bed at night!"
Kayama selects another iconic brand for his next bottle. "It's Hennessy V.S.O.P," he says. "Good balance." As for his plans here, he'll actually serves it warm, as a hot brandy. "I want to warm it up at night," he says.
Taking a classic spirit or cocktail and transforming it into a hot riff of the original is another of his staple strategies at BenFiddich. For instance, when a Last Word was once requested, the result was a heated combination of Green Chartreuse, honey, lime and gin, which he warmed up in a copper kettle rig on the bar before setting it all ablaze and serving it in a clear glass tea cup.
"Absinthe—I just like that," says Kayama. When you enter BenFiddich for the first time, he'll probably tell you that absinthe is one of his specialties, and in addition to serving a vintage selection of it, he even produces his own.
Clearly, he's thought better of the idea of trying to do so while on the island, so instead he opts for Paul Devoille Libertine absinthe, an all-natural absinthe made by a family-owned distillery that grows its own wormwood. "If you can take it to the desert island, I will drink it every day,” says Kayama. Deal.
Mixing your cocktail