SOUNDLESS: THE ART OF JAPANESE BARTENDING
SOUNDLESS: THE ART OF JAPANESE BARTENDING
Two of Asia’s best bartenders, Rogerio Igarashi (Bar Trench, Tokyo) and Hisatsugu Saito (Ars & Delecto, Shanghai) were the stars of two Aussie bar takeovers hosted by Nikka in late September. For one night only, at Door Knock in Sydney and 1806 in Melbourne, Igarashi and Saito served up five delicious, bespoke cocktails – including the Trench 75, a take on the French 75 especially for the Aussie market – all mixed with Nikka products, including the newly released gin and vodka. Nursing somewhat of a headache, BARS&clubs caught up with the duo the following day to get know them a little better.
IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR YOU’VE NOTICED ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN SCENE
ROGER IGARASHI: One thing I would say about the Australian customer – we have a lot of Australians coming to our bar in Tokyo too – is that they are quite conscious about what they want to have and what they want to drink. If they order a G&T or a gimlet, they’ll point to that gin, or that gin. So flavourwise they’re quite knowledgeable about what they want. Also, you guys drink really fast!
HOW WOULD YOU GUYS DEFINE ‘JAPANESE BARTENDING’?
HISATSUGU SAITO: For me, Japanese bartending is welcoming people with hospitality from the beginning to the end. It’s focusing on the small details, with lots of preparation, and providing an all-round experience. It’s all about balance.
RI: If I could choose a word to explain a Japanese bartender I would say ‘soundless’. Even in service, we talk less, we try to realise things before we talk. All of the time we are respecting the other person; even when making cocktails, we try to respect the customer having a conversation – when I open and close a fridge door, and when I walk I try to not make noise, because their conversation is more important than me making noise. The bar could be loud, but there’s always the feeling from the bartender of trying to make less sound.
HOW DID YOU EACH GET INTO BARTENDING?
HS: I started bartending years ago, because I like to make things. Sometimes when you make things, you don’t get to see a reaction, but with cocktails, the reaction of the guest is obvious.
RI: I was working as a photographer’s assistant and also doing two or three shifts a week at Bar Tram. At first I really didn’t want to work as a bartender, because I like going to sleep early and waking up early – but there was something I couldn’t run away from! When I had to make a decision between photography and bartending, I chose food and beverage and still haven’t given up.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE OR LEAST FAVOURITE THING ABOUT BEING A BARTENDER?
RI: I’ve been bartending for 18 years, but still my weak point is between 11 and midnight – I still get so sleepy. On my days off, I’m often asleep by 9pm. I still don’t like the late nights.
HS: Bartending is super hard, and the work never seems to end, but I love being lots of things at once: a chef, a host, and everything else – so many things in one role.
WHY DO YOU THINK THERE ARE SO MANY GOOD BARS (AND BARTENDERS) COMING OUT OF ASIA AT THE MOMENT?
RI: I’m not sure, I would ask the same question myself! Especially Singapore and Hong Kong – all the guys are amazing bartenders, who have worked all over the world. Both cities are very cosmopolitan, with guests that travel a lot. Amazing bartenders from all around the world, including Japan, are moving there too, to open a venue or manage a venue.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE NEW NIKKA GIN AND VODKA?
RI: The Nikka Gin is peppery, but not black pepper – a wet, green pepper. But how do you describe a gin that is peppery and wet in words? But once you taste it, you can understand the freshness – it’s not a dry citrus, it’s more wet. The vodka also has that oily nature too.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR BARTENDERS LOOKING FOR LONGEVITY IN THIS INDUSTRY?
RI: I think every bartender when they start, they think that to be a good bartender is to make delicious cocktails, or know techniques – but over the years I’ve realised the delicious cocktail is only five or ten percent of the whole experience. You end up learning that the interaction with people, the giving and receiving from customers is the most important thing. If you focus too much on the drinks, you might forget that the person over there just wants a gin and tonic. But it’s a balance – you need to study too.
WHAT’S YOUR DESERT ISLAND COCKTAIL?
HS: Blood and Sand.