As the 15 Chivas Masters finalists will find out during their time in Tokyo next month, the art of Japanese bartending is best summed up by four very distinct Ps as defined by Max Warner, Chivas Global Brand Ambassador: Pristine, Process, Precision and Politeness.
We speak to four influential bartenders from around the globe about each of the disciplines and how their visit/s to Tokyo has impacted on their respective careers.
What I’ve learned: Marian Beke on the importance of Process in Japanese bartending
“Process is everything in Japanese bartending. From the size of the bubbles to the temperature of each cocktail served, no detail is too small to be carefully considered. Things like what sort of ice should be used in each particular drink to get the correct dilution and temperature: block, cubes, chips, balls – there’s so much thought and hard work that goes into each stage of the drink making process.
Hisashi Kishi at Star Bar is a perfect example of Japanese process. Even how he stored his gins was fascinating. “Beefeater Gin? That’s very citrussy, we have it in the fridge. Plymouth Gin, that’s very junipery, so we have it in the freezer; a lower abv gin? That’s very light so we store it at room temperature,” that attention-to-detail for the final outcome of the drink and the process of the drink making was fascinating to me. Even his hard shake was developed over 15 years to get to where it is. That sums up Japanese process to me. They understand what they do and are continually thinking and questioning it. For me, the Japanese feel perfection can be achieved so they work on it every day.
When did you first visit Japan?
Around 11-12 years ago and I’ve been back about four times since. I’m not saying every young bartender should go but it is a fantastic place – not just for bartenders but for everyone.
On my first visit I was really surprised, by the attention-to-detail – that quest for perfection is something you see all over the country, from the shops and restaurants to the barbershops and of course, the bars. The Japanese have a very clear idea of doing things as perfectly as they can – nowadays the Japanese bartending technique is quite known but 12 years ago when I first experienced the ice balls, hard shake and that special way they have of jiggering so precisely, it was a real eyeopener for me.
Tools of the trade: standard three spike ice pick, £7.85; below: AG Gold Plated Cocktail Shaker, £66, urbanbar.com
Why was your visit important to you as a bartender?
The style of drinks are very different to what you find in Europe, particularly at the time I first visited. The cocktails are very classic and a little bitter although I haven’t been for the past few years and I’ve heard that is changing. What really stands out is that their focus is 100% on the perfect technique and hosting.
How has your visit impacted on your bartending career?
When I returned to London after my first visit (I was working with Ago Perrone at Montgomery Place in Notting Hill at the time), I started freezing mineral water and creating bigger chunks of ice in order to shake my cocktails – that was very much inspired by what I’d seen in Japan. We also introduced a Japanese jigger and started working with three-piece shakers – at that time people were only using tin and glass.
What was the most fascinating/inspiring thing regarding bartending/hospitality that you learned while you were in Tokyo?
It’s not just about the cocktails or the hard shake, what was most fascinating for me is how Japanese bartenders make their guests feel – the guest is the most important thing by far.
What tips would you give to anyone visiting Tokyo for the first time?
– Do your prep
– Get a guide to take you around, or hook up with a local. They know how to translate of course but they can also give you an insight into the meanings, traditions and rituals – that’s invaluable.
– If you plan to visit the bars, remember that they’re small and very hidden. Most of them are quite high up, and behind a Door A or Door B – prepare yourself to seek them out!
– Don’t just go to the places you’ve heard of – every bar is of a really high standard so be adventurous
– Carry cash with you. Not all places will take a card.
You can find Marian at his bar The Gibson, London