What I’ve learned: Vasilis Kyritsis on Precision in Japanese bartending

I still remember my experience at Gen Yamamoto. This to me was the art of simplicity. A bar with only 10 bottles on the back bar, no bar stations, no extraordinary bar stuff, no lab – nothing. Only the bartender, a shaker, a muddler and some of the most interesting and complex flavour combinations I have ever tasted in my life.

This is just one of the many things that struck me about Japanese bartenders. They really focus on what appear to be simple, classic cocktails but at the same time all of the details that go into creating the drinks they make is very complex. Take ice for instance. The precision that goes into something so straightforward is extraordinary. Every detail is considered, from the size and shape that they cut their ice for shaking or stirring, to the way that they place the ice  into the shaker or mixing glass, it’s all very meticulous and carefully thought out. They also have many ways of cutting the ice to use in various drinks. Then there are the hard shakes… There are different styles of hard shake and stirring techniques depending on the philosophy of every bartender. Ueno-san at Bar High Five was a little faster with his shake while Mr Kazuo Uyeda from Tender Bar did his hard shake in a more traditional way. Again, this is about precision.
One of the highlights of my career was having the opportunity to work one night at Ueno-san’s bar. I cleaned all the bottles and the glassware and only then did I have the opportunity to make one drink for a guest. I felt honoured and proud that Ueno-san gave me the chance to make a drink behind his bar.

When did you first visit Tokyo?

I went to Japan in 2014 and sadly I haven’t had the chance to go back. But I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences of my life – it’s a completely different world.

Why was your visit important to you as a bartender?

I believe that Japanese bartenders have a completely different philosophy to any other bartenders in the world. But from the things that I saw I realised that’s the way they face life – always with a different point of view. The compact space of the bars, the mentality of the bartenders, the serenity in their faces – it’s something that you see everywhere in the city.

How has your visit impacted on your bartending career?

Aside from observing the precise techniques mentioned before, the thing that impressed me most was the way Japanese bartenders combine flavours; they play with the umami sense in a very special, reverential way; that and the importance of their guests gave me a lot of inspiration.

What was the most fascinating/inspiring thing regarding bartending/hospitality that you learned while you were in Tokyo?

I received a lot of inspiration from just walking around the city. People would see that we looked lost and would not only offer to help but would actually drive us to our destination. The respect that everyone has for each other, no matter their likes and dislikes, that really stood out for me. I really loved the attitude of Japanese people, how humble they are when they serve you their drinks in bars. The way that they treat food. All the small details really make a huge and lasting impression.

Top: Clever Tongs Economy and above: Perfect Serve Collection Mixing Glass, both bar-times-store.tokyo

What tips would you give to cocktail lovers visiting Tokyo for the first time?

– Go to a Kabuki theatre to explore some of the traditional history of Japan
– Try to arrange a tea ceremony with one of the masters
– Enjoy as much sushi and Japanese food as you possibly can
– Be sure to visit some temples – they are a great source of inspiration to a bartender
– Don’t miss enjoying the hospitality and drinks at Bar High Five, Star Bar, Gen Yamamoto, Tender Bar and Orchard Bar

Visiting Athens? You can find Vasilis at The Clumsies, voted No. 9 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.

#ChivasMasters #ontheroadtotokyo

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