In working out how best to use his 150-strong collection of Japanese whiskies, restaurateur Joel Best decided to build them a home. The recently opened, walk-in-only Bar Besuto in Circular Quay is the sibling to Best’s show-stopping 14-seat omakase restaurant Besuto. “I’ve been collecting for a few years now,” Best tells Broadsheet. “They’ve been at [Besuto], but kind of wasted because there’s no bar. I want people to be able to try them.”
His collection largely comprises rare whiskies, with around 50 cask-only bottles, meaning the distiller produced a single barrel of the liquid. Each is limited to just a few hundred bottles across the globe, so a sip here may be your only chance to enjoy them.
Among the rarest is a collection of an extra special malt and grain blend from Chichibu Distillery. One of Japan’s smallest distilleries, two hours’ drive west of Tokyo, it’s helmed by master distiller Ichiro Akuto, who makes only 500 bottles of the whisky each year. Five have won Best Blended Limited Release at the World Whiskies Awards, and Bar Besuto has every year since 2019 on offer. “[It’s a] collection you might not find anywhere else,” says Best.
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Wanting guests to sample as many drops as possible, Best is serving 15-millilitre nips instead of the usual 30, because “if there are 300 bottles of a particular whisky in the world, and we have one, 46 people get to taste it, instead of 23”. Meanwhile, flights – which might cover most, or all, of a distiller’s range – will offer 7.5- to 10-millilitre sips. In between tastings, guests can chat to Best or Jake Errey, Besuto’s venue manager, about the history and provenance of their drinks.
Although whisky is the main event here, there’s a tight cocktail list and a bar menu with inventive one-bite wonders. A miniature take on steak frites is perhaps the cleverest, with caviar-topped steak tartare riding on a crunchy rectangle of thin, umami-laden potato layers. And there’s Besuto’s Glacier 51 toothfish marinated in miso, which made the two-block trip to the laneway from the restaurant.
Best took his design cues from premium Japanese whisky bars, known for being hard to find with just a handful of seats. Bar Besuto occupies a hidden basement in an alleyway, and seats 30. Tom Mark Henry Studio took inspiration from the use of light in Noh theatre. Deep grey and midnight black tones contrast with the golden glow of the whisky bar as centrepiece, while jazz is the typical soundtrack. A tapestry by Sydney artist Chris Yee was commissioned for the venue, greeting guests from above as they make their descent.
It's the ideal spot to wait for your omakase experience at Besuto or head for a post-degustation tipple. “It’s all about educating people about Japanese whisky,” Best says. “And giving them the chance to taste rare whiskies they probably wouldn’t find anywhere else.”
3 Underwood Street, Circular Quay
Tue to Sat 4pm–midnight