How can we create memorable and exciting cocktailmenues by taking global trends and bringing them down to a local level?
Text: Alex Ruas Foto: Nadin Martinuzzi
When I go home I turn on my computer and check the updates in social media related to my industry, and all the new trends and techniques out there. But there was a time when information wasn’t as readily available as it is today. I’m sure you can remember, if you try really hard. It was a time of reading books, visiting fellow bartenders and late nights of studying. I went to HoteI and tourism school to study bartending and waiter craft. After absorbing new knowledge, I would go home or to my bar and try to create something that I thought my guests would like to experience. I always thought I had invented something new and creative. Not until I started to research the Internet or magazines did I realize that the same cocktail had already been made a couple of months earlier or even years ago. But for me it was new, it was a product of my imagination, my personal experience and idea of what my guests might like. I didn’t google a recipe or scroll down a drink blog, it was a result of trying and failing, and trying again.
The down side of this constant stream of information is that we stop thinking by ourselves and start copying everyone else. We lose the story aspect, the process from idea to end product, the feeling of presenting something unique.
The truth is that most people have no idea what they want when they enter a bar. We, the bartenders, are the decision makers; ultimately the guest will drink what you give them. This goes for almost any bar in the world. Of course people want quality drinks, perfectly executed and in appropriate glassware, but most importantly they want a memorable experience. They want a story to tell, a memory to go with that Instagram photo. But then we have to stop telling the same stories, and instead make our own!
I have been in Norway for 5 years already, and I´ve met some really interesting people that take their jobs as bartenders very seriously. What I notice is that the Nordic cuisine is becoming more and more influential, we are seeing Michelin restaurants pop up in Oslo – Stockholm – Copenhagen especially. But if you go back 30 to 40 years you would find a rather dull and stagnant food culture in Scandinavia. What changed? What they did was exactly what all bartenders do… they copied what was happening internationally, but they added their own heritage and sourced the ingredients locally, understanding that the techniques used in international cooking is essential, but presentation and palate should reflect the local culture.
I talked to the guys at Fuglen, trying to understand what sets them apart. Robin Sohrabi-Shiraz had a great theory. When he began working at Fuglen he did not have any experience from the bar industry, he used to play in a band, and most of what he knew, he learned from Halvor Skiftun Digernes, the bar manager at the time. Halvor is now taking care of Fuglen Tokyo, and the soon to open branch in NYC. Robin takes all his life experience and tries to express it trough cocktails. He gave me a good example: as a kid he used to hang out with his friends in the woods, and when it got cold, they made a campfire. The smoke aroma represents good memories for Robin, so he smoked water, froze it and used the smoked ice cubes in bourbon cocktail. He used an experience from his own life and translated it into a cocktail.
Cocktails should be a memorable experience, and there are several ways to go about creating this. I would urge bartenders to locally source their seasonal ingredients in order to engage the guest. Perhaps you can draw on your country’s history, maybe it tells of interactions with other cultures, such as import of spices or herbs from lands far away. A whiff of a familiar scent is enough to send us back in time, and evoke emotions. The challenge here is to find the scents that draw on our collective memory bank, such as Robin’s memory of building a fire in the woods. This is where we will find our own identity as bartenders and bar owners, in the crossing between new and familiar, tradition and adventure.