At the heart of the Cocktail Revolution in Oslo stands a bunch of influential bartenders. I never thought I would be part of it when I mixed my first drink, a horrible Pina Colada.
At the age of 17, the only thing I was sure of, was that I didn’t want to study. My parents weren’t very happy with that and ultimately told me that if I did not study, I had to find a job. I was staying at my uncle’s house in the south of Portugal for the summer. My CV was terrible, I hadn’t even finished high school, but I was willing to learn and left it around town anywhere I went. After a stint as a life guard, watching over annoying little boys and girls whilst working on my tan, I got a call from a small beach resort in the middle of Carvoeiro, that needed bartenders. The 3 star resort Carvoeiro Sol catered to tattooed people from Liverpool, that loved getting wasted by the pool. I saw it as an opportunity to be like Tom Cruise!
The bar manager was the hotel managers son. He showed me around the bar, explaining all the spirits on the shelves, the tools of the trade and ultimately showed me his very own cocktail book. He was very proud, and said: “Alex, have a good shift. Just hold on to this book and everything will be ok”. And then he left.
I was left in a strange environment, but fortunately, my first costumers were an English couple. They were super nice, and ordered two Pina Coladas. I had seen the drink in movies, but still had to consult the cocktail book for a recipe. It went as follows:
50 ml White Rum
20 ml Malibu
20 ml Batida de Coco
70 ml Pineapple juice
I told the couple to have a seat and commenced my first cocktail ever. I had no idea what rum was, and the only thing I found was a black navy rum, so you can understand just how special this Pina Colada was going to be! I followed the rest of the recipe, added some Monkeys on a stick. I looked at what I had made. The drink was black, not white, and didn’t look anything like what i remembered a Pina Colada should look like, but the couple had now been waiting for 30 minutes, so I served it anyway.
The guy complained that it was one of the worst Pina Coladas he had ever tasted, but luckily he was a bartender back in England. He pointed to a bottle of Bacardi Superior on the shelf, and that’s when I had my first a-ha moment: using different spirits in drinks really makes a difference!
Since that day, over 12 years ago, I have been working in this industry. I studied at the Hotel and Tourism school in Lisbon, and have worked in everything from 5 star hotels to night clubs and upscale cocktail bars, traveled to the main cocktail cities in the world to experience and learn from what bartenders everywhere are doing. I have now been working in Norway for 6 years, and my work influences what people in Oslo drink and how. Every step of the way has been influenced by the former, and the end result would have not been possible without every happening along the way.
Take the main ingredient of the Pina Colada, for instance: white rum. When Facundo Bacardi came from Spain to Cuba and set up his company in 1862, he revolutionized the way rum was manufactured. He took the unsophisticated local drink of aguardiente, and made it clean, crisp and delicate. This in turn made possible the many rum cocktails that followed, including the Pina Colada. When the USA later enforced the Prohibition Aera, many affluent americans flew to Cuba – tempted both by the sun and the delicious cocktails promoted by Bacardi. The history of nations influence their drinking habits, and drinking habits can influence the history of nations.
In the past 6 years Oslo has gone from having almost no cocktail bars, to having many – quite a few of which attract international attention. There are many factors that influenced this change, that has been termed the cocktail revolution of Oslo. One thing is that people travel more, both for pleasure and studies abroad, and then they come home with new drinking habits. Another factor is the rise in popularity of Scandinavian culture at large, both design and cuisine have climbed to international trend standards in the last few years. But most important nevertheless, is the bartenders. They are at the heart of the evolution of cocktail bars in this city.
The way that bartenders work to educate people on how to drink, by giving them the opportunity to experiment without leaving their comfort zone, is crucial for the success of any bar in particular, and the business in general. My company, Behind Bars Consulting, develops bar concepts, and our main goal is to approach the locals and make drinks that appeal to the people frequenting that specific neighborhood. We set up environments that made people comfortable, and make the bar approachable. The cocktail selection should both feel recognizable and fresh. For instance, at the advice of my fellow bartender Monica Berg we took an old timer like the Fjellbekk and made a fresh twist on it for a bar catering to a wide selection of people – both locals and tourists. Not surprisingly, it became a best seller. We call it the Fjellbekk-San, an honorary Japanese title, as a nod to the Yuzu sake and the Japanese tourists that love trolls and Norwegian nature. You can get the recipe in the article on Himkok.
The evolution will continue. Bartenders will strive to develop new cocktails influenced about both history and personal matters. But in this cocktail revolution I doubt we’ll see a new Pina Colada made with black navy rum.