Looking at the Nordic: Copenhagen
As Nordic bars increasingly draw more attention from the global bar community, Haley Forest looks at what makes the cities unique, pushing the boundries and inspiring both the local scene and the broader drinks landscape.
It’s safe to say the Nordic Food Movement is well and truly a thing. Taking inspiration from the seasons and sourcing as local as possible, there is almost an air of quaintness while still maintaining a clean grace the world has come to assume from Scandinavian cuisine and design. Restaurants from Japan to London to San Francisco are embracing a simple approach to flavours and presentation, allowing the ingredients to shine through in their own right. But what about the bars? Where food goes, drinks often follow openings up to notions deeply rooted with the culinary world.
The Nordic Influence
With Noma, the forerunner in Nordic cuisine, located in the Danish capitol it comes as no surprise that bars there also have started to think in the same vein. Rasmus Shepard-Lomborg, owner of Ruby and Lidkoeb, observed his guests opening their mouths and minds for new things: “Due to the surge in good nordic restaurants we also see our clientele being more and more adventurous with regards to what they’re ready to try.” Lidkoeb, nominated this year for International High Volume Cocktail Bar for Spirited Awards (along with it’s sister bar Ruby), has rolled with the times since they’ve been open evolving right along with their guests. Long time Lidkoeb bartender, Patrick Graser, has been there for over two years. “We’re considered to be a nordic bar although we never intended to,” he says. “There was no ’nordic bar‘ until now. We are now at a point where we run a part of the menu (4 out of 12 drinks) with only nordic produce.”
As local bartenders have become interested in domestic products and flavours, so too have their guests. “It is a response,” says Patrick. “But definitely more and more people ask for it (local products) before being mentioned.” It’s impossible to talk about Scandinavian liquor without mentioning Aquavit; it’s popularity is only growing as bars around the world are using it as a primary liquid. Lidkoeb has three drinks with Aquavit right now: One is a Nordic julep with hickory smoked Aquavit, chervil and birch syrup and other is barrel aged and turned into an old fashioned.
Beyond the obvious Scandi spirit, however, is a whole new generation of whiskies, vodkas and local liquids that are arising. While the rest of the world realized that the Danish take craft beer to a whole other level with the likes of Mikkeller and Evil Twin, the rise of danish spirits familiar and still different has been something to take note of. Stauning, with their distillery on the West coast of Denmark, have been producing whisky since 2006 using traditional methods, but with their own twists. Their Rye, for example, is highly proportionally rye using house malted grain that is then aged in new white oak barrels. It has been incredibly successful and frequently sells out between years.
With the influx of destination diners, there have also been destination drinkers and traveling bartenders. With them comes ideas of how the rest of the world operates, and once again, the normal procedures get pushed. Søren Sørenson, who owned Ourselves Alone (before it was flooded last year) spent several years working in Germany and New York before coming back to open his own bar. “Denmark’s bar scene is a young bar scene and has been heavily influenced by the UK scene,” he explained. “Ten years ago some amazing bartenders from London and Edinburgh moved back to Scandinavia and the systems and programmed at every much based on that foundation.”
International is now local
Now many bars and restaurants in Copenhagen are staffed and/or owned by a very international set of bartenders who were drawn to the Scandinavian way, and naturally they brought with them tricks of their foreign markets which morphed into a new kind of Danish technique. “Things seem to get more extreme in Scandinavia,” says Søren. “When a Scandinavian bartender heard that this is the way, that becomes a basic starting point to be built upon.”
Geoffrey Canilao moved from New York several years ago and worked in the now defunct speakeasy The Union (owned by a British expat), recently opened his own bar in a historically listed building in the center of town. Embracing the local history and culture, he wanted it to feel familiar while still pushing what danish drinks could be. “Balderdash is influenced by the Nordic Food movement and its surroundings,” says Geoffrey, “but not necessarily by its flavour profile but the thinking and philosophy on creating a product and running a sustainable bar program. I wanted the guest to have familiar drinks like a Manhattan but not necessarily feel they are in NYC but in Copenhagen.”
With Copenhagen bars constantly upping their game, they have reached a point where they could thrive anywhere, not just in Scandinavia. It is well worth a trip for any bartender looking for something different and inspiring, that can still feel intrinsically like home.