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The Top 10 Takeaways from Oslo Bar Show 2017

The Oslo Bar Show 2017 was recently celebrated and we headed to the often overlooked Norwegian capital and found an evolving event, which is fast becoming the prime bar show in the Nordics.

Just two years after its inception, the Oslo Bar Show has become one of the major events for the bar industry in the Nordic countries. Held in The Thief, arguably Oslo’s most opulent crash pad, the daytime saw a raft of seminars from some of the industry’s most famous names, before an evening of exhibitor showcases and the parties our industry is so well known for. As an educational event, the Oslo Bar Show 2017 undoubtedly hit the mark. Here are our top 10 takeaways from the Oslo Bar Show 2017.

1) At Oslo Bar Show 2017: Everyone’s talking about menu creation

The days of anodyne menus are behind us. Many bars brought their A-game menus to the Norwegian capital, whether it was for pop-up bars or as the basis for their seminars. The big topic at the Oslo Bar Show 2017 was the creative process. Dandelyan explained how they came up with their Modern Botany menu – a year-long process, including an honest look at what they found didn’t work in their previous menu: there were too many flowers, and the language was confusing. Vassilis Kyritsis from The Clumsies argued there are four crucial parts to a great menu: story, taste categories, tricky names, and design (of everything from garnishes and colors to glassware).

There were some innovative menus also in play at the pop-up bars strewn across the venue. Most notable was Open/Closed’s (Umeå, Sweden) collaboration with Naked Grouse for their Swedish Midsummer celebration. “The Shim” with Naked Grouse, lemon, pickled herring, salt, potato, and butter was an earthy delight.

2) Asia is the third part of the Super League

As we noted in our preview for the Oslo Bar Show 2017, Asia played a big role in this year’s program. There were packed houses for 28 Hong Kong Street’s seminar with Zdenek Kastanek and Jason Williams and Hidetsugu Ueno’s talk. Then, Lorenzo Antinori, an alumnus of the American Bar at the Savoy and now at Charles. H in Seoul, delivered a highly interesting take on the difficulties inherent in running a bar in South Korea. The Super League of Bartending in America and Europe increasingly looks like it needs to incorporate a new continent.

3) Aquavit has more in common with tequila than you may think

It wouldn’t be a trade show in Norway without a focus on Aquavit. Lo and behold, attendees were treated to a talk by aquavit aficionado Jørgen Dons on the Linie brand, playfully entitled “Crossing the Linie.” In addition to trying some top-notch concoctions and finding out that NYC has essentially adopted the spirit – bars including Dead Rabbit, NoMad, and PDT use it – it faces a surprisingly tricky time on home turf. Comparing it to the prejudice Tequila faces by many, Dons explained that Aquavit is something Norwegians typically first experience after a big, heavy meal – like a Christmas dinner – or by stealing it from the family liquor cabinet. Like tequila, that’s a brutal first experience for many which isn’t very conducive to appreciating the finer points of the spirit. The re-education here starts at home.

4) Tiki is everywhere

In addition to a sparky discussion led by Daniele Dalla Pola on the topic of Tiki, the guys from the Absolut Elyx House brought the tiki vibe up to The Thief rooftop as things got rolling on day one. The space was a kaleidoscope of flamingos, pineapples and zesty drinks. The theme continued into the evening as guests headed over to the exhibitor showcase at the rooftop bar Taket, with a very Tiki-friendly bar in the entrance area. Have the Nordics caught the Tiki bug?

5) The Nordics have some great new distillers…

We had the chance to meet Bareksten, winners of the Double Gold award in San Francisco for their botanical, highly natural gin and run by the charming Stig Bereksten of Oss Craft Distillery. Then there was also Bivrost by Aurora Spirit, producers of gin, vodka, aquavit, and whiskey. Currently only available in Norway, we look forward to their international distribution beginning this winter. And last but not least, Kyrö Distillery’s Napue Gin was in attendance from Finland. It’s a rye-based gin which has already won the IWSC G&T competition in 2015 and is making a big splash in Europe, too.

6) …but the worldwide big guns were in town too

Dandelyan by Diageo, The Clumsies with Fernet Branca, Nico de Soto and Thibault Mequignon (Mace & Danico) with Veuve Clicquot: the big brands collaborated with many of the speakers. They also played a big part as exhibitors. Particularly prominent were Jägermeister, who held a special presentation for their recently foray into super-premium: Jägermeister Manifest. That’s not forgetting their big presence at the centre of the rooftop bar Taket during the exhibitors showcase, with many revellers sporting their identifiable orange garlands.

7) Everyone’s eating humble pie

In an ambitious industry creating many new stars, there was a surprising message that resonated this year. Dandelyan’s straight-talking Alex Lawrence told all his bartenders to leave their ego at the door. Vassilis Kyritsis said the The Clumsies emphasised how their bar is focused first and foremost on the customer having fun.

And even someone with an A-List resume like Lorenzo Antinori wasn’t ready for the challenges apparent at running a bar in South Korea – notably the ban on many items such as mezcal, Peychaud’s bitters and Angostura, all of which have only recently been repealed. Oh, and the shortage of limes which has left him using dekopon (a type of mandarin orange) or citrus syrups as a replacement.

High ambition is all well and good, but only if it’s accessible to the standard customer. Consider that humble pie eaten.

8) Himkok was on everybody’s lips…

If there was one bar all international visitors were keen to visit, it was the bartenders’ theme park of Himkok. This resulted in heavy crowds on the Saturday and Sunday. All with good reason – it’s a bar which matches wonder with technical prowess and true innovation. That was enough to see it run away with two victories at the Nordic Bar awards: Best Bar in Norway and Best High Volume Bar – matching its total last year.

9) …but The Thief played a blinder too

Including the Bar Personality of the Year prize for head bartender Chris Grøtvedt, The Thief snuck past Himkok’s total with three prizes on the night itself. It also acted as a fabulous host for the daytime events – particularly its rooftop bar with unmatched views over the cityscape and the islands off the Oslo coast.

Speaking to Chris after the show, it appears this will be The Thief’s final year as host for the majority of the show. There’s little space left for expansion and the team want to move the locations more downtown. The Thief has been a great host for the show, but with all the day events held there, and the evening at Taket, there was little opportunity to explore the rest of the city’s thriving drinking scene.

10) The Nordics got their due

The early part of the awards ceremony saw The Thief and Himkok sweep the board (with a prize also going to Norwegian newcomers Vinyl), but the awards kept their sights on the entire Nordic region too. It was Denmark’s Lidkoeb which took the Best Bar prize, with Swedish bartender Emil Seth Åreng taking the prize for Best Bartender. The awards – and the show itself – managed the careful balancing act of awarding and educating the entire Nordic region. Although it would be great to see Iceland and Finland with some more representation in the future. And if the Oslo Bar Show keeps growing the way it has been, we’re sure there’ll be even more exciting Nordic bars next year.

Credits

Foto: Photos via Oslo Bar Show.

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