Rethinking the Nordic cocktail with Kasper Riewe-Høgh
Kasper Riewe-Høgh is one of the pioneering bartenders in the field of Nordic drinks.
We did a small interview with him in Copenhagen while visiting Duck and Cover.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by new ways of thinking, challenging classic thinking patterns and choices. I like new approaches. So rethinking, but not necessarily reinventing. Rediscovering. I think it’s interesting to not only develop and move forward in drinks but also sometimes dig a little deeper and also move backwards. I think in the Nordic drinks scene it’s good to look a little bit back and see what we have done and how we have preserved stuff and used different kinds of ingredients which were more commonly used a few decades back but we have now forgotten about. It would be wrong to say that art also inspires me because I don’t go to art museums and such too often, but there are certain places that I love visiting. It could be art in the form of furniture, classic paintings, food… I’m inspired by passionate people who make an effort into what they do.
I think it’s interesting to not only develop and move forward in drinks but also sometimes dig a little deeper and also move backwards.
In your own work as a bartender, what would you describe as specifically Nordic?
That’s what we’re trying to figure out at the moment (in Duck and Cover). Now that we all make great classic drinks, what’s the next step? Some people have gone towards modern equipment, and that’s one way to do it. But we’re trying to figure out what truly sets us apart from others. What can we do that can’t be done anywhere else. What kind of ingredients and history we have etc. For me it’s a lot about the culture, a lot about the nature. And when I say nature it’s also thinking seasons. What is good now to buy, what can we forage, how can we preserve things to make them last. In my opinion what we do is a little more grandmother and a little less Noma. There’s a plenty of interesting techniques, but I think it’s more important to just understand the ingredients better.
Now that we all make great classic drinks, what’s the next step?
In your opinion, what should be done to make Nordic bartending more visible globally?
I think there’s probably not just one way of doing Nordic bartending, but I think it would be interesting to explore our native spirits, ingredients and how we drink a bit more and maybe even rethink the whole term “cocktail”. Do we have to do cocktails? Or is there a Nordic “cocktail”? And what even is Nordic? If you look at ingredients, not a lot of them are actually originally Nordic. Like, not even a potato is actually Nordic, but we consider it to be a very Nordic ingredient. So is it about the stuff we have historically had through spice routes and such, or is it something that has to have been growing here forever. Does it make a drink Nordic if you do a whiskey sour and add sorrel? Maybe we should sometimes forget the whole word cocktail. Maybe we should rethink things like temperature. Let’s call it drinks maybe to open up our horizons. Why not serve a drink poured out of a bottle in room temperature for example.
Do we have to do cocktails? Or is there a Nordic “cocktail”? And what even is Nordic?
What types of products do you hope to get from local producers?
Not that I can come up with right now, but one the things that limits most of the places of going a little deeper into this is that it is very time consuming. If you go foraging yourself or it’s very expensive to pick up some of the ingredients. It would be cool to facilitate an easier access to local goods. Many restaurants work with small farms, some bars too, but in broad broad perspective it’s not easy for a small bar to order a kilo of produce at a time directly from the farm. If someone could facilitate that once a week we do collective orders and then those are delivered to bars would be the next step. To make those ingredients more available.
How does the locality show in the ways of drinking in Copenhagen?
For us most people come here because we are known for doing local stuff so a lot of them want to try that. And it’s definitely featured in our menu. But in general, I think that visitors, tourists etc are much more eager to try local stuff than the locals are. This is a niche industry. Most local customers still go for internationally known classics very easily.
Has something changed in this field recently?
I think a lot has, it’s been crazy. One thing we have benefited a lot from is that it’s become cool to have an opinion on what you eat and drink. It’s in now. And that’s cool, because people are taking a stand and don’t just order to become drunk. They actually have an idea of what they want to drink. And that’s when you start to see them asking for local stuff and try local distilleries and herbs and so on. And I think we have to thank the whole restaurant industry for that change. When I started working, people went out during weekends, and drank to get drunk and party. Now you have supermarkets doing gin tasting days and stuff like that which is great. The amount of people caring about this stuff is ever increasing.
What’s the number one thing in drinks in Copenhagen right now?
I think the most important thing is that there’s a lot of quality in Copenhagen, but that there’s also a lot of diversity. Not two bars look the same. One thing that is very prevalent of which I don’t fully agree with is celebrating small scale producers. I mean, how can you not love craftmanship, but I’m just done celebrating amateurism. There’s too much of it. Sometimes you end up with worse products than what you started with when some small scale dude decides to make something in the basement. Celebrating amateurs is in, and it’s horrible. Lets celebrate quality, despite of scale!