• Laura Hujanen

The founders of Bartenders' Choice Awards: we need more patience in the bar industry

Bartenders are curious in nature, which has pros and cons. The co-founders of Bartenders’ Choice Awards, Joel Katzenstein and Jakob Sundin, have followed the development of Nordic drinks scene for more than 10 years and have witnessed the rise in confidence in local bartenders. Now they are hoping for more patience as Nordic bars aim for global recognition.

It is the 10th anniversary of Bartenders’ Choice Awards and the goal of bringing the Nordic cocktail family together is finally complete as Iceland joins the party in 2019. It makes Joel Katzenstein and Jakob Sundin very happy. But why was the gala founded in the first place?

– We wanted to create the most prestigious price for bars to strive for. Not a competition where one specific drink decides a winner but a price that celebrates the day to day grind and the importance of consistency that goes into running a great and successful bar, Katzenstein tells.

For the first seven years, BCA was hosted only in Sweden. The gala expanded to Finland, Denmark and Norway in 2017. Helping the local bars get international recognition has been one of the goals from the beginning.

– From my perspective there has been a strong connection between the Nordic community for some time but perhaps there is not focus or interest from international bar scene since we are quite a small cities, Sundin explains.

– If we can work as an united front, the attention we get is bigger and so is the impact.

Tjoget is one of the Nordic bars that has managed to get recognition in the global drink scene.

Patience is a virtue

During the first decade of BCA, Sundin and Katzenstein have noticed a change in the confidence of local bartenders.

– We have gone from super serious and almost pretentious if you will to more fun loving. Maybe that seriousness was a phase we had to take to be taken more seriously. Now we are in a very good place both for ourselves and for consumers also, Katzenstein tells.

But one thing they would like to see more is patience.

– Bartenders are very curious and that is why they are also very restless. It has pros and cons, Sundin says.

When it comes to pros, this restlessness moves the industry forward as bartenders embrace new trends constantly. On the other hand, these trends never make it to the consumers because bartenders move along so quickly.

– Maybe if we gave consumers a bit longer time to get into it, it would be different, Katzenstein ponders.

Some trends are here to stay, though. Sustainability and keeping things as seasonal as possible is one of them.

– A lot of quirky local ingredients seems to be integrated into drinks without bars having to make a fuss about it, Sundin says.

He also reminds that seasonality does not need to mean only using the ingredients that are in season but also being considerate of the flavour profiles that people yearn for during each season.

One bartender trend is making its way into the masses and that is low alcohol drinks.

– We have talked about low abv for so long. Maybe it was an actual trend in bar industry but consumers did not go for it at first. But now we see a lot of low abv sections on drink menus and also non alcoholic drinks are available.

Katzenstein adds that low alcohol drinks are a great way for consumers to get into cocktail world as they have more resemblance to the flavour profiles of wine and beer.

Embracing the Nordics

Bartenders’ Choice Awards is bigger than ever this year, with more than 20 events on the BCA week leading up to the gala on 8th of December in Stockholm. The festivities have already started with the nomination tour around the Nordics.

– This nomination tour has been set up so that we can get to know the other markets besides our home country Sweden, get to know the judges and do something with them. This is now second time we do this and atmosphere has been amazing. Hopefully we can expand for next year, Katzenstein tells.

Katzenstein and Sundin do not want to reveal too much about the future plans. Actions speak louder than words, they say.

– Right now we are so happy about having the whole Nordic community together finally. That is super big for us and we are going to enjoy that a bit before we move on to new things.

One thing is for sure: Katzenstein, Sundin and their team is going to embrace the Nordic drink scene more and more in the future.

Find out the nominees for Bartenders’ Choice Awards and vote for your favourite bar in the People’s Choice category here: https://www.bartenderschoiceawards.se/nominees-2018