Interview with Alex Skärlén - Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown

There are a lot of great bartenders in Sweden at the moment, but since it's a small country many of them try their luck elsewhere. One example is Copenhagen, where it feels like there's at least one Swedish bartender in every bar. Another popular destination for Swedish people in general is London, no wonder it's called Sweden's fourth largest city. There's where you'll find Swedish bartender Alex Skärlén - at the prestigious Experimental Cocktail Club in Chinatown. Earlier this year he competed in the World Class competition, and managed to get himself to the North European finals in Berlin.

Photo © Abdulai Kpekawa
How and when did you get your first bartender job?

I started about 9 years ago in Visby as a washer-up, one year later I moved up in ”the world” to bar-back at a night club. Then at the age of 18 a started to do shifts in the bar and by the age of 19 a started to work in cocktail-bars during the summers and nightclub during the winters but at the age of 22 I decided to work more or less only within cocktail-bars.

How did you get to work at ECC in London?

The bar manager at ECC China Town Nicolas de Soto went to Sthlm before opening ECC China Town so I showed him Sthlm. Then I wanted him to show me London but he ended up asking me if I wanted to move to London, not only to visit. He needed a bartender for the first of February which was in one week's time so I had to quit my job at Le Rouge and pack my bags.

What are your thoughts about your efforts in the World Class competition?

Ok, but I did not prepare enough because we were so busy at ECC. So if I enter next year I will make sure that I get more prepared for the competition. But it was a really fun trip and I met a lot of nice people and I had some good cocktails, so in the end everything was good!

Which are your favorite and least favorite drinks to make and why?

I like to do all sorts of drinks, I’m a bartender thats my job and I love it! But I would say it is extra fun if a guest gives you a drink and wants you to give it "a personal twist". My least favorite... Hmmmm. Anything that involves layering because I can be a little bit shaky when I’m suffering from the "cocktail flu".

Do you have a favorite kind of customer?

Not really but it's always fun to serve guys like Mr Peter Dorelli a Perfect Rum Manhattan or shake an Aviation for Erik Lorincz. I also like when you have these really stiff guests and in the end of the night they shake your hand and smile on their way out.

What do you like most about bartending?

Above all, the social contact. All the interesting and fun people you meet and also that we (bartenders) have the possibility to travel and see the world doing what we love. And of course the challenge of making good cocktails to people.

Do you have any special strengths or weaknesses as a bartender?

That’s a question my guests should answer. My job is to make their experience and drinks as good as possible.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

Anything that comes in my way! No, but it depends on what I feel like. Some nights a beer and a shot can make my night and some nights a nice Sweet Rum Old Fashioned or a nice Ragtime.

What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?

There are so much stuff going on so it's hard to say. But knowledge is power and technique is very important and it's going to be more and more essential.

How do the Stockholm bars compare to London's?

I think they are doing awesome with what they got. There are around 2 million people living in the area of Storstockholm and if you compare it with London that has around 13 million people in the London Metropolitan Area it makes a big difference. For example on some Mondays at ECC I can make more cocktails than when I worked on a crazy Friday at Le Rouge. Then you also have a lot of products here in the UK that are not available in Sweden. A lot of people who have been to Stockholm recently tell me that they find the cocktail-scene really good. With some interesting bar concepts and good drinks going on.
So just keep up the good work, making all the amazing cocktails guys and girls in Sthlm!

Which are your favorite bars/bartenders and why?

There are so many! But if I have to name one its Alex Kratena at The Artesian Bar, The Langham Hotel. Always perfect service, cocktails and a big smile! But I also miss a lot of bartenders in Sthlm I hope to see them soon!

What about spirits and cocktails inspires you?

Big question, short answer. Everything!

Which of your signature drinks are you most proud of?

I have some drinks coming up on the drink list at ECC soon so we will see. I feel proud when I serve a guest a drink and see the reaction when they really like it, it's amazing!

What do you hope to achieve in the future as a bartender?

See a lot of cities, people and make some good drinks. Of course have a lot of fun as well!

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Bar Manager at a nice bar somewhere in the world, we will see.

Do you think bartenders get the recognition they deserve?

No, not yet but we are getting there slowly.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Between The Boarders (Created for World Class North European Finals in Berlin)
40ml XM 5y Rum
20ml Reposado Tequila
20ml Lemon
10ml chili-infused Grand Marnier
1 bsp Fine cut orange marmalade
2 drops Chocolate Mole bitters

Shake, served up with lemon zest discard

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