Interview with Carl Wrangel - The Barking Dog


Photo © Cecilie Holst

My series of interviews with Swedish bartenders continue with Carl Wrangel, the mastermind behind Copenhagen Cocktail Club who is about to open up a bar of his own in Copenhagen - The Barking Dog.

What made you pursue a career in bartending?

Ran out of money. Simple as that.

When and how did you get your first bartender job?

It all started in London about ten years ago. I moved over there with a friend of mine and some of his, the whole thing was very spontanious and I wasn't really sure what to expect or do over there. So for the first month or so I mainly hung out in cheap dive bars and got my party on, when that got too expensive me and a friend of mine started drinking 3l bottles of really bad quality cider before hitting the city, after a while we decided it might be a good idea to start looking for a job. Printed a CV and gave it to as many places as possible. Obviously starting from the ones where I thought it would be very cool to work, record stores, skate shops and so on. Got offered a job in Starbucks at some point, but couldn't be bothered to show up. As a last option I started handing out CV's to bars and pubs, I had to make rent was my thought at the time, so why not. A week or two later one bar called, got a trial shift, got wasted, loved it. The rest is History.

You're about to open a new bar in Copenhagen called The Barking Dog - can you please tell us all about it?

I really wish I could tell you all about it, but I keep coming up with new ideas all the time, and I believe that has become a bit of the concept, it will be a ever changing bar. That is the only way I can compromise with my mind. But we are aiming somewhere between a pub and a modern cocktail bar, a peoples bar. Both me and Yarek were scholed in England and hopefully we will be able to reflect a bit of that in the bar.

Where have you worked prior to The Barking Dog and which place has been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

I would say the two main places that shaped me as a bartender was first of all Market Place in London, A vibrant dj-bar serving a bit of latin street food, a few cocktails and a lot of wine and beer. I have never since working in a bar that busy, and we still had standards! In the speedrail were Sauza Hornitos (100% agave), Maker's Mark, Bacardi 8, Mount Gay XO, Plymouth and so on, and this was 2002! Then I worked around a bit, and of course every place you work, adds to your education. Second place that affected me a lot was my beloved Green & Red, that was career changing. Never before have I had to learn so much in so little time. I remember buying a huge map of Jalisco, it covered almost a whole wall, then i started pinpointing all the tequila distilleries, and from there is was a hardcore learning session. Every day before work I came in an hour and a half early and read up on new distilleries, bottles, it went so far I memorised all the nom's in case some show off bartender should ask for a 1493 Blanco, for example. London was so competitive at that stage bartenders went from bar to bar, only to check each others knowledge. Which was one of the few reasons for me leaving London. It never made sense to me to have to show other people how good you are, all the time, and look down at people who are not. On the flip side, I am sure you know most of these guys today. Oak Room in Copenhagen is up on that list as well, it taught me a lot about people in Denmark and to have a lot of patience.

You're also behind Copenhagen Cocktail Club, what is it all about?

This relates to the answer above. Me, Spaniard and Yarek started CCC, to change the bar community in Denmark. To make something happen. When we first came here it wasn't much going on in terms of trainings, competitions and so on, which is a great way to get the bar community together. So we started doing just that. The goal from the beginning was to get people to work together and share ideas, kind of a creative playground. This way people got to know each other around town, work together around town, and if you need a bartender covering a shift, you now have a whole city to choose from. Now there are more and more competitions popping up, and more master classes happening, and you can really feel that Denmark has awaken, so maybe they ain't a big bunch of lazy hippies after all. Maybe soon we will even see the big brands do something of value.

What's your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?

Don't really have any preferences, as long as the orders are versatile. I think for me the interaction with the customer is more important, some people are more fun than other.

Do you have a favourite kind of customer?

I like serving people from the industry, they usually behave okey and drink a lot. But I am quite easy, don't be annoying and you are in my good book.

What do you like most about your job?

It is something interests me a lot and I get money for it. I can still have a good drink, listen to good music and hang out with good people. And for those who want, there is a bit of travel in there as well.

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

I get very grumpy if I don’t get food when I am hungry, part from that I am getting much better at communicating with people I work with, I work hard and am not scared of getting my hands dirty. I also don't feel the need of a bouncer when I am around, which is probably just stupidity.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

Usually a glass of tequila or mezcal with a beer on the side. Margarita for something fresh, Negroni if I can’t decide. That is usually what I stick to, but it really depends on who is serving me.

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

I would love for the trend where every bartender starts as a barback comes back, what happened to that? All of a sudden you read a book and get a bartending job. The best bartenders I have met are old barbacks. Part from that, big trends tend to bring the worst out of brands, so maybe I'd rather let people do their thing.

Which are your favourite bars/bartenders around the world and why?

I started my career together with the Nilsson brothers, living and working together, they have always been a big inspiration. Myles Davies who was managing the bar at Green & Red, he taught me how to learn everything I want to know, myself. Christian Gaskell who taught me management the hard way. Merlin Jerebine who is one of the most positive people I have ever worked with, also masters the art of selling more than anyone without working (still trying to figure that one out), and of course my first general manager Chris Pitchly, a love/hate relationship that was.

How do the bars in Denmark compare to Swedish bars?

They are obviously better. He he, I have a lot of problems getting in to bars in Stockholm, which gives me a lot of bad experiences from there, but I believe that mainly has to do with the general mentality of the people in a country, they are in my opinion more laid back in Denmark, which suits me more. As for quality of bars and bartenders, we are slightly better, as shown in Battle of Scandinavia last year, but things change.

What inspires you regarding spirits and cocktails?

I get bored of things that are the same.

What do you think about cocktail competitions, for example Battle of Scandinavia?

I think Battle of Scandinavia is brilliant, otherwise I wouldn't have done it. Competitions in general though, as long as they make sense. Competitions for me have always been a learning experience, but if I can’t learn something from it, then what is the point? It’s supposed to be a challenge, right? Competitions like, come-make-a-crowdpleaser-and-go-to-Thailand has never appealed to me, leave that for the disco kings.

This year, the bar show Copenhagen Spirits and Cocktails was launched, what impact do you think it will have on the scene in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia? 

I think it is great, because it is pushing bigger brands to get some kind of involvement in a fast developing bar scene. Hopefully it will bring some people from northern Europe as well, and trade shows are always great for networking. I also think it is a very good chance for people outside the industry to come and see what we do.

What's your opinion regarding the lack of female bartenders?

It's a shame of some sort, on the other hand if you not good enough you won’t get the job, man or woman, and it would be wrong to force people into the industry for the sake of having more women tending bars. For me it makes no difference, I have worked with a lot of girls during my years, they have all been great.

Which of your signature drinks and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?

Penthouse Cocktail is one of the drinks I am very proud of, also Oh Cecilie! and Bienvenidos, that would be my top three for cocktails, as for what i have achieved, Copenhagen Cocktail Club for all the fun we have had in Copenhagen and The Barking Dog is my dream come true.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Hopefully still together with my girlfriend, two little rascals and opening my third place.

Do you think bartenders get the recognition they deserve?

I think that many get way more than they deserve, there are too many shitty stuck up types who get way too much recognition for something they are bad at and I believe this is mainly thanks to social media, it is ruining true credibility for everybody who are truly good.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Bienvenidos
4 cl Del Maguey Vida mezcal
2 cl Kahlúa
2 cl Lime juice

Stir and finish off with a lime twist.

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