Interview with Jakob Sundin - Grill


On November 13th, twelve of Sweden's best bartenders competed against each other in the Swedish qualifying round of Havana Club International Cocktail Grand Prix at Atelier in Stockholm. Ultimately, it was Grill's Jakob Sundin who won and will represent Sweden at the global final in Cuba next year, and now you have the opportunity to find out more about him - enjoy!

Photo © Dalibor Maksimovic
What made you pursue a career in bartending?

Curiosity.

When and how did you get your first bartender job?

At the age of 18, I started working as a bus boy at a restaurant in my home town Umeå called REX Bar & Grill. I worked my way up and after a year or so I did shifts in smaller bars. I Finally got a bartender job in the main bar at REX after doing a 2 month long internship with the bar manager.

Do you think bartenders get the recognition they deserve?

I guess we are starting to get better recognition. Just look at the work BCA is doing and the effort they are putting in. But if you ask me or any other bartender with a passion for his or her work if we are satisfied with how far we have come or how much we have achieved; I guess everybody would say that we are heading in the right direction but there's still things to improve.

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

REX Bar & Grill in Umeå and Le Bar/Brasserie Le Rouge in Stockholm. To me, it was very interesting and challenging to work at the newly opened Brasserie Le Rouge and I realized that both the service level and the idea of service compared to Umeå was something very different. Lots of the guests at Le Bar and Brasserie Le Rouge were quite knowledgeable about spirits and food in general and therefore a bit demanding. The service part was something that Robby focused a lot on in the bar and I still think that the service level shouldn't be taken lightly.

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

Hard to say. But if it's obvious that the guest doesn't even like what he or she is ordering then I'm probably not that exited to make it. Except from that I enjoy anything from pouring a glass of wine to let's say a Bloody Mary as long as it pleases the guest.

Do you have a favourite kind of customer?

Anyone who is curious. I also tend to get along quite good with polite and well mannered americans.

What do you like most about your job?

First of all, bartending is a lot of fun. You get to meet lots of exciting and interesting people and also witness different situations between all kinds of persons. This job has also given me the possibility to plan my working days so that I can travel almost whenever I want to.

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

I'm not the fastest bartender out there but I try to compensate that by being kind to all the guests and never compromise in any stage of the cocktail making.

What do you do in your spare time?

I love food so I try to cook as much as possible. With cooking comes of course also drinking so therefore I have an interest in wine and naturally also beverage in general.

I follow AS ROMA and NY Rangers on a daily basis and I try to travel as much as possible. I do enjoy playing tennis even though I'm not doing it as much as I would like to.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

At home it's mainly wine. Right now, I mostly drink French wines focusing on the southern regions. When it comes to cocktails I'm not sure if you can ever have to many Negronis!

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Too much gin… It seems like more bottles end up on the shelves than I can manage to drink. And if I'm not mistaken, lots of bartenders are keen on American whiskey and so am I. One bottle that stands out is a 3L Campari special edition bottle with Il Duomo on the label. I dragged the bottle across Rome and finally got it home in one piece!

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

We've seen many different trends the last years ranging from fruit, prohibition, absinthe, molecular to tiki so it's hard to say. I do think and hope that everybody is striving for quality improvements since quality never goes out of style!

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

It's hard to say since it depends on my mood but I'll never forget my first time at Little Branch!
Richie Boccato seems like the perfect host of a bar. He was most warm and welcoming when I visited Weather Up in Tribeca about exactly a year ago. That visit was just as I want a good drink/bar experience to be like. Impeccable service, great drinks and good nibbles, in this case oysters!

In your opinon, how do the bars in Stockholm and Sweden compare internationally?

Quite well, especially considering the size of both Stockholm and Sweden. It really depends on whether I am to judge bar experience or actual drinks. It is easy to appreciate other cities more as it is both new and exciting, and because I often have a different mindset and mood when visiting other cities. The atmosphere and service is something that I think we can work on in Sweden and improve. But when it comes to what's in the glass that I'm actually drinking, I do know for sure that lots of bars in Stockholm are as good as the best in cities as London or New York. Sometimes even better.

What inspires you regarding spirits and cocktails?

Lots of stuff. Books, magazines, movies, travelling, people and the seasons. Life?

You recently won the Swedish qualifying round of Havana Club Grand Prix - tell me all about it!

The Competition was divided into two different parts: cocktail making and knowledge/sensory. I managed to get pretty high scores on my cocktail (not the highest of all, though) and then I scored highest on the knowledge/sensory. The three persons with the best combined scores were selected to a final knockout round. Each contestant was subjected to questions of knowledge in rum, liquor and cocktail related issues for 2 minutes. At last, the person with the highest score in the final round was assigned as the winner of Havana Club Grand Prix. Fortunately, it was me!

What do you think about cocktail competitions in general?

Bartending is much more than just inventing new cocktails. More cocktail competitions are taking the broader aspects of bartending in account nowadays, which I believe is a good way of progress. Competing only with a "signature cocktail" is, to me, just retarded, since anyone can just google or copy a great recipe and then tweak it slightly and then claim the drink is theirs.

The most fun and challenging competition that I've been competing in so far was the Absolut Invite competition, held last year. The more aspects of bartending you put into a competition the better if you ask me.

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

I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with so many great bartenders over the years that have both taught and inspired me a lot!

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Hopefully still working with spirits and beverages in one way or another!

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

I competed with this drink in the finals of Absolut Invite last winter. I think it's very hard to make vodka drinks that showcases the flavor profile of vodka since different components in the drink can easily overpower the taste of vodka.

La Trigoria
50 ml Absolut Vodka
20 ml Lemon juice
10 ml Calvados sugar syrup
5 ml Ginger syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

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