Interview with Michael Olsson - Geranium Gin brand ambassador

During the last weekend of February I attended the great bar show Copenhagen Spirits and Cocktails, and the plan was to write something about it but to be honest the weekend was too intense and full of impressions for me to put into words. However, at the first seminar with Philip Duff I met Swedish Michael Olsson - who instantly could tell from my English accent that I also was from Sweden. We met and talked a few more times around Copenhagen during the weekend, and I could tell that we had lots of things in common. After meeting him again here in Stockholm, when I helped him promote Geranium Gin during Årets bartender 2012 at Grand Hôtel, I decided it was time to find out more about what makes him tick - and here's the result - enjoy!

Photo © Carita Wouda
What made you pursue a career in the spirits industry and how did you get your first job in the business?

Funny story, my intentions were to study economics after college. One day a friend of the family called me up and asked if I wanted to come and work for him as a waiter. I wasn’t too keen on it but I thought why not, it’s an experience. After a couple of days I fell in love with it. I also worked in the bar during the weekends, then about two years ago I walked into Salon 39 and sat down in the bar with a couple of friends. Behind the stick was Terkel Kleist and the level of service and knowledge truly inspired me, which led me to leave the restaurant business to pursue a career within cocktails.

How did you end up in Copenhagen, and how did you become a brand ambassador for Geranium?

After the encounter with Terkel I was living in Malmö and I really tried to make better cocktails and learn more, but there wasn’t really much interest in cocktails in Malmö so I decided to move to Copenhagen and got a job by chance while working in Malmö.

I knew Henrik Hammer from his great master classes he held here in Copenhagen, and he came to visit me when I was working at Gefährlich under my mentor Kristian Kramp. He tried some of my drinks and he got impressed and asked me to help him with the launch of the Old English Gin. After two very successful launches he offered me the job as Brand Ambassador which I proudly accepted.

Which are your main objectives as brand ambassador and how do you achieve them?

My main focus is to spread awareness about Geranium Gin and Old English Gin but also gin in general, for example do tastings, workshops and guest bartending.

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

I have worked at various hotels which has helped me to understand service better. I have also worked a little at GILT Cocktail bar in Copenhagen which has taught me a lot about the products and balance of different products and drinks. My time at Gefährlich under Kristian Kramp has been incredibly valuable to me in many different aspects. But mostly it’s my constant strive to learn more and become better. I always try to take the best piece of every place I’ve worked at with me.

Which is your favorite and least favorite drink to make and why?

I love stirring cocktails because of the complexity of different ice and what the water does to the drink so I would say a Dry Martini with a lemon twist. My least favorite must be draught beer, it’s a skill I yet have to master to always get the perfect foamy head on top and also because I get bored while doing it if I’m not doing anything else with my other hand.

Do you have a favorite kind of customer?

My favorite kind of customer is the happy ones that care about what they have in their glass.

What do you like most about your jobs?

It’s the combination of the social part and the history.

Do you have any special strengths or weaknesses as a bartender?I sometimes get annoyed at people asking for discounts but I try not to let them get to me.
My number one strength I must say is that I really do love what I do.

How do you spend your spare time?

With good friends and most likely with something nice in our glasses.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

Depends on my mood if I just got off work probably a good Danish beer and a shot of Chartreuse, the green one of course. If I’m out for a night on the town I’m very much into gin cocktails, Corpse Reviver #2 or a Negroni, and I do love Geranium gin and Fever Tree tonic, no ice and in a chilled glass in a 1:2 ratio.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

A lot of gin as you might suspect, and all the different Chartreuse except the yellow one, Apricot Brandy, Maraschino liqueur, Absinthe and some different Vermouths.

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

I hope bartenders start using more local produce that are in season. Also I hope places start to change menus more often.

Do you think bartenders get the recognition they deserve?

I think some bartenders really deserve more publicity and get’s forgotten while some get too much.
For example I was featured in an article a couple weeks ago as one of the best in Denmark I have a lot to learn still but I hope that I one day will be considered a great bartender.

In your opinion, how do bars in Sweden compare to Copenhagen/Denmark?

The biggest difference in my opinion is that you get more value for money in Denmark but that is mainly because spirits isn’t as heavily taxed, base spirits is for example half price compared to Sweden.

What inspires you regarding spirits and cocktails?

I love the history behind it all, it’s so intriguing. I try a lot of different products and when I find something I like, I buy some and experiment with it. I also get inspiration from different articles and bars I visit.

What’s your opinion on cocktail competitions?

I think it’s a great way to get together and see what other bartenders are doing, and also keeps you on edge to keep learning and it’s also fun.

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

Well, actually I’m most proud of getting hired as the Brand Ambassador for Geranium Gin, it is an honour and a great pleasure working with Henrik Hammer.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

In five years I will have traveled a lot, and I hope I will be planning or already opened my own bar.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

This is one of my earlier creations, The Manhattan Smûchan.

3 cl of Maker's Mark
1 cl Aperol
1 cl Laphroaig
One dash orange bitters and one of Angostura bitters

Stir it and it’s served up with a crucial flaming orange zest.

Which question would you ask yourself, and what would you answer?

I would actually like to ask you Mr. Trader Magnus how come you chose me for this interview? Well, the aim of my interviews is to highlight talented and successful Swedish bartenders and industry people around the world, and you certainly fit that description!

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