Interview with Mario Sandgren, Beard to Tail
Last Thursday I arrived in London to spend a couple of days discovering new bars, spirits and cocktails courtesy of London Cocktail Week and UK RumFest. As there was no time to lose, I just left the luggage at my friend's apartment and began the first evening of bar hopping. First out was Beard to Tail, a new restaurant from the renowned Callooh Callay team - with a small bar at the entrance carrying a bourbon based cocktail list. As we had lots of places to check out, we just ordered one cocktail each - Derby Pie (Woodford Reserve, Laird's Applejack 100, lemon juice, maple syrup, Bob’s Vanilla Bitters, egg white and Pedro Ximanez) and Beard to Tail Julep (Southern Comfort 100, Woodford Reserve, house made peach & cinnamon jam, Briottet apricot liqueur and mint). Both were perfectly executed - a perfect start of my extended London weekend!
What made you pursue a career in bartending and how and when did you get your first bartender job?
Fast forward to my last evening in London, when my friend was home with the flu and I found myself at one of my favourite London bars - Trailer Happiness. I had just started to check out their new cocktail menu when the person sitting next to me suggested I'd try the spicy cocktail, which name escapes me, containing Jamaican jerk spice among other things - and it was an excellent choice. After chatting for a while, I knew that I had met this guy before, but at first I couldn't remember when and where. It turned out that he was from Sweden - and also the bartender making the drinks at Beard to Tail a couple of days earlier - it's a small world! Anyway, here's your chance to find out more about Mario, who apparently has kept himself very busy since leaving Sweden... enjoy!
What made you pursue a career in bartending and how and when did you get your first bartender job?
I started bartending so that I would be forced to talk to people. I was very shy when I was a kid, but didn't want to be... and I liked drinking. I started as a glass collector at Blå Kök och Bar in Umea, Sweden in 2000. In 2002 I went up north to work at the Ice bar at the Ice hotel, then went to Stockholm to work at the Ice bar there, working my way up to head bartender, I have done work for Stacy's, East and Riche in Stockholm as well, then I worked in Greece; Crete, Kos and Rhodos, I and also worked in mainland Spain in Barcelona and Granada, but the places I worked there are closed now.
What do you say to people who ask when you're going to get a 'real' job?
I usually just say that I already have one. then I smile.
How did you end up in London and Beard to Tail and Veranda?
I opened Veranda with some friends and long-time colleagues of mine, and i left the bar there about 4 months ago, i still help out where its needed. Beard To Tail is opened by Calloh Callay, and their bar manager the internationally renowned and amazing Andrea Montague used to be a colleague at 100 Wardour Street (Floridita/Meza/Casa) in Soho. I had quit the bar at Veranda and was looking for a full time bar job when i heard they hadn't assembled a bar team yet, I jumped on the chance and contacted her, she was delighted that I wanted to join, rest is history as they say.
Where have you worked prior to those bars, and which place has been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?
I worked for Match Group way back in the day, Match EC1, Trailer Happiness and Harlem, Then I did on and off work with Soho House, predominately for Electric House in Portobello Road. I did 2 painful years for Meza, the team we had more than doubled their revenue for any given day. After that, a quick stint at Hakkasan opening their Mayfair branch, before opening Veranda, which is in Brixton.
Which is your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?
I love making Daiquiris, its so simple, and yet need skill to make a good one, they are easy to experiment with and twist, and they look good, especially in a coupe.
How would you describe the perfect customer?
First and foremost, happy, that's how I know I'm doing things right. I try to measure my skill and service in the happiness of my customers. If I make awesome drinks, but my customers have frowns, I am missing something. I love patience and respect from customers. People that tip for good service given, not to get a free drink, people that have an open mind and like to chat for a bit.
What's the weirdest drink order you've gotten?
Octopus Sour was quite weird in Greece, was fun to make though.
What do you like most about your job?
The people, and the networking. The whole community feel of it.The connections you make, with sometimes the most unlikely people you could ever think off, and off course the companionship, that everyone tries to take care of each other. The variation, you can be General Manager at one place, then bartender at another, At the same time! Or go from Bartender to waiter, or marketing to bartending, or both. The possibilities are endless, also Bartenders have pride in their profession in a way a lot of other professions do not.
Do you have any special bartending skills you're extra proud of?
I got schooled in flavours and attributes, rather than cocktails (I learned them too of course) so im quite good at rustling up good, interesting cocktails, on the spot. To freestyle, so to speak.
How do you spend your spare time?
I go to the cinema, and spend a lot of time in bars and restaurants. I also read quite a bit, "industry" books and fiction. I also train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I am currently a brown belt.
What do you drink when off duty?
I drink a lot of apple juice actually. Unless I'm out and about town. Then I love good quality Mezcal, Siete Mysterios Espadin and Del Magey Pechuga are 2 favourites, also i have a love affair with rum, and have been getting into quality craft ciders.
What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?
Nothing at the moment, my friends drink it as soon as i get anything. But I'm looking to get some Siete Mysterios Mezcal and some Hven Gin as soon as i can.
What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?
More creative serves,more interactivity; Fluid Movement, Sushisamba, Aviary are already doing it, more ambiance building, like adding a nice container of scented oil with connection to the drink, say, juniper oil for a gin drink. Also people seem to be moving away from glasses and use more creative vessels to deliver their cocktails in.Callooh Callay's Gramophone from a couple of years back was a good example, now a lot of places have caught up, and everything jars to shoes are being used as glasses, and of course, pre-bottled cocktails are coming up, fast.
Which are your favourite bars and bartenders around the world and why?
Beard To Tail - for Dedication and Service
Calloh Callay - for the creativity
The Shop NW10 - for the community feeling
Happiness forgets - for the simplicity
Trailer Happiness - for the skill
Veranda Brixton - for the staff synergy
Kamenski, Umea, Sweden - for the regulars and music (R.I.P),
Aarts Mat och Dryck, Stockholm, Sweden - for the vibe, and service.
BAR Tjuvholmen, Oslo, Norway - for the location.
Employees Only NYC, USA - for the concept.
I'm also a fan of the "Fine Diving" scene.
Tara Garnell (Hakkasan)
Johan Ekelund (Happiness Forgets)
Mia Johansson (Milk and Honey)
Filip Netusil (Veranda Brixton)
Christoffer Collin (Aarts Mat och Dryck)
Andrea Montague (Calloh/Beard to Tail)
Oliver Rana (Electric House)
Dushan Zaric (Employees Only)
In your opinion, how do bars in London compare to Sweden and internationally?
London leads the way at the moment, if you don't count the up and comers from Asia like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, most new and cool stuff is London. Sweden has come a long way since I left, but still have some way to go before they can be seen as an international player, In Scandinavia, Copenhagen leads the way in Hospitality, in my own opinion. When Sweden, finally emerges on the world stage, I expect it to be some where in between Tokyo and London, clean flawless service, mixed with exceptional creativity, skill and ambition, and I hope that the rest of the world will be ready, and mark my words Sweden will come with authority.
How do you come up with new cocktail recipes and what inspires you?
I first think about the flavour I want, then the texture, then what I need to do to obtain both. My latest inspiration for cocktails where pies and chewing gum. I've been getting into a lot of savoury flavours recently. And at the moment Bourbon is on my mind. Obviously.
What’s your opinion on cocktail competitions, and do you have any experience of your own you'd like to share?
I used to do it when I came to London, and its a lot of fun, the whole community comes together and you meet so many people from everywhere. But I was a bit like a cocktail version of Andy Murray; I had people like Esther Medina and Shervene Shahbazkhani, Ago Perrone etc. battling for pole position, so I got greatly overshadowed, I learned a lot from it, what you should know about a cocktail you present to someone, how to present it, how to make a serve fun and so on.
Which of your signature drinks, if any, and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?
The Kilburn Cooler which was and still is one of D and D's best selling drinks.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
In Thailand, owning my own little bar, serving weird ex-pats awesome drinks. Or maybe Tokyo or Singapore in a penthouse.... in over watch of my own bar. Basically, I will have my own place somewhere cool, maybe even London.
Would you like to share one of your own recipes?
Joy Spence Daiquiri (named after Wray and Nephew's Master Blender)
35ml Wray and Nephew
10ml Velvet Falernum
10ml Creme De Banane
1 barspoon Malic Acid
Stirred down until acid has dissolved. served in a small coupe with a grapefruit twist.
Which question would you ask yourself, and what would you answer?
Is there any bar fiction or non fiction you would like to visit? Yes, Rick's Cafe Americain in Casablanca. (the bar that made me want my own).