Interview with Knut Randhem - Ourselves Alone

My series of interviews with Swedish bartenders is back - and once again it's someone working in Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition to being a part of the Liquid Management team, Knut Randhem is currently working at the newly opened Ourselves Alone - which he has been involved in from the very beginning. I haven't had the chance to visit yet, but it's definitely on my to-do-list during Copenhagen Spirits and Cocktails in three weeks.

Knut Randhem in action
What made you pursue a career in bartending and how did you get your first bartender job?

Since I was 6 years old I wanted to become a chef (still love cooking) and went to restaurant school by the age of 16. But unfortunately I lost the passion standing in the kitchen and ended up as a waiter. During my last year in school we had bar training and I found this the best combination; both making a product and then get the interaction with people. Through school I had training at our local hotel, and once I was finished I got offered a job. Then I got my first job in Denmark as a bartender and realized that I could live on it, I knew I found my profession.

What do you say to people who ask when you're going to get a 'real' job?

To be honest, I don’t get that question that much anymore. To live on bartending is more and more accepted, at least in Copenhagen. But I usually tell them that as long as I’m happy doing what I do and it pays the bills I don’t think it matters what they think.

How did you end up working in Copenhagen?

Fun story actually, when I was 19, me and a few friends were in Copenhagen on a holiday (being Swedish = get drunk on cheap beers) and by accident I got a newspaper back with me and found an ad by this newly opened restaurant that was looking for a bartender. I applied for the job and within three weeks I was working and living in Denmark. I thought I was going to stay for a year, but one turned into seven and I still love living here!

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

I’ve been working in several places the past years and seen a lot of different sides of the industry, and for some reason, nine times out of ten it’s been in new companies or new projects, don’t know why but I guess it is fun to start out with an unshaped project and set the base from where it can grow. But working at Nimb under the supervision of Angus Winchester made me realize what it takes to be in the cocktail scene. Without a doubt the place that I’ve got the most out of is Hotel Twentyseven. I was there for almost five years and started out as a bar back and advanced to department manager over the bar and restaurant. I shared so many great moments in that hotel and met so many people, both colleagues and guests. I’m really thankful that I got the opportunity!

Can you describe the cocktail concept at Ourselves Alone?

We try to keep things very classic. Most of the best drinks have already been invented so why change a winning concept? Besides that one of the things we are very careful about is to make the most out of each drink we serve, make sure we have good limes and a good rum for our Daiquiris or find a good balance in our Old Fashioneds, but still have a few personal touches on the drink.

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

Now I’m going to be a bit boring, but there’s not a single drink I don’t like to make as long as the ingredients are good. I’ve done my fair share of Mojitos and Blue Lagoons and all drinks have their place! But of course I don’t get as excited when someone comes up and asks for a “Ragnar”, as when someone orders a Manhattan.

How would you describe the perfect customer?

Hard to tell, I kind of like the experienced guest that comes in with high expectations that really give me challenges on one hand. But on the other it’s fantastic to get a guest who is completely new to the world of cocktails, where you have a chance to open up that person's eyes to something new. So I guess as long as my guests are open-minded and positive, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t heard about a Bobby Burns, or know how much it rained in Champagne in 1982.

What's the weirdest drink order you've gotten?

There’s a few, but I can’t really remember any special occasion. But it’s always “interesting” when people spend a lot of money on a premium spirit, just to drown it in coke.

What do you like most about your job?

That I can work with my greatest hobby! And the fact that with very little effort (whiskey) you can make peoples' lives a lot easier.

Do you have any special bartending skills you're extra proud of?

I'm proud just to have learned to work in a bar, but the fact that I’ve worked as a manager for a hotel bar forced me to understand the financial structure of a bar, and that it takes more than know how to serve drinks to be successful in the industry has helped me a lot.

How do you spend your spare time?

I don’t do that much, recently I’ve got some more time off and I must admit that I have trouble finding stuff to do, because it’s a new thing for me. I used to be a sports geek and I try and catch up with the football leagues around Europe but the interest isn’t as big as it used to be. But it’s still good to watch a Sunday game, having a beer in some nice company.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

It varies a lot. But beer is a favorite, especially when Denmark has so many microbreweries on the market. So usually it’s a beer and some kind of bitter, I’m a sucker for Gammel Dansk so it’s usually that. But I love American whiskies and whiskey based cocktails so I don’t mind a nice Manhattan.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Fernet, vermouth, whiskey and gin.

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

Hard to tell, there’s so much interesting stuff out these days. But I think that it’s fantastic that bartenders have started to pay more attention to the guest instead of how many bitters they have on their back bar. We all have to remember that at the end of the day, the guests pay our bills and put food on the table!

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

There’s so many of them! I guess it's a matter of what mode I’m in or where I am. But one of the prettiest bars I know of is Le Rouge in Stockholm, great vibe and the drinks are fantastic! And Mikael and Andreas Nilsson’s new bar, Strøm in Copenhagen, produces killer cocktails for a large crowd. ECC in Paris has been a true pleasure the times I’ve been there.

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

I think we’re doing really well. Both Stockholm and Copenhagen are blessed with some very talented people who are eager to learn new stuff and push the scene even further.

How do you come up with new cocktail recipes and what inspires you?

It can come from everything. It could be a bottle of whiskey I haven’t used for some time or a flavor I’ve picked up somewhere, or basically that I need a special signature drink for a special occasion. But I must admit that I used to be more creative, nowadays it’s more small modifications on classic drinks.

What’s your opinion on cocktail competitions, and do you have any experience of your own you'd like to share?

I’ve been in quite a few, and it’s a fun industry event where you can meet people and have a laugh. But there are so many of them and I find competition drinks are often hard to serve in your bar since there’s a lot of preparation behind them which you don’t have time for.

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

Havana 86. It’s a classic Daiquiri with a foam that is flavored with lime and white chocolate. I made it at Hotel Twentyseven three years ago and it’s still on their menu and at a few other places in town as well.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

I’m hoping that I still tend the bar at OURSELVES ALONE, since we put down so much time building it and I really feel that this is my kind of bar to work in. But you never know, there’s always something in the pipeline so we will see. But I’m pretty sure I’m still living in Copenhagen.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Sure! You get the Havana 86 then:

50ml Cuban rum
20ml lime
20ml brown sugar syrup

Shake and strain into a chilled coupe and top with foam (1 part lime juice, 1 part white chocolate syrup, 2 parts egg white. Combine in a siphon and charge). Enjoy!

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