Interview with Charlotte Halzius, Story Hotel

Charlotte is one of many up-and-coming bartenders in the Stockholm bar scene, and among other things she was awarded best International Bar Management student at last year's Bartenders' Choice Awards. Together with a colleague, she will represent Story Hotel this Sunday at the finals of the competition Cocktailkamp 2014 - good luck!



What made you pursue a career in bartending and how did you get your first bartender job?
Where are you originally from, and how did you end up at Story Hotel?

After working as a chef for a couple of years I decided to try bartending. At that time I was currently working at Wagamama in central Stockholm. I loved working with food and flavors but was missing the guest experience. In 2011 I travelled to Thailand to attend EBS bartender school. It was truly a time of laughter and joy, and I also got my first introduction to bartending. Later on in early fall I moved to London. I got my first bartender job at Cargo in Shoreditch. The nightclub was busy and I learned how to work in a fast pace bar. But after a month I got an offer to work at Dover Street, a jazz club in Mayfair. The atmosphere was completely different and I had much more time to take care of guests. Trying out different kinds of bars, although in a short period of time I already knew bartending was what I wanted to do. Six months after I arrived in London I decided to move back home to start studying at International Bar Management (IBM). IBM was truly the most giving experience I've done so far in life. The education was very intense since so many classes had to fit in only two terms. The course includes everything from tasting to economics and ends with two internships. Along my studies I got the opportunity to work at Tjoget/Linje tio as a barback. The eagerness to learn more increased with every day passing by. My two internships were held at Story Hotel Riddargatan Stockholm. I’m happy to have been given the opportunity and I felt like I found where I belonged. Today I’m still working at Story Hotel, though it’s a hotel it truly feels like home.

Which place/places has/have been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

IBM has truly been the most important experience regarding my knowledge. Tjoget gave me the inspiration and the eagerness to learn. But the most important place for my skills and knowledge has been at Story Hotel, which gave me the chance to work on my weaknesses and time to improve. Where responsibility was given from the first day and where they believed I could become so much more.

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

My favorite drinks to make often involve a lot of garnish. It’s almost as important to attract the eye as the taste buds. It gives me a chance to be creative in just not taste but also in beauty. I’m a sucker for foam and I adore crazy fruit garnish. Mojito is not really my favorite to make. There are so many other cocktails with the same taste profile or similar that would satisfy the guest.

At last year's Bartenders' Choice Awards you won the International Bar Management scholarship, what does that mean to you?

It means enormously much to me. The proof that all the hard work, both studying and working along each other was worth it. That people have seen potential in me. Of course it would be worth it either with or without  the prize. However it is nice to get recognition sometimes.

Photo: Bartenders' Choice Awards

How would you describe the perfect customer?

The perfect customer is open minded and not afraid to try new flavors. The customer should have patience and be willing to understand that cocktails can take time to prepare. Also honest to tell what they expected and be able to tell how the experience was. For me as a bartender I want to give great service and of course a big part of my job is to read the customer, to give them the best experience, but sometimes it does not hurt with a little help from the customer.

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

Gröne jägaren, what is that? I thought it was a bar in South Stockholm?

What do you like most about your job?

My job means a lot to me. It doesn’t matter if I had a bad day, as soon as I walk into the bar all is forgotten. It’s a totally different part of my day, I would not say an escape but maybe it is. My only concern would be how to give the best experience to the costumer and how to guide them through our bar.

How do you spend your spare time?

Since I work quite odd hours compared to the majority I try to spend as much time as possible with friends and family. Luckily most of my friends work in the restaurant business, so they're quite easy to get hold of. Otherwise I try to travel as much as I can, eating out and visiting bars.

What do you drink when off duty?

I’m not really that fuzzy, everything depends on my mood. I love rum, but also tequila, bourbon and gin. I'm not sure, I guess I embrace it all. And yes, I know many people think I should be ashamed but my favorite drink is still Frangelico Sour.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Some people say way too much. I guess I have a collection of over 60 bottles or even more. Many spirits I received as gifts or I bought when travelling. Some bottles are quite rare or hard to get here in Sweden. I guess I'm most happy about the Fortaleza tequila series signed to me by Guillermo, master distiller.

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

I guess we can expect more table service in bars. Compared to other big cities such as London table service is much more common. It does not fit in everywhere but the quality of service does improve in many ways.

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

My favorite bar currently would probably be The Hide Bar in south central London.It’s a small-relaxed cocktail bar and restaurant a distance away from all the famous bar district. The atmosphere is cozy almost like walking into someone’s home. The drinks are really nice and the staff amazing.Other bars I really do like would be; The Blind Pig in Soho, London. Great drinks, great environment and good service minded staff. Happiness Forgets in Hoxton, London.Wonderful experience from entrance to crawling home. Amazing cocktails, with friendly service minded staff. A place for memories and joy.

In your opinion, how do bars in Sweden compare internationally?

For being a country with such a few inhabitants we do really great. Of course we find a lot of inspiration while travelling visiting other bars. But trends come and go and I think we really should appreciate the bars we do have here.

What’s your opinion on cocktail competitions in general?

It’s a fun and good way to challenge yourself. You get to invent new creations that you might never think of otherwise. Of course it always fun to win, and you should always aim for gold. But the true competition is against yourself. Competitions are also great for publicity. Which can help you enormously to gain a career.

Photo: Story Hotel

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

Often my ideas start with a small thought and then I try to put the puzzle together. My experience as a former chef is often reflected in my creations, I like the idea to pair small sides to drinks.

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

I would say one of my latest creations Thyme Out, which truly represents me. The cocktail is gin based with Aperol and thyme. It is a true thirst reliever, balanced with a herbal note. I like to work with herbs and things that you normally might find in a kitchen. The drink truly gives the taste of early summer. Currently the drink is on our new spring menu, come try it out!

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

No, not that I can think of.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

In five years I'll still work as a bartender. Probably not longer in Sweden since I love to travel. I could easily see myself living abroad for a couple of years. I think that it would be a great opportunity to see the world and learn more about how to bartend in different parts of the world.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Thyme out
40 ml Tanqueray Gin
10 ml Aperol
30 ml Lemon juice
20 ml Thyme sugar syrup
30 ml Apple juice
20 ml Egg white
Grapefruit zest

Put all ingredients into a shaker and dry shake.Shake once more with ice and strain into a chilled glass over ice. Garnish with a grapefruit zest.

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