Interview with Johan Sjödin, Story Hotel

A few days ago there was an aquavit festival at Spritmuseum here in Stockholm, and except for tastings and seminars there was also the cocktail competition O.P. Open (more about this in a separate post). The winner was Johan Sjödin, bar manager at Story Hotel - and I decided it was time for me to find out more about him... so here we go - enjoy!

Photo © Calle Magnusson
What made you pursue a career in hospitality and how did you get your first bartender job?

I started as a barback at a place called Köket back in 1996, that now is called Hell's Kitchen. After completing my bachelor's degree in advertising in the US, I moved back to Sweden in 2004. I worked with marketing at MTG, Walt Disney and Smartbox, whilst also continuing my bartender career during the weekends. Then back in 2012 I asked myself a question; Why was I working with the profession I enjoyed on weekends instead of doing it full time? It was back then I got the opportunity to take over the bar manager role at Himlen.

Where are you originally from, and how did you end up at Story Hotel?

I was born in Norrköping in 1977, lived in Södertälje, then moved to Stockholm in the early 1990s. In early 2013 I got in contact with Liquid Management where I met one of my mentors Thobias Pettersson who was the bar manager at Story Hotel. He was moving on from Story Hotel and asked if I was interested in taking over the Story bar, and saying yes to his offer has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Can you describe the current cocktail concept at Story Hotel and the story - no pun intended - behind it?

We just launched our fall/winter menu. It is based on fall flavors, such as apple, cassis, and brown spirits, like rum, bourbon and rye. We wanted to create a cozy menu, now that the fall is here.

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

Himlen and Story for sure, I learned a lot from Jonas Hansson, who’s now the bar manager at Le Rouge, and of course Thobias Pettersson.

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

It is always fun to create a drink based on the guest requests and ideas, and then hopefully making these ideas into a reality which they are happy with. As far as the least favorite drink, I love a good Mojito but I can’t really say that I enjoy making it (done a couple of thousand during my career).

How would you describe the perfect customer?

Calm, interested in what we do, and listen to what we as bartenders have to say.

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

Can I please have a Shitbox

Photo © Bartenders' Choice Awards

What do you like most about your job?

I’d say everything, I have the opportunity to get paid doing what I love the most, this is a huge privilege.

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

I wouldn’t call it a skill, but being part of our team, and the great team of bartenders that Stockholm and Sweden has to offer is something that I am very, very proud of.

How do you spend your spare time?

I try to see my friends and family, however if you asked them I’m pretty sure they think that I am doing a pretty bad job.

What do you drink when off duty?

Beer and from time to time a shot of Chartreuse might go down my throat.

Korben Dallas, photo © Charlotte Halzius
What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

You know what, not a single drop is stored in my apartment. Oh wait I have a bottle of Templeton Rye that I bought at the BCB, however that bottle is going to be placed at Story.

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

More pop-up bars and guest shifts, and that we as a country will be more recognized internationally, as we have an amazing bar scene that deserves to be acknowledged.

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

We have so many good bars and bartenders here in Stockholm that I love to visit. However the bartenders that I was very much impressed by were Scott Baird, Josh Harris and Morgan Schick from Trick Dog. They were at Story in February doing a pop up bar, and their creations were truly amazing!

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

We are as good as any other bar in the major cocktail capitals of the world, like London and New York.

You just won the O.P Open cocktail competition, what are your thoughts on this experience?

Well first of all it was a great honor. I don’t compete, so this was my first competition, but I had a blast so we will see what the future has to offer. I would like to really thank Staffan Boija, Calle Magnusson, Joel Katzenstein, Jakob Sundin and of course my fellow competitors for a great day!

What's your opinion on cocktail competitions in general?

Love to watch them, many times the creations are mind-blowing and that is very inspiring.

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

I find new inspiration pretty much every day. My team and the kitchen are two great sources for inspiration, and of course other bars and bartenders. I try new concepts and creations and if we find the possibility for it to be a new drink, me and my team do a lot of different variations until we are satisfied. Half of the time it works, half of the time we put it aside and start with a new concept. That is one of the things I love with this profession, the only thing that stops you is your own imagination.

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

Having the great honor of managing two great bars, and of course being the manager and leader of some, who in my opinion are some of the best people in the industry.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Hmm that is a hard question that I don’t have an answer for. If someone would have told me five years ago that I would be managing Story bar I would have thought that, that person would have been crazy. So who knows what the future has to offer. The one thing I could say is that I am really looking forward to seeing what the future has to offer.

The Green Light Collins, photo © Charlotte Halzius

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Here are two recipes that we created at Story Hotel.

The Green Light Collins
50 ml O.P. Anderson
40 ml lemon juice
30 ml sorrel syrup
Soda

Korben Dallas
35 ml San Cosme Mezcal
15 ml Green Chartreuse
10 ml Sweet Mancino Vermouth
0,8 ml black cardamom syrup
4 dashes Orange Bitters

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