Interview with Gustav Almén, Tiki Room

In the end of April I went to Tiki Room here in Stockholm to have a couple of drinks with my friends Helena Tiare Olsen and "Cocktail Guru" Anders Baecklund. To my surprise Anders was acquainted with a new bartender which had just come home to Sweden after some time in Australia. We had a nice chat about tiki drinks and ingredients, and I decided to find out even more about him and his future plans. You're welcome.

Photo: Ivan Miladinovic
What made you pursue a career in bartending and how did you get your first bartender job?

I got my first hospitality job at a big restaurant in Stockholm where I started off as a barback and food runner. I fell in love with the industry and I was really impressed by the bartenders at that restaurant. Cocktails became one of my biggest passions and that really helped me to understand the job better. It took me a year and a half to work my way up to become a bartender.

Where are you originally from, and how did you end up at Tiki Room?

I grew up in Stocksund, in the northern suburbs of Stockholm. In 2015 I moved with my girlfriend to Sydney, Australia, mainly to work and get some experience from the other side of the world. Tiki was a thing that I got nerdy about during this time and when I went back home to Stockholm I really wanted to work at a real tiki bar. Tiki Room is the only authentic tiki bar in Sweden so I knew where I wanted to work.

Can you describe the current cocktail concept at Tiki Room and the story behind it?

We serve a lot of tiki classics like the Mai Tai, Test Pilot and Missionary's Downfall. Many of the cocktails that we serve was invented by either Trader Vic or Don the Beachcomber and we are trying to give the same experience that made so many americans fall in love with tiki during the 1940s and 1950s. We have a lot of fun tiki mugs and hurricane glasses that we load with crushed ice to ensure an ice cold drink and the feeling that you are on a tropical island somewhere.

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

My trip to Australia was important in many ways. I worked at some cool bars, met a lot of great bartenders, visited some great bars and I got a lot of inspiration from all the fruit shops you can find over there. They have so many more types of exotic fruit that you can't find in Stockholm.

You're about to launch your own syrup brand, what's to expect from it?

The name of the new brand is Alméns Syrup. My goal is to produce handcrafted local syrups and sell them to bars around Stockholm. Today, many bars make their own Orgeat, they make their own Grenadine but there are still a lot of bars who buy their syrups from other commercial brands. I hope that Alméns Syrup will be a quality brand that bars choose instead of the international giants that control the market today.

Photo: Ivan Miladinovic
Which is your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?

I love to make any cocktail that includes passionfruit because then I can taste it myself to make sure I "made it right", sometimes I taste the same perfect drink twice.

My least favorite drink to make was a version of the Mai Tai that we served at a restaurant that I worked at a few years ago, we used pineapple juice, grenadine and a few other ingredients that doesn't belong in a Mai Tai.

How would you describe the perfect customer?

The perfect guest is a happy smiling person who is at the bar to have a great night and a tasty cocktail. I like when my guests are up for a chat because that makes my job more fun and I get the chance to know what kind of people that like to visit the bar.

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

One drink that is unbelievably popular in Australia is VCR - Vodka, Coke and Raspberry Cordial... Isn't that strange? People asked me for that drink a few times every night and I could never believe my ears.

Photo: Ivan Miladinovic
What do you like most about your job?

I'm really happy that I can work with the type of bartending (tiki) that I like. It's a really fun place to work at, Tiki Room is a bar where people go to when they want to have a really great night not just get drunk. Every weekend we serve some of our cocktails with dry ice which is my favorite way to serve cocktails. It's something that is quite rare to see in Stockholm and the guests always appreciate the show.

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

I'm not sure if this is a bartending skill but I think talking to my guests is what I do best behind the bar. Even if it's a busy Friday night I try to have a chat with people to give them the best service possible.

How do you spend your spare time?

I don't have a lot of spare time right know when I'm working both as a bartender and with the start up of Alméns Syrup but I always make sure to have the day off when Djurgårdens IF play a football game. Tiki Room is closed every Sunday so that's the day I have time too see my girlfriend. We usually go out to dinner, a glass of wine or a movie . Cooking is another passion of mine and I especially enjoy slow cooking. I think that the best food is the ones that has been cooked for hours until perfection.

What do you drink when off duty?

I like to drink cocktails both at home and at my favourite cocktail bars. If I'm at a bar that doesn't serve cocktails I usually drink Bourbon & Coke, I think Coca Cola tastes better with a bit of bourbon in it.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Falernum, pimento dram and a lot of rum... Do I have an addiction?

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

The trend where bartenders come up with cocktails using local ingredients is already on it's way. Maybe we can take that a bit further. I think it's every bartender's dream to have a bar where they make all of the cocktail ingredients themselves. Not just syrups and infusions, some bars are already growing their own herbs. In a couple of years I think cities around the world will have their own way of serving cocktails using their unique local ingredients. That would be awesome!

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

My favorite bar is Papa Gede's at 348 Kent st, Sydney. I had the opportunity to work there during my year in Sydney and the hospitality at that place is outstanding. I was taught so much about service and bartending in general, Papa Gede's is a must go to if you ever visit the harbour city.

One bartender that I have a lot to thank for is Jim Meehan. When I first got into cocktail making I saw a lot of his videos on Youtube where he made classic cocktails in the best way possible. I can't recommend it enough to everyone who want to get better knowledge about bartending.

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

I think we have to get a bit more service minded in Sweden if we really want to compare with other countries that I've been to. The standard of the cocktails served in Stockholm is in my opinion very high but we can always work towards giving every guest a unique experience.

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

I get a lot of inspiration from other bartenders all over the world, I like to go to their bars and see what they are up to and that always gives me ideas to make my own drinks. The perfect cocktail always has a good story behind it. Sometimes I start with a story that I want to tell through a drink and then I try to find ingredients that work well together and with the story.

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

Of course I'm proud that I took the step to start my own business and I hope that I can be even more proud of Alméns Syurp in the near future.

Inspired of the super success Tommys Margarita I wanted to come up with a simplified version of the Mai Tai that I could use to market Alméns Orgeat. I was very satisfied with this beautifully balanced cocktail where the rum really shines through. Any premium aged rum would do but the blend of Appleton and El Dorado is my favorite.

Alméns Mai Tai
25 ml Appleton 12yrs
25 ml El Dorado 12yrs
30 ml Fresh Lime juice
20 ml Alméns Orgeat

Served low over cubed ice.
Garnish: Mint sprig

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

I will be running Alméns Syrup. We will follow the cocktail trends and work a lot with flavours, berries and fruits that we can find in Sweden. Hopefully I'll also have time to get behind the bar every now and then because it would be hard to leave it totally.

Photo: Ivan Miladinovic

Comments

  1. Nice interview! looking forward to the next visit to Tiki Room!

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