Six years ago, I was given the challenge to put together a cocktail menu of old classics, but with the limitation and dogma of solely using local produce. The cocktail menu was aimed for a seminar during Copenhagen Cooking with Claus Meyer, co-founder of NOMA and should underpin the essence of foraging and farm- to-table using only local products, which basically was the founding ideas of said restaurant specifically.
Obviously, this presented a few challenges in creating the perfect balanced drink without acidity from citrus fruit, bitterness from international tinctures and tonics as well as solely being able to use local (poorly) produced moonshine.
But let’s start from the beginning and explain the Nordic Cocktail (if there is such a thing. Some might argue and advocate a huge NO, but that is largely a different discussion).
To establish the scope of the Nordic Cocktail, it´s important to spell out the extent of a cocktail in general. Which demands does the cocktails have to meet?
In this sense, we must point out what we as bartenders have to consider in creating the perfect serve. Those may be listed as:
1: Taste & flavor
2: Texture & temperature
5: Consistency & stability
Now, these 5 rules will apply in any given situation, when creating a concoction. It´s important to stress that taste and flavor is the vital point. If the cocktail doesn’t please our palate, it will never come to existence. The other four points will exist to perfect and refine the serving, but they are very subjective to the message and story the cocktail should tell.
As we now have established those five regulations, the offset of pursuing the Nordic inspired cocktail should be in place and we will now look into the individual constituents. In this article, we will solely focus on Taste & Flavor.
Taste & Flavor
What do we look for, when it comes to taste? Generally, the human taste buds differentiates between saltiness, sourness, bitterness, sweetness, umami, spicy and metal.
The first four are respectively found in any cocktail, whereas umami mostly are found in savory cocktails, cocktails with ‘meaty’ ingredients or Asian inspired cocktails on a par. Spicy are usually used to underpin and refine certain ingredients and should in a cocktail never be too heavy. The taste of metal is usually not very desirable in any beverage and in this sense, we will not cover this in this section. An example of metal taste in a cocktail could be beetroot juice.
In this sense, we balance cocktails via the above in order to reach pleasant tipples. Infusions and barrel-aging are not covered in the following, as such agents can be used to modify and obtain any kind of desired taste character.
Let me briefly list a few ingredients to create the spectra
Sour: citrus, ginger, cardamom, apple
Sweet: liqueurs, syrups, some spirits, creamy fruit
Salt: tequila, olive, seltzer, brine, salt
Bitter: amaro, fortified wine, bitters, tonic, grapefruit, ripe lime
Umami: soya, Worchester sauce, some mezcal, truffle
Spicy: chili, ginger, wasabi
Now, the challenge in making the Nordic cocktail is to obtain the above scope of desired tastes by using local ingredients only. Again, it would be easy and effortless to use infusions and resting, as we are able to create almost any taste via those agents.
So, returning to the dogma of the Nordic Cocktail, we want to use local ingredients exclusively. In doing so, the nature of the cocktail was non-surprisingly changed to a liquid remedy of absolute freshness, elegance and almost cleansing. One could argue that using fresh and homemade ingredients would always call for a more interesting imbibe. True. Very true.
But in creating these variations, we immediately discovered that climate and fauna had an inter-relationship that created more cleansing and taste-vivid balances using solely Nordic elements. Having said this, we didn’t discover The New World of Cocktails. We didn’t revolutionise the entire industry.
At best, we re-invented some taste variations with local ingredients and pursued the scope of the classic cocktail by using these. Any bartender from any bar in any region in any country in the entire world will be able to do the same – only by using local and fresh ingredients. As long as we know what we are looking for.
We want to substitute conventional with local components. In doing so, we produced the following list:
Bitter: rowanberries, watercress, hops, pine needles, dandelion, danish Amaro
Umami: beetroot, ripe apple, ripe pear, mushrooms
Sourness: gooseberry, buckthorn, currant, apples, lemon balm
Sweetness: sugar syrups, liqueurs, fruit & berries, honey
Saltiness: local salt, egg white
As it proves, the list of ingredients wasn’t vast and endless. But the agents used for obtaining the desired result proved to be plenty – especially when also taking into account, the natural flavoring remedies in fruit, berries, roots etc.
And in this sense, local fauna proved to be sufficient in order to reach the desired taste and aroma spectra. Not only did we discover new alternatives. In many cases, we even improved or refined the original intention of the cocktail, because the new local crops proved to emphasise the composition of the cocktail.
Let me explain
What makes a good sour? Is it the crisp sourness? Is it the refreshing ability of the citrus to put alive almost any spirit? Is it the ability of the sour to enhance flavors in almost all the individual ingredients of the cocktail? Or is it the ability to make the cocktail coherent, i.e. well-composed?
Probably all of the above, but what if we could produce a cocktail were all the different taste layers where more intense and aromatic? What if we where able to produce a concoction, where the merits of the base spirit where even more underpinned and dominant without disturbing the balance of the cocktail and intensions of the original liquid vessel?
The Clover Club is without a doubt one of the most delicate servings within the family of sours. But accounting for the numbers of times, where the balance of the cocktail was either too tart, sweet or even worse – too much of a lemonade, is somewhat disturbing. What if each individual ingredient would always enhance the individual flavors of the cocktail, merely because the individual ingredients would never be too dominant?
In doing so, we created a cocktail consisting of evidently crisp London Dry Gin, a sweetening agent being home cooked rhubarb syrup and a sour balancer – in this case gooseberry juice. For texture, appearance and final tartness, we used egg white.
Using the rhubarb syrup, we acquired a sweetening agent that still retained enough acidity to bring down the amount of the sour agent – in this case the gooseberry juice. In this sense, the flavors of the rhubarb would be more present without taking away the focus and scope of the cocktail – the crispy gin base.
So instead of building a traditional cocktail, we produced a more intense variation with the exact same merits as the original, only because we reduced the importance of the individual sour and sweetening agent. Add to this, the perks of rhubarb and juniper together. Their tartness is married beautifully via the natural fructose from the rhubarb.
First and most important step of creating the creation was now over. With unexpected success.