Interview with Oskar Johansson – Gilt

Once again, a Swedish bartender has made a name for himself in Copenhagen. Young up-and-comer Oskar Johansson, originally from Västerås and now bartender at Gilt, probably surprised many people – including himself – by becoming one of three winners in the Danish qualifying round of Diageo Reserve World Class competition and will represent Denmark in the European finals in London in the end of May. So, who is this youngster? I decided to find out…

Photo © Diageo

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

I got stuck.. I actually just tended an education to learn a few cocktails so that I could order something else than a beer when I was out with my friends. It ended up with me loving the feeling behind the stick and I got a position as a bartender at Restaurang Varda in my hometown Västerås.

Do you think bartenders get the recognition they deserve?

There are a lot of great bartenders out there and I try my best to give recognition any time I get a chance. I hope that other people do the same.

How did you end up in Copenhagen and at Gilt?

I have worked with Peter Altenburg, founder and owner of Gilt before, and at one point he just said “If you ever wanna come to Copenhagen and work, just say the word”. I said the word and here I am.

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

As I mentioned earlier I started in my hometown Västerås and have during my short career been around at a few places. When it comes to which place that has been most important I have to say that all of them have been great for different reasons. I still have to say Gilt. Not only just because of what I learn behind the stick but also from all the knowledge that the industry share down here.

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

My favorite drink to make must be something that I haven’t tried yet. If it is an odd order the guests most of the time are very specific on what they want which gives me the opportunity to serve them exactly what they want at that time and as well build my own preferences about the guest meanwhile learning a new cocktail.

When it comes to cocktails I don’t like to serve, I have a hard time getting something out there. Maybe a fresh cocktail of some sort when you are busy and sweating. Then you just wanna drink it yourself !!

Do you have a favourite kind of customer?

Anybody who respects the people around them.

What do you like most about your job?

Closing? No, just kidding. But I love the fact that there’s so much history within the products and recipes. I have always been a sucker for that. There is swell the fact that you get to meet people who most of the times are out for enjoying themselves. It leads to a very pleasant working environment. I have to add that the mornings when you wake up at 11 and don’t wanna leave the bed makes you feel great about your choice of career as well.

Do you have any special strengths or weaknesses as a bartender?

Haha, that is a question for my guest down at the bar. I don’t want to let people in on my personal weaknesses.

How do you spend your spare time?

This is where you wanna answer “I spend a lot of time at the gym and try to maintain a healthy lifestyle”. The truth is that the short amount of time I spend in my apartment I am usually on Skype with the boys from back home and a girl that is very special to me. I try to leave my apartment as much as possible meeting friends and new people. I’m not really comfortable in my own company, haha.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

If it is a summer night with the boys back home there’s only one thing to drink, Anderssons Starköl. When in Copenhagen I like to drink from the menus or from recommendations. I am not that picky or snowed in on any particular cocktail.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Haha, I was fearing for this question to come up. My spirits collection is very small. I used to have a bottle of Geranium Gin that I got as a gift in my old apartment but that one is empty for some reason… I am not the saving kind of person, never have been and probably never will be.

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

That is a tricky question, I hope that Tiki continues to break through. I think it is a cool style and it’s a genre I am very new too. Other than that we can already see that the “bowls” is breaking through. Sharing is Caring !! I hope as well that the “local product” trend is going to continue. It is a trend that is cool and makes a lot of sense.

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

I haven’t had the time or opportunity to visit that many bars in the world that I would like to so I don’t have that much to go on. For me my favorite bars are bars that I have great memories from.

When it comes to favorite bartenders, I like the guys who never gets too busy to take a second to answer a question from a guest.

In your opinon, how do bars in Sweden compare to Copenhagen’s?

Unfortunately I have been working a very short time back home and have only had the opportunity to visit a very small amount of cocktail bars in Sweden as well.  I hear great things about the bar scene back home but it is hard for me to compare the two. Copenhagen is a great city and there are a lot of cool things going on.

What inspires you regarding spirits and cocktails?

As I said earlier I love the history that the products and the industry have. The fact that you can bring a cocktail to life with just a dash of the right products is something that I strive everyday to learn more about. What I have learned is that it’s very easy to kill a cocktail with just a dash of a product as well….. haha

You are one of three winners in the Danish qualifying round of the prestigious Diageo Reserve World Class competition – tell me all about it!

Yes!  It was as you said Diageo who had invited all of us to this competition and there were rules to follow. We got approximately 10 classic cocktails which we should draw at the competition and prepare in front of a very prestigious jury. We got to know the classics beforehand with a task of twisting one of them in time for the competition. I chose my twist and had a great competition.

I am very satisfied with my presentation. I gave it my everything and it lasted all the way to London.

I did not expect myself to go this far. All the guys who were entering the competition are respected bartenders in Denmark and everybody gave it 100%. I believe that the jury could feel that I was having a good time and I got one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my life when they called out my name. I am really glad for the oppurtunity to go to London and compete once more.

What’s your opinion on cocktail competitions in general?

I absolutely love them. I have been doing sports all my life and I just love the feeling of waking up and knowing that today is “game-day”. Diageo was my second competition so I am very new to the concept and I learn a lot from the other guys.

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

When it comes to my cocktails I don’t think I have one that you would say is a “signature”. I am way too new in the industry to have one of those. Of course my place in the euro finals in one of the biggest competitions in the world is the one thing I can say that I am most proud of.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

I hate those kind of questions because I feel to young to answer them. Hopefully I am sitting on a boat somewhere in the sun with some nice people enjoying a cold beer. What I am doing on the side of that? I have no idea.

Would you like to share your winning World Class recipe?

Cløver Club (Nordic twist on a Clover club)
50 ml Tanqueray no. 10
25 ml gooseberry juice
30 ml rhubarb syrup
1 egg white

Dry shake, shake. Serve in coupe and lemon balm leaves for garnish

Which question would you ask yourself, and what would you answer?

You said earlier that you haven’t got the opportunity to see that many bars in Stockholm that you would like to, When are you coming up and visiting ? Just send me an invite of when I am welcome and I will come running.

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