Eetu’s quest for the Nordic
The Pickle – a Scandinavian cocktail category
The Negroni is a perfect companion on a lazy afternoon in the Monti district, the Old Fashioned is an obvious choice for a New York Mad Man and daily Caipirinha’s are practically mandated by law in all coastal cities in Brazil. Classic cocktails with strong geographical identities. But what do you drink with your colleagues after work on a dark and sleety January afternoon or with old friends on a warm Scandinavian summer evening? Eetu Topo might have the answer – the Pickle. (All photos in this article are taken by Laura Nissinen)
“Our Scandinavian culinary heritage and New Nordic cuisine is recognised globally as one of the most influential and interesting movements in the past 15 to 20 years, yet our bars still mainly serve drinks designed in USA, Cuba, Italy, UK and so forth. To me, that is quite disturbing.”
Eetu is from Helsinki and is currently bartending at the ambitious Hotel Lilla Roberts bar, Lilla e, known for border-pushing cocktails and grandiloquent presentations. A relative newcomer, he first started making drinks in the spring of 2013 while working at a North African fusion restaurant in Helsinki. While learning the basics principles and classics, he found that experimenting with new cocktails quickly became a particular object of fascination.
“In the beginning I had no clue about the nuances and traditions of different types of alcohol; I was only interested in flavor. I was already an enthusiastic food lover and a home cook, and I studied cultural management with an edge towards developing Nordic food industry. That gave me an opportunity to think a bit differently. When I started bartending I just took what matched together in food and tried it out – sometimes the results worked pretty well. It did, and probably still does, make me a bit of a pain in the ass to work with, but it leads to a level of creative anarchy that really drives me.”
At Lilla e he has been pushing the bar menu towards a New Nordic identity, emphasizing on using local produce preserved seasonally and with very limited waste. All fresh produce is grown in the Nordics, either foraged or farmed, and preferably used “nose to tail”.
“I still have an experimental approach. If a combination of malted rye bread, butter, hard cheese and the smell of filter coffee works great as a traditional Nordic breakfast, I’ll make a malted rye bread & rye gin sour milk punch, serve with black coffee, cheese and a newspaper – we call that “Breakfast”. There should not be any limits on to how we use ingredients anymore, all of the worlds flavors, shapes and aromas are available for us to play with.”
Eetu is representing Finland in the Bacardi Legacy Global Finals in Berlin in May (2017) with his concept for a Nordic classic cocktail category– the Pickle. 1 part base spirit, half part lengthener, spoon of vinegar, spoon of grain sugar. The lengthener can be anything; wine, beer, liqueur, soda, juice… or fish stock. There are no rules as long as it works with the other components. If you’re using something sweet, you can drop the sugar.
“While I’ve been playing with the Nordic kitchen approach towards cocktails, I realised that there is very little if anything that we
can all relate to as: Yup, that is what a Nordic cocktail is about. Why do we use lime and lemon all the time instead of local alternatives, when exotic ingredients often taste quite bland here? Vinegar, salt, ferments and berries can work brilliantly. Of course we need lime & mint for Mojitos, but maybe it is time for us to do something else entirely.”
Kick-starting a new category is an ambitious goal that is not achieved overnight. Eetu is first to emphasize the importance of support from the broader bartending community.
“I am hoping that the Pickle can be a tool of creativity for those who want to challenge the status quo. I want to give back to the fantastic, talented bartenders working in the North. I submitted The Rum Pickle to the Bacardi Legacy contest to test its potential as a benchmark cocktail and generate recognition for the concept – and I think it is paying off. I’ve lost track on how many bars and people are working on this, but somewhere around 30+ bars and 100+ bartenders and industry professionals have taken it up within the past two months. That tells me that there is some potential in this.”