THE TASTING PANEL's Rachel Burkons recently caught up with ICEBAR Oslo Bar Manager Monica Berg, who told us all about the latest crazes in Oslo, and how people are getting cool with cocktails in a bar made of ice. It's may be cold, but Monica's got some great stuff up her sleeves to keep you warm!
THE TASTING PANEL: What's going on with the cocktail scene in Oslo these days? What are some of the current trends, and how are you putting them to use at ICEBAR?
Monica Berg: Oslo is quite "young" still when it comes to having a cocktail scene - but luckily we are slowly getting there. I think we are still trying to find our own ways and style, but you can definitely see bartenders being influenced by other cities such as NY, London and Tokyo.
Some of the biggest trends here at the moment are either going back to basics in Classic cocktails and/or bartenders making their own ingredients. As for us at ICEBAR, we did some testing and failing when we opened two years ago, and since then I have stood firmly by my beliefs that good produce/ingredients is key, and this reflects in our drinks as well. ICEBAR is all about exploring new things and being creative, and I think we do a good job at that. We like to think there are no limits, as long as you execute well! Many bartenders are currently doing their own cordials, syrups, infusions and I think that's really cool as long as you achieve a good result! Doing just for doing without any "soul" is rather pointless in my opinion.
Monica Berg, Bar Manager at ICEBAR Oslo
TTP:Describe ICEBAR in three words:
MB: Creativity, playfulness, fun
TTP: The ICEHOTEL is famous worldwide for its "cool" (pun definitely intended) décor, so visitors from all over the world must be familiar with the ICE-brand. How does the ICEBAR Oslo cocktail program cater to customers from places as faraway as South Africa or Japan?
MB: For us it's very important to give our guests the best experience possible. The cocktails are one way to do it, and we take pride in the positive feedback we get from our guests. I tend to prefer working with regional flavors but I always try to mix them with more known ingredients to make it less scary for faraway guests. Most importantly though, I have colleagues that can guide our visitors to the right cocktail when told what the guest normally prefer to drink.
TTP: I see you have cocktails served "served in-the-rock." What does this mean?
MB: Our drinks are served in glasses made out of wild Torne river ice, so we decided to go with the term "In-the-rock" rather than "On-the-rocks," seeing how the drink basically is served inside an "ice cube."
TTP: You do a great job of keeping things cool, but every now and then you've got to warm things up a bit, right? What kind of warm cocktails are you serving in ICEBAR?
MB: On the current menu we only have two: Bohemian Rhapsody and Jumpin' Jack Flash. We tend to do more toddy's and tea-based drinks, as they stand up to the cold better than coffee- or milk based ones.
TTP: What's your favorite cocktail on the ICEBAR menu right now?
MB: Oh, that's a toss-up between Seven Nation Army with Hammer Ulagret Aquavit, Cucumber & Elderflower or the Junipher Greene with Tanqueray Gin, Elderflower, Muscat grape and Gooseberry. The first one is a returning favorite, though this is the ICEBAR version. We used to have it in the cocktail bar as Artic Affair, but when I adapted it for the ICEBAR, because of the temperature, I had to change it so much that I decided to rename it. The second is named after a Norwegian 70's rock band, and is probably my all-time favorite ice drink. I love Tanqueray and wanted to do it justice despite the temperature - but it was a bit of a struggle to find the right combination of flavors.
TTP: In the States, the boutique ice trend is finally catching fire. What's your favorite kind of ice?
MB: I'm quite spoiled when it comes to ice, given I have an almost unlimited supply of (the best!) wild ice harvested from the Torne river. Normally the ice comes in blocks so I can choose what size and form I need, and just cut it down as I like. As a wow factor though, I'd probably say that our hand-cut ice diamonds are quite cool. If we do use machine frozen ice, we have a Hoshizaki which is my favorite brand.
TTP: For guests who don't like to be cold, you have a "normal" bar too, called Aqua Vitae. What's the concept there?
MB: A.V is where I'll spend most of my time come January. We're currently redoing the interior and profile a little, and I can't wait to open!! We want to keep the playfulness of ICEBAR as well as the ice of course, but also be more like a traditional (in some senses - most of all temperature) bar. The cocktail program will consist of classics in three variations; the classic itself, and also a twisted version (aka, for the industry J), a "Tea Total" section focusing on tea-based cocktails served in tea pots (hot and cold) and some house cocktails mainly focusing on Aquavit ( the national spirit of Norway), which are what we're most known for. Once or twice a month we'll have guest bartenders visiting and hopefully in the future this will include international bartenders as well!
Art and creativity are essential parts of the ICEHOTEL/ICEBAR brands, and will also be important at A.V. We're currently working with local artists; both visual and musical - and I strongly believe this will be an important part of the bar!
TTP: Asking a bartender to pick a favorite spirit is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child, but I must: If you could only drink one spirit again for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
MB: Definitely whisky! It's perfect on its own and great in cocktails. (One of my absolute favo's is a well made Sazerac. )Whisky is so versatile that you'll always find one to match your mood; one day it might be a bourbon - next day a Single Malt. Even though I don't have to choose, more often than not it ends up being my choice anyway!
TTP: What is your favorite bar, anywhere in the world?
MB: Good question, but almost impossible to answer! There are so many amazing bars, so how do I choose only one? If I had to do a top three though, I think it would be (in random order)
Death & Co in NYC; amazing people and fantastic drinks! The next was my home away from home while in NY earlier this fall:
Artesian at The Langham- amazing cocktails, stylish bar and the most(!) service-minded bartenders. Lastly, ECC (
Experimental Cocktail Club) in China Town, London. I was blown away by the cocktails!
Thank you, Monica, for your insight! Think you have an international bar we ought to check out? Email Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org!