July 2012

Absolut House Party

by Sarah Jean Klinger / photos by Erica Bartel

Naomi Schimek, General Manager of The Spare Room, stands in an unmistakable ABSOLUT doorway with Marcos Tello of Tello | Demarest Liquid Assets, a cocktail consulting firm.

ABSOLUT Stuga [ab-so-loot stoo-gah] noun: a vibrant, self-contained world full of exciting, entertaining and surprising discoveries to reconnect you an icon that is constantly reinventing itself.

At Paramount Studios in the heart of Hollywood, on the same sound stage where Citizen Kane was filmed, Los Angeles’s top bartenders found themselves transported last month to a remote village in Sweden. There, the stage was dramatically lit, giving the scene an authentic icy air that was a perfect backdrop for three stugas, Swedish cottages designed to each represent a unique dimension of Sweden’s iconic vodka brand, ABSOLUT. According to Simon Ford, Trade Marketing Director for Pernod Ricard USA, the aim of the night was to educate by following this mandate: “Bring Sweden to Los Angeles, and fly in the experts.”

As a group of ABSOLUT experts stood by, ready to delve into all aspects of the quintessentially Swedish vodka, bartenders and industry professionals from across Los Angeles were privy to everything about the brand, from founder Lars Olsson Smiths’s ground breaking methods of continuous distillation to the ABSOLUT ‘one source’ philosophy.  Specifically, attendees were schooled about the importance of the distillery’s location; the winter wheat and the pristine water used in ABSOLUT both emanate from one area near the small town of Åhus, in the Skåne region.

After stuga-school let out (and guests took off their ABSOLUT lab coats), attendees sipped a series of ABSOLUT cocktails before sitting down to a dinner compliments of Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of L.A.’s super-hot Animal restaurant. It was a house party of ABSOLUT proportions, to be sure, but the education offered by the night was the real draw: "It is important to bring bartenders back into the mix of what we’re doing,” explained Ford.

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Rudy Aguero, ABSOLUT Brand Specialist with Pernod Ricard USA, was behind the stick, serving cocktails like the ABSOLUT Cardamom Lilt, a refreshing pineapple-grapefruit concoction with complexly aromatic cardamom notes.

Steve McGarry, On-Premise Trade Marketing Manager for ABSOLUT, explained, “We’re here to educate, to give everyone a chance to take a look under the hood and see what makes ABSOLUT tick.” Behind him, a lesson in ABSOLUT’s production process was projected onto a wall.

Three of the most celebrated bartenders in the world—Oliver Peyton, Toby Cecchini and Nick Strangeway—recounted their experiences with ABSOLUT vodka. Cecchini made his version of the Cosmopolitan for the event and recalled the brand’s importance in the creation of the classic Cosmo: “I created the Cosmo using ABSOLUT Citron back in the ‘80s. I have always enjoyed their products, but was blown away when I flew to Sweden and saw how ABSOLUT was produced. It is beautifully made.” Peyton added, “ABSOLUT were the first to make brands cool and associate with bartenders.” Peyton, who will be receiving an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II this year for his services in the hospitality industry, recalled ABSOLUT’s role in the creation of his own career. “ABSOLUT was the first brand that gave me a chance when I was young and inexperienced. It was the turning point in my career.”

Zahara Bates and Vincenzo Marianella, founders of cocktail consulting firm My Mixology, share a hug. Marianella was impressed and educated by the Stuga experience. “When making ABOLSUT, everything is done locally. They have their own little economy in a small part of Sweden, and that really amazed me!”

The ABSOLUT Stuga event was equal parts entertainment and education: Following the in-depth presentations, industry professionals gathered around ghostly trees, with blue lights and mirrored tables bringing guests as close to Sweden as possible, all while in L.A.

Marcos Tello of of Tello|Demarest Liquid Assets watches as Dick Stafström tastes bartenders on the brand. Onödigt Bra on the back of Stafström’s lab coat is Swedish for “unnecessarily perfect,” and Tello doesn’t disagree. “ABSOLUT has one of the smartest marketing campaigns out there. They hire bartenders to talk about their product, and as a bartender myself, hearing about a product from one of my own, I am more inclined to listen.”

Simon Ford, Trade Marketing Manager for Pernod Ricard USA, indicated that the no-holds-barred Stuga event was designed to be somewhat of a “thank you” to the bartenders who have been longtime supporters of the brand. “No expense was spared,” he admits, as if the impressive and impeccable set could indicate otherwise. “This event was designed to educate industry professionals on the quality of our great product, to show we’re still around and we care.”

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