Maybe on his deathbed my father will let me know where his cloudberry patch is located, laments Emil Emil Åreng, the general manager of Open/Closed bar in Umeå in the north of Sweden. Apparently Swedes are super possessive of their cloudberry sources, and many aren’t even swayed to share them when their kids open a cutting-edge drinks outpost.
Emil opened a 24-seat bar in this deli in the center of Umeå a little more than a year ago. The drinks focus on using the natural bounty of locally foraged ingredients, such as mushrooms and berries, and the menu changes every two weeks. In the wintertime, the bar focuses on ingredients it has preserved or can import.
Each menu is inspired by a theme that could be anything from an author to a war, he says. Some of the themes have come from Swedish characters he’s currently interviewing for a cocktail book slated to come out in September. In its pages, he distills each encounter into a drink. One of the most notable was inspired by his visit to a former Swedish arm-wrestling champion who lives in a six-house village literally called Loneliness.
While he travels frequently to compete, he loves life in the forest. His cocktail homage was a coffee-based drink made with spruce syrup. According to Åreng, you can close your eyes and feel as if you’re next to him in the forest when you sip it. Another cocktail for the book is inspired by the surprisingly substantial Northern Thai community in Sweden and its tom kha gai soup; the drink is made with lemongrass-infused vodka and coconut milk.
Åreng says that much of the culinary world’s recent focus on Scandinavian food is about discovering flavors that were always right around the corner. It’s all about how looking back into one’s grandmother’s cooking traditions can reinvigorate and improve the local drinks scene.
When not out picking cloudberries, he’s concocting some mind-bending drinks for his four-course cocktail-tasting menu. The drinks are served as a meal in and of themselves and range from light to stiff, followed by a refreshing course and a dessert cocktail.
Marga e Rita cocktail
Current favorites include the Hamburger cocktail, made with mezcal for its smoky tones. The drink is infused with Cecina de León, a Spanish dried meat, which he says tastes like hamburger. It’s then topped with a layer of syrups that include grilled onion and sriracha, tomato and Dijon mustard, and a drizzle of French fry syrup on top.
While he admits that hamburger may not be typically Scandinavian, the bar community throughout the world is constantly cycling through a host of international flavors, which also make them local in some way. Another take on international/local taste profiles is the Marga e Rita, which is a combination of a Margherita pizza mixed with a Margarita cocktail. Yellow Chartreuse gives the cocktail herbal tones, which is mixed with a syrup of long pepper and tomato juice. It’s then topped with a little pecorino cheese. “It looks and tastes like a pizza. If you’re drunk and hungry, it’s the one to go for,” he says.