5 minutes with Timo Siitonen
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(1) How does being born and raised in Finland influence your work behind the bar?

My Finnish heritage is core to my respect of the pure and unique flavours our natural surroundings have to offer, and how to incorporate inimitable Nordic ingredients in my cocktail creations. Some of my favourite Nordic ingredients are lingonberries, wild blueberries, arctic bramble, cloudberries and sea buckthorn. These all have very particular taste and aroma characteristics and require special attention, for example, lingonberries work beautifully with vanilla, whilst sea buckthorn pairs well with cinnamon.

(2) What was your first-ever bartending gig?

A shift in 1999 at legendary members’ bar, Mondo, deep in the basement of Greek Street in the heart of London’s Soho. The atmosphere was warm and exclusive without being bling-bling, and customers ranged from trendy young professionals and fashionistas to celebrities and other famous faces. Cocktails were not actually a big thing back then, but we did serve a lot of Woo Woos, Zombies and Sea Breezes.

(3) What’s the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?

A bartender looks after the bar, treats guests professionally and hosts guests personally by making their visit memorable in every conceivable way, whilst all the while serving well-balanced cocktails according to customers’ needs. A mixologist spends less time attending to customers’ needs, excels at creating interesting cocktails and has a commanding knowledge of spirits and flavour pairings.

(4) You’ve worked all over the world. Is there any country that left a lasting impression and still influences your style behind the bar?

Without doubt the U.K. has contributed most to the experience I call upon and skills I practice today.

(5) You really made a name for yourself as Head Bartender of Dick’s Bar at the famous Atlantic Bar & Grill in London. What’s the most important thing you learned while working there?

I am very honoured to be part of the Atlantic’s Dick’s Bar heritage and to have been able to extend my craft from my predecessors. We were extremely strict with customer service standards, the uncompromising quality of cocktails and paying attention to the smallest details. Probably the most important thing I learned while working at the Atlantic, was how to utilise a variety of fresh ingredients to create modern cocktails.

(6) What spirit or wine, in your opinion, is the most versatile?

Most definitely gin, because it works with pretty much anything you throw at it. Its botanicals enhance both fruity, berry and spicy flavours in a drink, and it can be used in classic style martinis, long refreshing citrusy and herbal cocktails and even in exotic concoctions. The extensive gin selection available today allows me to choose a specific brand depending on the need to suit the desired taste profile.

(7) Who or what inspires you to create a new cocktail?

Stories, scenes, pictures, and, last but by no means least, accessibility to fresh and unique ingredients which I can incorporate in a cocktail.

(8) You opened multi award-winning A21 Cocktail Lounge in Helsinki in 2007. Tell us about the concept and why the venue has been so successful.

A21 is designed to act as a stylish extension to one’s living room, where customers can enjoy the very best cocktails in a warm yet design-led environment. I think our slogan “Sip With Style” sums-up A21 pretty well!
The venue’s success is due to a number of factors: The personal and warm service style; a modern approach to flavours; the design of the interior; the music and atmosphere; carefully chosen staff, and a blind faith in modern cocktail culture.

(9) What’s the standout feature that makes A21 different from the rest?

A21’s obvious love for Nordic ingredients and flavours, and the manner in which we honour and use them in cocktails to create unforgettable taste experiences. Some of A21’s cocktails are akin to taking your taste-buds on a delectable journey.

(10) What are your top tips for a home bartender?

Learn how to execute basic cocktail making methods well and don’t over-complicate things. Keep it simple – because simple can be beautiful!

(11) What part do quality mixers play in cocktails of today?

Mixers play a very important role in cocktails, since they give us possibilities to create longer drinks while adding an extra dimension to the mix. High quality mixers are made by using natural ingredients so they can be used as extra flavour bringers in craft cocktails. Fresh ingredients are the way to go in high-quality cocktails, and so the mixers used should echo the same premium standard.

(12) What would you say is the spirit of the moment?

I would say two: gin, and distilled agave-based spirits.
I like my gin to be strong and acidic with a touch of earthiness. My favourite brand at the moment is Helsinki Dry Gin. This gin uses one of my favourite berries as one of its distinctive botanicals, lingonberry.
There are so many different great agave spirits around at the moment, but my favourites are tequilas from the Los Altos region. Tapatio by Destileria la Alteña. Tapatio is still produced using authentic methods, and has a wonderful taste of the agave plant.