Himkok is like Disneyland for any working bartender. The magic starts in the award-winning venue’s “distillery bar” on the ground floor, the most innovative of the three concepts housed inside the vast 19th-century warehouse in Oslo, Norway. As the name suggests, the distillery bar is where Himkok’s own microdistillery is proudly on display, positioned in clear view behind a glass wall for guests to observe as they drink. With a small hybrid still, the Himkok team crafts their own Nordic aquavit, vodka and gin, which are used in a range of cocktails.
Not only does Himkok make the majority of the spirits for its drinks—about 80 percent—in-house, but it also produces all of the clear ice for each of its busy bars. In the ice production room, which is fit with a fully functioning Clinebell machine (a commercial ice maker), those on the bar staff hand-cut 300-pound blocks with various saws and ice tools for service.
Through the seasonal “cider garden” terrace bar and up a couple of flights of stairs sits the “taptail bar”—the high-volume space with a range of cocktails on draft—with an unexpected independent barber shop catering to bartenders and other locals nestled into the back of the room. Up one more flight of stairs is Himkok’s research and development lab, which is equipped with the best of bartending technology, from a centrifuge to a rotary evaporator and beyond. The lab is the heart of Himkok’s creative engine. To understand Himkok is to understand its extraordinarily robust setup, the nexus for cocktails that are just as impressive as the space.
Though Himkok employs a number of innovative techniques to alter and enhance its drinks, it’s all in service of “staying true to the surrounding nature and local accessibility,” says Paul Aguilar, head of research and development. As much as the bar team pushes the boundaries in its recipe development process, each drink is designed to still be approachable to any drinker. The latest menu uses familiar Scandinavian produce to evoke memories of traditional Norwegian dishes and sweet treats, such as the Bun: a lush, clarified cocktail inspired by a Norwegian pastry called skolebrød, made with fat-washed bourbon, coconut flakes and butter.
Himkok’s Beetroot cocktail, which is served at the distillery bar, takes a more abstract approach. The recipe, created by bar manager Maroš Dzurus, originated from a desire to develop a Martini that showcases the earthy and vibrant flavors of the root vegetables (known simply as beets in the U.S. and Canada), a staple in Norwegian cuisine.
At the base of the drink is a distillate made from beetroot juice, Himkok vodka and a touch of chipotle chile, distilled under vacuum. The result is a perfect balance of earthiness and spice, and it’s crystal-clear thanks to the rotary evaporator.
Next, the bar creates a reindeer moss reduction. Reindeer moss, also known as reindeer lichen, is commonly found in the Arctic and has an earthy, mushroom-like flavor profile. To make the reduction, Himkok combines the reindeer moss with sugar and Chablis, heating the mixture until it has cooked down into a syrup. This component “enhances the natural sweetness of the beetroot, while also adding a refreshing and balanced element to the cocktail,” says Aguilar. The moss’s impact is a subtle one, but it amplifies the earthiness of the base spirit and highlights another ingredient local to Norway.
To round out the Beetroot, fino sherry replaces the Martini’s typical dry vermouth for a more saline character, and a touch of mezcal and white wine vinegar add depth and balance. As for the garnish, the cocktail gets a slice of pickled beetroot sunk to the bottom of the Martini, which lends a tanginess that pairs well with the vegetal, subtle sweetness of the drink.
The Beetroot, much like Himkok itself, is the culmination of extensive research and a mix of hardworking elements all layered together. “It embodies the essence of Himkok,” says Aguilar. “Each component of the cocktail was carefully selected to complement the next.”