Words by Hayden Wood
Mika Koivula is the founder, partner & head bartender at Son Of A Punch, a cocktail consultancy and events company which is pushing the boundaries of the cocktail and hospitality industry in Helsinki and helping to put it on the map globally whilst paying particular attention to those who work in it.
Aptly for a Finish native who’s no doubt poached in Cherry Heering, Mika chose 1887 - the year when Kämp hotel, the oldest hotel in Helsinki, opened its doors. The bar at the Kämp has always been one of the pioneers of the cocktail scene of Finland. They had high quality products in their bar even back in the early days when Champagne was the drink of choice. Kämp brought mixed drinks and cocktails to Helsinki in 1913 and Mika's cocktail is a homage to the idea that heritage institutions like Kämp & Cherry Heering continue to be both relevant and modern today.
“My earliest Cherry Heering experience is still one of my favorite cocktails - Remember the Maine. The first time I had it was in Callooh Callay in London, and I absolutely fell in love with its flavours of chocolate and cherry working together with dry rye whiskey. Remember the Maine has been my choice for a night cap ever since.”
Prohibition was instituted across Finland between 1919 and 1932 and the Kämp hotel made do by hiding Estonian liquor in the famous Room 34 while it was “under renovation” and serving it to its grateful guests in secret. Thankfully, the modern Finnish bar industry is in good health and there is a growing movement to sustain it.
Sustainability is crucial to Mika. Environmental concerns such as the problem of single use straws and the Trash Tiki movement are good examples of trends that he is passionate about but it is the mental and physical health of bartenders that is of particular focus to him.
“We established our own bar in 2012 called Liberty Odets. When you have your own bar, you're 20 something years old, and everything is super cool
- it's the best bar in the city, you work really hard long days, everyday and then you go out after work everyday and party. It’s not sustainable in the long term. ”
“We have a pretty young industry in Helsinki and because of that it can be a super outgoing, sexy, cool industry but it was always seen as a short-term party job for bartenders. It’s only now that we’re seeing the changes starting to happen because ours is the first generation to figure out that it can be a career for life. It's not just for a five or ten-year path but maybe a 30 or 40 year career. The party lifestyle might be fine in the short term but if I want to stay healthy or if I want to still work when I'm 50, then I have to try to keep myself in a good condition. I found my wife and she helped me to look at my lifestyle in a new way.”
Bartender and bar-staff burnout through alcohol and drug miss-use is a common problem in our industry and Mika sees both bar owners and brand ambassadors as crucial in changing the culture and becoming more health-focused.
“I would say that bar owners can help people out of that short-term mindset by being role models and looking after their staff. It's also important for the brands to show that they are being responsible by employing Brand Ambassadors who aren’t always the last ones in the bar and are socially responsible, especially as they are looked upon as role models by many young bartenders. They are globally known representatives of brands who have a responsibility and a duty of care to their staff and customers so their input into the health and wellbeing of bar teams can be crucial in forming opinion. It is, after all a fact that you are more likely to achieve more and achieve it faster if you have a clear mind. One important tip is to have hobbies outside the industry in order to have a more balanced life.”
Mika sees the bar industry as an opportunity for a long and interesting career which requires taking care of himself and his team. He has just started a new agency called Mikoi Consulting and is on his way to promoting best practice in both hospitality and sustainability throughout the industry in Finland. In the meantime, like Cherry Heering the nightlife and the next generation of staff who work in it can look forward to a long fulfilling career through the skill, advice and mentoring of people like Mika.
Les Diners Cocktail
Garnish: Fresh cherry
Method: Stir and strain into a chilled glass.
30 ml Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
20 ml Cherry Heering
15 ml Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey
5 ml White Creme de Cacao
3 dash Chardonnay vinegar