Escrito por: Ian Cameron
Thor Bergquist, 26, is bar manager of ECC Chinatown, the London outpost of Paris's Experimental Cocktail Club. He was born in Auckland and began bartending in the city before relocating to Australia and London, with a spell in Singapore along the way.
One of my earliest experiences with alcohol was stealing a bottle of Benedictine from my parents - I guess I was going for the oldest, fanciest looking bottle I could find. I was born and raised in the suburbs in Auckland and nearby was Waiheke Island, a bit of a hippie, stoner kind of place, but also a massive wine growing community, so I grew up thinking a combination of wine, jazz and surfing was normal.
My first job was as a 'glassie' at Papa Jack's Voodoo Lounge in Auckland, a punk and metal bar full of skulls and taxidermy. There was a great sub-culture, a mix of hip hops, metallers, punks with huge mohawks. I met my girlfriend there and it's basically the reason I never went to university and stayed working in bars. Out the back was Dragon, a beers-and-shots ten-seater bar open til noon from the night before. You had to type in a code word to get in. I would go to school the next day with crazy stories. I ended up managing a bar run by the same guys.
I think the Kiwi scene has improved a lot since I left - hopefully no connection! Even before I left there were three or four good bars that I had a high regard for. The New Zealand market doesn't get that much exposure, but it's got its own unique perspective on mixology - it's a truly global location, mixing American and Japanese techniques and fresh Asian produce. Before I realised I could make bartending my career, I was a little bit lost in life. I spent time in the air corps, I wanted to fly jets, but a growth spurt shattered my dreams.
Melbourne was a bit of a culture shock. Everyone seemed cooler and more sure of themselves. There was so much going on: markets open at night, bars down secret alleyways, bars made up out of shipping containers. I spent a year and a half there. I got my first job there by walking up to Der Raum, ordering a Negroni and asking for a trial shift. It was a great bar that upped the ante in my appreciation of quality spirits.
I spent four months in Singapore, which is a city with a dark underbelly. It's all very clean and there are those famous laws, so you can't chew gum and can only smoke in certain places. But it's also a really debaucherous combination of east and west: hawker centres and fresh handmade noodles sit next to Starbucks and branches of McDonalds. The locals can only spend 100 Singapore dollars in the casinos, but overseas visitors can spend as much as they want, and there's a huge clubbing scene, as anyone who has been to Four Floors of Whores will agree. At the Tippling Club I learned to use a rotavap and how to pair food and alcohol properly, making it a harmonious experience.
I arrived in London in late 2010 and the sophistication of the hotel bar scene was completely new to me. Back home you never really see bars in hotels unless they're for hotel guests. I joined ECC Chinatown a week after it opened. ECC used to be Club 13, a dodgy dive bar that opened til 7am. Sometimes we still get the previous customers coming in: they look a bit confused. I spent a few days in Paris visiting our sister bars, going to ECC, Prescription and Curio Parlour and from that I can see ECC Chinatown has taken on a little bit of each of those bars.
Chinatown can be pretty eventful. There can be a lot of dodgy characters floating around at 6am when we finish, but it's a nice community, we all help each other with change and the restaurants downstairs receive stock and letters for us. We get such a lot of traffic down Gerrard Street and it's funny when you see two regulars fighting their way through the crowd.
I see life as a sort of flavour journey and I try to taste as many things, from exotic places, as I can. Food really excites me, and I think coffee and tea have massive untapped potential in cocktail bars. I am consciously geeky but I try and have fun with drinks. I try and stay away from trends though, so we do barrel-aged cocktails and have vintage spirits as well, but most of our influence is inspired by our own travels.
I think much of what we call 'molecular' is a passing fad, though rotavaps and making your own distillates is cool. I'm heavily into butter fat washing - we made a Peanut Butter Beer, with a spiced butter fat wash in rum - but I think we should keep all meat away from spirits. I almost broke a rotavap in Singapore, when the filter balls somehow got sucked into the cooling coil and I almost cried. I like the way 69 Colebrooke Row presents their drinks so you wouldn't even know they are using such techniques.
The best piece of advice I got was that it takes a long time to develop your own techniques and influences and to express themselves through your drinks. Bartending can be hard, to do it long term and keep a smile on your face for 55 hours a week. But as long as I stay passionate it shouldn't be a problem.