When we first met Terkel Kleist, it had nothing to do with rum or Cuba. It was around the vineyards of Cognac on an educational trip and he told us he had recently quit bartending to work with a Danish importer. This didn’t last long, as we soon found him representing his country at the 2016 Havana Club Grand Prix. So when we ran into him, we just had one thing to ask: “What happened, young man?” Thing is, ask Terkel one question and the softly spoken, eloquent bartender will give you a long, thoughtful answer. “I was missing the act of mixing flavours and the action behind the bar. I just love the service part – more, actually, than mixing drinks. I believe I’m OK at it because the guests like the drink but for me it’s all about the service. I like making people happy and you can do that in so many ways other than just making them a drink, so I became a bartender again”. To sum it up: if you want someone to make you happy, head for Lidkoeb, one of Copenhagen’s leading bars.
But we were then thousands of kilometres away, in Cuba; Terkel had just come off stage after presenting his drink and he was not sure he had done enough: “I don’t know if that’s what the jury was looking for. My presentation was more about trying to get people involved so I tried to be the bartender I normally am and let them focus on what they were drinking. It’s called Suave Cantina and the dominating flavours are rum and light and delicate watermelon. I spiced them up with Cuban cilantro and a little bit of basil. It’s basically a Watermelon & Cilantro Daiquiri”.
If Terkel was not sure about his performance, it’s because of a conversation with Audrey Saunders, Pegu Club owner and living legend, who just happened to be attending the Grand Prix. “She told me that when she works with watermelon, she mixes the drink, shakes it, pours it and only then adds the chilled watermelon on top, in order not to dilute the flavour, because watermelon has a lot of water already. I wish I had done that, because I spent maybe four hours balancing this drink and the problem I had was to get the watermelon to shine trough”. The beauty of it is that Audrey was a member of the Havana Club People’s Choice panel with a selection of non-professional guests. And in spite of his initial misgivings, Terkel was announced, later that very evening, as the winner of the People’s Choice Award. An apt reward for someone who believes so much in making drinkers happy!
And now, what? Not a return to selling spirits, that’s for sure. His own bar? Yes, hopefully. And maybe, just maybe, Terkel’s Havana experience will make an impact. “If the budget was there, it would look a little bit like the Hotel Nacional” he quips. “There’s something about colonial interiors that help people relax, so they’re likelier to welcome new flavours. In Denmark, it’s all about the New Nordic look, but people will bring their own opinion and expectations of Nordic and won’t be as receptive to experimentation. As bartenders, we respect traditional flavours, but we also want to play so we need a setting that allows us to bring new stuff. I’ve had some drinks in Cuba that I wouldn’t have been receptive to under different circumstances. This trip helped me to see balance in a different way”. Who’s down for some Exotico-Nordic drinks in Copenhagen, then? Don’t let us down, Terkel!
50 ml Havana Club 3 Años
10 ml fresh lime juice
10 ml coriander and basil syrup
25 ml fresh watermelon juice
Shake over ice, strain into cocktail glass and garnish with pretty flowers and watermelon