The exciting craft cocktail scene in Helsinki, Finland: A21 [classic article]

Having traveled throughout Europe, I can tell you that lots of places have no love for the cocktail. Some places, it’s wine, wine, wine, maybe interchanged with a beer. Dinners open with your choice of wine or sparkling wine — the “aperitif”. They claim that stronger liquors dull the palate for the upcoming meal. Other places do have hard liquor, but they’re taken as shots: something to get rid of quickly.

There’s a theater near me that had a managing director for a bit who nearly did the place in. I knew immediately that she would be a disaster — even before the season opened — because she proclaimed that the theater bar would no longer serve cocktails, only “California wines”. The reason I was skeptical, was that wine really goes best with food and is certainly unpredictable from vintage year to vintage year. If you’re not a wine expert — and really, how many people are? — it’s hard to select something to drink standing around that doesn’t need the balance and enhancement of food. Also, I’ve been around preppies for a good chunk of my life . . . they definitely enjoy the occasional or frequent cocktail.

That’s why I was so happy to be hosted to experience A21, Helsinki’s most revered cocktail lounge! They’re serious about cocktails here, with hundreds and hundreds listed on their menu from all over the world. The atmosphere is chic and sleek, with a backroom that serves as a VIP area. You ring a doorbell to be granted entry.

Ingredients are also authentic and global — that’s probably why they’re on the very pricey side. Many drinks are what would be $20 and up.

They also create drinks that feature exotic Finnish produce: Artic cloudberries, wild “blueberries” — theirs are different from ours — and other tart fruits. They add a sophisticated flavor to drinks.

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