Bartender wins birch spirit challenge with ‘wild’ cocktails

Thom Solberg Freya

Norwegian-born bartender Thom Solberg from Black Rock in London has been announced as winner in a competition to find creative cocktails with Freya Birch Spirit.

Nine bartenders, from London and Belfast, were selected for the final held at Hixter Bankside in London in front of judges including world-leading bar and drinks consultant Spike Marchant and Freya’s founder, David Wallwork.

Through two rounds, competitors had to create unique and innovative cocktails that demonstrated the wide variety and possibilities offered by the distinctive flavour of Freya which is made from the sap of Nordic birch trees. See below for all of Thom’s cocktail recipes.

In the first round, they were challenged to create two delicious cocktails that were “Wild By Nature”, featuring Freya as the lead spirit and partnered with ingredients and flavours that they had foraged or sourced from nearby Borough Market.

Round two required the finalists to create and present two more cocktails. The first of these, “Made For My Menu,” sought a cocktail designed for inclusion in their own bar. The judges needed them to explain how and why the cocktail worked for their bar and how it delivered against the competition criteria, the values of their bar and the expectations of their customers.

For the last cocktail, they showcased their talent, creativity and individuality with a cocktail that was “Fit For A Goddess”, aiming for a truly different and memorable serve, with unique drinking vessels and presentation.

The other finalists were Stephen Downie from The Merchant Hotel in Belfast and, from London, Kenan Pajaziti from Scandinavian restaurant and bar The Harcourt in Marylebone, Luca Stiletti from Barts in Chelsea, Johnny Florea from Searcys St Pancras, Emily Couty from Sketch, Scott Lyon from Hixter, Sergio Leanza from The Gunmakers in Clerkenwell and Armando Costigliola from Searcys The Gherkin.

Launched in the UK in November last year, Freya Birch Spirit is made in England from distilled birch sap foraged from the birch forests of northern Europe using sustainable methods. It is named after the Norse goddess of love, fertility, gold and war.

It has a lightly fruity aroma akin to fresh peaches, with natural green flavours reminiscent of a premium tequila and the woody notes of a young whisky together with a background of subtle vanilla, ending with lingering rye.

Thom Solberg’s cocktails

Wild By Nature cocktails

50ml Freya Birch Spirit
15ml Barolo Chinato
10ml Campari
Small pinch of table salt
Stir/strain into a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with orange zest.

Am I Blue?
50ml Freya Birch Spirit
30ml Grapefruit juice
15ml Lemon juice
15ml Simple syrup (2:1)
1ml Blue cheese tincture
50ml Hoppy pale ale
Shake all the ingredients except the ale and strain into a long glass filled with cubed ice. Top and stir in the pale ale. Garnish with dehydrated grapefruit.

Made For My Menu

Ba Punch
65g Grated rubarb
3g Black peppercorn
4g Cloves
3g Cinnamon stick broken up
2g Cassia bark
7g Liquorice root
2g Juniper berries
5g Fennel seeds
15g Orange zest
10g Lemon zest
1 bay leaf
150ml Young scotch grain whisky (Cameron Brig)
Combine all and leave covered to infuse for 36 hours. Strain and add 300ml room-temperature whole milk and 200ml of water. Mix with the infusion. Add 75ml of orange juice and 75ml of lemon juice to the milk and infusion mix and mix carefully. Cover and leave to separate for a minimum of 48 hours. Strain through a coffee filter. Add 400ml Freya Birch Spirit, mix well, bottle and keep refrigerated. To prepare pour 75ml over ice in a tumbler glass. Stir and garnish with frozen rhubarb and redcurrant sprig.

Fit For a Goddess

60ml Freya Birch Spirit
30ml Burnt honey syrup*
30ml Apple juice
25ml Carrot juice
10ml Spicy Ron Zacapa**
Shake and strain into an upside-down pineapple vessel. Serve on a slate. Garnish with peat dust set fire to and put out so it is smouldering. Cover with dill and serve a homemade gravlax on top. Cover the rest of the slate with dehydrations of grapefruit, apple, carrot, fennel seeds, liquorice root and juniper berries.

*For the burnt honey syrup, take spices, herbs and rhubarb from the Ba Punch cocktail and dry them out. Set fire to in a pan and add 100ml of Freya. Let it burn out over low heat. Add 250g of honey and mix. Add 250ml of water and leave to sit for five minutes on low heat. Add 100ml of clarified butter and whisk well. When it cools skim off excess fat, strain when cold and bottle.

**For the spicy Ron Zacapa, infuse a bottle of Ron Zacapa 23 with a mix of 20g pasilla chilli pepper, 10g chipotle, 6g scotch bonnet and 8g habanero for six hours.

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