Continuing our series of spotlights on pioneering international bars, Hamish Smith visits Himkok in Oslo, Norway. Bar manager Maroš Dzurus talks us through what makes this bar so different. 

So Maroš, for those of us who haven't yet been, tell us about the concept behind Himkok...

Himkok translates to ‘homecooked’ but means ‘moonshine’, which is what we do here – we make our own spirits but we do it legally. It took two years of negotiation for owner Ek Potur to change the law to allow us to have the distillery as part of the bar – 80% of the spirits we use at the bar we make on-site. Through our spirits and cocktails we aim to embody Norwegian culture and its flavours and bring something unique to Norway.

So what’s the look and feel?

The main bar – the distillery bar – is a blend of Scandinavian and 1930s New York look, with dark wood, gilded mirrors and low lighting. It has speakeasy vibes – there is no branding outside – but it’s not small; we have capacity for 450 people. Behind the bar we do not have brands, just our own bottles. The building itself is from 1837 and used to be a pharmacy warehouse, which is why we chose lab coats for the bartenders.

The second bar you can find in our back yard, where we have our cider bar and the focus is local ciders and beers. The third bar is our high-volume bar where we serve cocktails on draft – and upstairs there’s even a barbershop. We also have an ice programme, where we produce, cut and distribute ice to other bars.

Next to the bar are your stills, where you redistill spirit to make gin, vodka and aquavit. How does this make it into your drinks?

Frederick, who is our head distiller, distils 10,000 litres of spirit a year, operating our copper pot still five days a week. The spirit is piped directly from the distillery next door to the bar. We use potato spirit as a base for everything – the gin, vodka and aquavit. We also have a fourth tank, which is used for collaboration spirits, or to showcase in-house spirits, for example our almond liquor. We find we get more consistent results for cocktails by distilling ingredients with spirit, rather than infusing them. We also have aquavit ageing in vermouth casks.

Does it work out cheaper producing your own spirits?

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It works out a little bit cheaper in Norway – a litre of vodka works out as €18-19 – but when you produce your own, you don’t get the marketing budget that other bars have for their house vodka and gin. But what you do get is full control of what’s going into the process. Our gin and aquavit recipes are the result of feedback from customers in the bar – you can target exactly what they want.

You’re a few months into the latest menu – what’s the focus?

The menu has 13 cocktails that shine a light on Norway’s food and drink culture. Bun (pictured) is a smooth drink made using a fat-washed Eagle Rare infused with coconut flakes, waffle mix, unsalted butter and Norwegian cookies called Mariekjeks, to recall the taste of skolebrød, a typical Norwegian pastry. Seabuckthorn is made using locally grown seabuckthorn and cloudberries as well as the ice cream, Siddis Gelato, to recreate the flavours of multekrem, a Norwegian dessert.

Honey, whose lead ingredient is from a local producer, has ByBi, combined with angelica root for bitterness and Himkok’s gin for the perfect floral notes balance. Not a new drink but one that is always on our menu as a Himkok Classic is Birch, our Dry Martini twist. It uses our own Old Tom, which has no sugar but is sweetened with meadowsweet and birch sap.