Green Light Collins Hysteria with Johan Sjödin

Johan Sjödin finalizing a cocktail

This guy is not just mad about aquavit, he’s also one of the humblest and most sincere bartenders in the business. He boasts a hipster beard, black bomber jacket and impressive golf swing, and is somewhat of a marketing genius – at least that’s what his CV says. After five years of studies in sunny Hawaii and San Diego, he got a degree as a graphic designer. With an almost-empty wallet after golfing, surfing and playing about, he was scraping together money as a bar-back while home for the holidays.

The bar-backing evolved into bartending, even while he worked as a marketing manager at ZTV – the Swedish version of MTV. But despite being a well-paid office worker with a creative and fun job, he still craved to stand behind the bar and interact with thirsty party people at a laidback nightclub on the weekends. This nightclub was at the bottom of a Stockholm-scale skyscraper that had a more elegant sky bar with one of the best views of the city on the top floor.

One night, the sky bar was really in the weeds, pleading for help from the speed-tenders down at the club. Neither Johan nor his two colleagues were eager to play with the guys 25 floors up, so deciding the matter via rock-paper-scissors seemed like the fairest solution. Johan lost and headed up to the cocktail bar he’d literally been looking up to, thinking it was a bit too nerdy for his style. But by the first order, he felt at home, a Frozen Margarita was a no-brainer until things started to go like the café robbery in Pulp Fiction. Like a beaten hero, he went back downstairs feeling he could breathe freely again. But the sky bar restaurant manager had other plans for Johan.

After turning down the offer to be a bar manager about a dozen times, Johan finally gave in to the challenge. Just as Prince Daniel of Sweden left his job as a personal trainer, Johan made a career U-turn. He was now headed towards the sky bar in Stockholm’s Southside.

At 4.10pm every Saturday, it sounded like hordes of elephants were making their way to the bar. It was a gigantic flock of tourists pilgrimaging to see the 360-degree view and enjoy a tasty cocktail – all at the same time. A Lord-of-the-Rings-feeling where the bar is the fortress that gives way. Legolas got soap in his eyes at the same time that Gandalf had to bail, just as the hoard of orcs arrived from Mordor to order Irish coffees and Mojitos.

Johan later left the heavenly sky bar to work at the homey and quirky Story Hotel, which made him feel slightly claustrophobic after having previously looked out over the wide expanses of Stockholm. The requests for Swedish flavours from numerous international guests made Johan and his colleague, former bar manager Thobias Pettersson, think twice about the cocktails on their wide-ranging menu. One late spring afternoon, they came up with a striking new cocktail list. And while brainstorming about Swedishness, O.P. Anderson quickly came to mind. After all, this was a brand they both remembered from their childhood homes. O.P. Anderson was the obvious choice. What’s more, Johan had just been to his house in the countryside outside of Stockholm and was able to enjoy some silence while chewing on a green heart-shaped leaf that has a distinct acidic taste, as many children do during springtime. This sour-tasting plant, wood sorrel, became the second main ingredient for their new Swedish cocktail.

They gave it a go and sat down to taste the neon green cocktail in a Collins glass, not too keen on the almost kryptonite colour. But after the first sip, they both looked at each other with an intense silence before bursting into wild laughter. It was unbelievable, nailing it on the first try and creating a killer cocktail with a Swedish vibe. All the other spirits made the cocktail taste completely flat. They gave no character, no balance.

That was just the beginning of the Green Light Collins hysteria. The consumption of O.P. Anderson went up to about a dozen bottles a week. The sorrel supplier was starting to question why the hell Story Hotel was depleting Sweden’s sorrel supply. Green Light Collins quickly became the signature drink for the Story Hotel and sparked imitations around the country. It was an absolute success, becoming the new Swedish mojito with an aquavit-only base.

The cocktail is certainly the perfect aperitif – the high acidity, well-balanced and excitingly sweet taste of the sorrel is combined with the strength and character of the aquavit. Why it became a success is not so strange. Then there is the lemon juice that strengthens and balances the caraway notes, as well as the aniseed that offers mild liquorice notes and contributes to a creamy sensation that unites the drink’s components. And as we know from old home remedies, fennel has the ability to increase appetite.

Johan is certain that the fuss about aquavit-based cocktails, and O.P. Anderson as a leading aquavit, has just started. “It has a generous natural base, boasting an incredible spice balance. With small means, you’re able to create a cocktail with a distinctly Swedish character and easily engage the guests.”

We don’t want to hold you back any longer. Check out this crispy cocktail that has a backbone of caraway from the aquavit, soft and sweet notes from the sorrel, and additional sharpness from the lemon.

Green Light Collins

The End
Anthon Brøndum
Feature