"Finns drink hard," confides Timo Siitonen, bartender and managing director at A21 Cocktail Lounge (a21.fi) in Helsinki. This is especially the case during the long summer days, when the midnight sun encourages tipplers to go for the long haul.
Cocktail culture is still nascent in Finland's capital, where the locals are fond of beer and the ready-mixed "Gin Long Drink" (lonkero) originally developed for the Helsinki Summer Olympics in 1952. The canned mix, which some liken to gin blended with carbonated grapefruit soda, is "the world's first alcopop," says Siitonen.
But, Siitonen says, "cocktail culture is growing rapidly, which is changing the landscape of the whole drinking culture."
On a cocktail crawl in Helsinki, expect to find Finland's two iconic spirits, Koskenkorva (or Kossu), a clear spirit distilled from barley, similar to vodka, and Jaloviina (cognac cut with water). Typically, locals enjoy these liquors with soda water or cola.
A handful of Helsinki bars, including A21, are finding more creative ways to use spirits. A21 takes a culinary approach, utilizing traditional Finnish ingredients such as birch, sea buckthorn and cloudberry jam to transform stalwart Jaloviina into the more contemporary sea buckthorn sour.
Siitonen also recommends Kamp Bar (hotelkamp.com/brasseriekampbareng), a tranquil cafe/bar space in the opulent Hotel Kamp, and Grotesk (www.grotesk.fi), a stylish bar and restaurant housed in the former home of a Helsinki newspaper.
American Bar (ateljeebar.fi/en/american-bar.html) at Sokos Hotel Torni (Helsinki's oldest landmark and the only "skyscraper" in the city) is known for well-made but particularly pricey cocktails, as well as wines and Champagne. But business travelers may find one aspect of this bar particularly welcoming: It opens at 4 p.m., one of the few to do so.
"There is no real after-work culture in Finland," Siitonen explains, which is a foreign concept for many accustomed to unwinding with colleagues after a long workday.
A Helsinki cocktail: Sea buckthorn sour
Sea buckthorn sour is a cocktail served in Helsinki's A21 Bar. Sea buckthorn is a plant with vibrant orange berries that have a tart-sweet flavor some compare to sour oranges mixed with pineapple. They're also said to be rich in antioxidants and other nutrients.
The recipe: Mix 3 teaspoons Finnish sea buckthorn jam with 11/2 ounces fresh orange juice, 11/2 ounces Jaloviina (traditional Finnish cut cognac) and 3 dashes orange bitters. Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into rocks glass. Serve over fresh ice. Garnish with orange slice or fresh sea buckthorn berries.
Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 Tongue-tingling Cocktails."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times