Mixing it up with Curfew in Copenhagen
This month we sip cocktails with master-mixer Humberto Marques, as he shares his bar-hopping journey from Portugal to Copenhagen.
After spending eight years in Edinburgh, Scotland, working in the cocktail bar industry, Portugal-native Humberto Marques felt like he needed a change and so bucked the trend and made a move to Denmark. “Whilst all of my colleagues where making moves to the likes of London, I had a few good contacts in the industry here, and so came for a visit in 2009 and witnessed how the cocktail scene was growing in Copenhagen. To me it looked like a great opportunity, and so in 2010 I moved to Copenhagen,” Humberto explains. Humberto is now owner and manager of the classy Curfew Cocktail Bar in Copenhagen. Walking into the bar, decorated with Portuguese tiles and filled with quirky shakers, unique vintage machines and early 20th century posters – all collectables from his time behind the bar in the many countries he has plied his trade – you instantly get a sense of a vintage speakeasy bar, a laid-back vibe but with a modern twist. The cocktail menu is extensive – definitely one of the most extravagant in Copenhagen. It changes with the seasons and patrons can choose between a wide range of seasonal, classic, forgotten and award- winning cocktails. It is for this reason that the bar was awarded best cocktail bar in Copenhagen in 2017 by local press.
“I think that Danes genuinely want to help expats by speaking English, but they also love it when you try and speak Danish back.”
It was a summer beach-job at the age of 15 that gave Humberto his first taste of cocktail mixing. “The boss had a few old cocktail books I stumbled across, and was intrigued by the many recipes, so tired my hand at mixing. The first drink I could mix was a Negroni, as they had all the ingredients at the bar. I was only playing around, and was not serving these drinks to customers,” he jokes. It wasn’t until he was 18 and began work at a local hotel as a bartender that Humberto truly discover his passion and talent for cocktail mixing. Memory and making memories is what most inspires Humberto when mixing up new and exciting cocktails. “Many things inspire me; a theme (like our seasonal menu at Curfew) – linking it to a story and background research, balancing all the elements that the story consists of. It is also memories of situations and tastes that inspire me, such as a memory of being sick in bed as a child, and my mom serving me a herbal-infused tea (lemon verbena, eucalyptus). It can also be something as simple as a walk in the forest, and the smell of pine trees,” he says. Humberto’s passion drives him to produce a high-quality menu with great service – something that appeals to his Copenhagen market. “Curfew appeals to Copenhageners in terms of décor (vintage and attention to detail), menu, service, quality, ingredients and presentation. Also, the quality at Curfew is high, and Copenhageners likes high quality. When they finally get time to go out and have fun with their friends, they want something good – not just mediocre, and we deliver in terms of service, cocktails, and ambiance. We give our customers an experience to remember,” he attests.
Warming up and settling in
Although into his eighth year in Denmark, Humberto admits to still adjusting to life as an expat. “At first I felt a little bit lost, even though Copenhagen is small. Everything is so expensive here. Also, it takes some time before Danes warm up to you, mostly because they are a little bit reserved. My work hours are crazy and I’m mostly available during the day, where everyone else is at work,” he says. Humberto does however say that Copenhageners are very relaxed, in style and personality. “It’s normal to go out wearing sneakers and a cap.” He does however confess that owning a cocktail bar comes with its perks when it comes to melting Danish hearts! Humberto is married to his Danish wife and has two beautiful daughters. “The oldest will soon be five years old and the youngest one and a half. My family has been one of the greatest rewards in making the move to Denmark,” he says. Aside from warming up to the Danes, understanding (and learning) their language was another challenging part to Humberto’s move initially. “The language is a huge challenge. But, because most Danes speak a little English, there is not massive incentive to learn Danish. This however does complicate matters as English is not mine nor the Danes native language, and as a result some nuances, deep understanding and bonding is lost – quite a mix up! Ultimately, I think that Danes genuinely want to help expats by speaking English, but they also love it when you try and speak Danish back. Learning the language is really important for integrating, but also really difficult to learn, and making the time to learn, when you are busy and working all the time is difficult. When asked if he spoke Danish, Humberto said that he understood a little but didn’t speak the language outside of home. “I’m a perfectionist, and would rather speak bad Danish to my wife than to a stranger,” he smiles. He did attempt a language school some years back, but found it difficult working at nights to be fresh for school in the daytime. My industry also doesn’t really require me to speak the language, as everyone speaks English or like me, are foreigners – and the alcohol does much of the talking!” Despite the many challenges that have confronted Humberto in adjusting to life in Copenhagen, he has come to love his new city. “I enjoy the nature outside of Copenhagen, and the smaller quirky areas of Copenhagen (markets, meat packing districts etc.). I like that Copenhagen is so small that you can get around on your bike in no time. And, I love the area around the Lakes of Copenhagen – a breath of fresh air in the middle of the city,” he says.
Beetroot season is upon us, so I asked Humberto to put together a cocktail based on beetroot and what it pairs well with. Try this at home at your next dinner party.
➥ 5cl Akvavit Aalborg Jubilæums
➥ 3cl Beetroot, freshly squeezed
➥ 1 Tarragon spring
➥ 1.5cl Fresh lemon juice
➥ 1.5cl Cacao brown liqueur
➥ 1cl acacia honey
Shake all the ingredients over ice and strain into a lowball glass (before, spray the lowball glass with a peaty, smoky whisky). Garnish with a Tarragon spring and beetroot zest.
Cocktail tips every home bartender should master
I asked Humberto for his top tips when it comes to mixing your own home-brews. This is what he had to say:
#1 The Stir:
It’s simple, any cocktail that contains booze and only booze should be stirred. All-liquor drinks such as the Sazerac are about clarity, and shaking introduces air, which leads to foam. To stir properly, hold a bar spoon between your thumb and first two fingers, allowing it to rotate around itself as you make circles in a mixing glass filled with ice.
Remember: You’re not just mixing the drink, you’re also making it ice-cold.
#2 The shake:
Any drink with non-spirit components – think citrus juice, egg whites, herbs, fruits – needs to be shaken. Cocktails like the daiquiri take a little more coaxing to combine ingredients – and they demand that aerated froth. Hold a cocktail shaker in your dominant hand with your arm at a 90-degree angle. Shake vigorously, making small circles, for 15 to 20 seconds. Don’t stop until the outside of the shaker is frosty and very cold.
#3 The tools:
Glassware: The home bartender only needs three types of glasses: old-fashioned, highball, and martini.
Ice: For ice at home, a silicone cube mould is essential.
Shaker: Try get your hands on a Boston shaker.
Bar spoon: A long, thin handle is ideal for proper stirring.
Strainer: Keeps used ice in the mixing glass, not your drink.
Jigger: A baker uses measurements spoons, so should you!
“It’s important that you use fresh ingredients and quality spirits when mixing a good cocktail. The knowledge of pairing flavours is also important to acquire. While I was in the United Kingdom I put together a few flavour guidelines, check them out at, www.thespruce.com,” says Humberto.
Curfew also offers cocktail masterclasses by booking, so get in touch with Humberto if you and your friends want a fun evening out, learning from a pro.
Text: David Nothling-Demmer