Josefine Thorén

The Rise of Miss Pennegroni

Words by Madalena Vilar. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.

A bar is a meeting place, a neutral territory where strangers have the opportunity to break down their barriers and let others in. From the bartender's point of view, it is a show. The bartender stands as the audience, mixing the drinks and supplying the room with the energy that the performers, that is the guests, need for their work.

"I want everyone to feel welcome and seen. I want them to feel like we are happy to see them, that they are missed. That is how you turn a customer into a regular on the first visit," says Josefine.

For Thorén, bartender and bar manager at Bar Bruno, ambiance is everything. Just like a house party, the environment should be a gentle mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. With a light breeze of possibilities afloat, Josefine and her team act as friendly hosts, introducing guests to each other.

Although it may seem like Pennegroni, the success cocktail, was created overnight, its creator, Josefine Thorén, has been in the business for 13 years. Born and raised in the Gothenburg area of Sweden, the 28-year-old began her career in a hotel. Initially she worked in cleaning and service, but it was not until she was 18 that she was granted a place in the bar, where she has been developing ever since.

Josefine started as a bartender at Bruno's in the midst of the pandemic. Less than six months later, she was bar manager of a seven-person team. As a leader, Josefine feels it is important for everyone to try out each position to foster understanding and partnership among team members. While on duty, she is a part of the group and takes on the various roles available to her just like everyone else. It is mostly off service, Josefine takes time to train and build her team.

She makes it a point to make sure everyone feels included and valued. We know our goals and everyone should be able to contribute their ideas to achieve them.

The pandemic has not weakened the bar. Regulars, from large groups to single drinkers, have merely changed their habits, expecting the usual 2 a.m. to 8 p.m. party.

"We just changed the opening hours to comply with the law, but we continued to focus on quality and innovation. We had new drinks on the menu, and we were always trying to keep our energy up as usual," Thorén explains, "For our regular customers, it made a big difference that they could maintain a social part of their lives during a very uncertain time.

The Highway to Quality

Everything Josefine applies to Bruno today, she has learned through years of experience. After training as a bartender through her hotel employment, Josefine moved to Barbico, a bar in Gothenburg, where she was able to learn more about cocktails and the true craft behind them.

The secret of a good cocktail is not only balance, but also fresh and quality ingredients and - surprisingly - good ice.

"Good ice is crystal clear and melts slowly. This allows the bartender to lower the temperature of the drink to a perfect level without diluting the different flavors."

With ice, it is not just the quality and quantity that matter, but also the time. Some drinks can tolerate the watering down that comes from serving them on ice, making them even better, while others are already perfectly balanced. A dry martini is one of those drinks that should not be altered after it has been perfectly served in a cocktail glass without ice.

While Josefine was learning and having fun as a bartender, it felt temporary in Sweden. Most people still had that vibe associated with the profession: fun, but fickle. Something you did for a while before deciding to study something else. It was not until Josefine moved to Melbourne, Australia that she realized it was possible to make a career out of bartending. The country has a great cocktail scene and bartenders are respected in society.

"I found a lot of people who love bartending as much as I do. So it no longer made sense for me to stop doing something I liked so much," Josefine recalls.

After a year and a half in Australia, Josefine landed in Sweden for the summer and then embarked on a two-month trip to Africa, where she was invited to a bar in Johannesburg for a guest night.

"I was able to experience how different tastes are around the world. I made a sour cocktail, and it was not really a hit. In South Africa, there is only sugar on sugar on sugar."

Her next move took her to New Zealand, where she lived and worked for a year and had the career-changing experience of having a female boss.

The world of bars was mostly dominated by men. In the few moments when Josefine was not the only woman, it almost felt like the girls had to fight for their place. Josefine's boss became an inspiration, not only in terms of her own development and career, but also in terms of creating a friendly work culture between women in the bar. By building each other up and growing, each gets her place.

"It is very helpful when you are a young girl to be able to look up to another woman. It makes you brave enough to pursue your dreams." Josefine says, "I do not know if I am a role model, but I try to act like one. I want to help other women and men succeed in this industry. That is why I have been focusing more on leadership and team building lately."

Nature blesses the wise

In putting together the drinks menu, Josefine is methodical and well thought out. 12 cocktails, 2 from each family according to the Cocktail Codex. Based on this principle and the change of seasons, anything is possible and Josefine and the team give free rein to the imagination.

"I am not afraid of making mistakes. Many of the classic cocktails were invented by accident, even champagne. I like to play and experiment until I find something new and beautiful." Josefine tells us, "I think that is why I still love doing this."

Josefine benefits from partnering with her neighboring restaurants and bars. Their shared desire to work seasonally allows them to share products that would otherwise be thrown away.

"Recently, they had a dessert with rhubarb that involved putting the rhubarb in syrup. We then used the leftover rhubarb-infused syrup in a cocktail."

It is also not uncommon for the team to roast chestnuts that grow on the bar's patio and use them in cocktails alongside pineapple weed-infused drinks.

Josefine's best ideas do not come from behind the bar, but in nature or between the oily parts of one of her motorcycles.

The benefits of a well-trained brain when left to its own devices.

The Rise of Miss Pennegroni

That is exactly what Josefine was able to do that evening when her friend Robert asked her to do something new. He worked at the Tranquilo restaurant, which was right above the Stranger bar where Josefine was working at the time, and he usually came down for a drink after work, choosing between two of his favorites: the Negroni and the Pendennis.

The Negroni is a classic cocktail made with vermouth, gin and Campari. The Negroni is full-bodied and quite alcoholic, while the Pendennis offers a bit more freshness with apricot brandy, lime, gin and bitters.

Since Josefine was quite busy at the time Robert came to drink, she simply mixed the two drinks together and created the very first Pennegroni. Robert was thrilled and told his friends, who in turn told their friends. Thus was born a local phenomenon that did not pass the company Edrington by.

"We just did it because it was fun, but when we started getting attention, we just thought - to hell with it, we are going to market it!" she said.

#PENNEGRONI became a thing and the orange and black logo flooded the bars in Gothenburg when they did their first tour of four different bars in two hours.

"It became a community. People in T-shirts who did not know each other got to talking just because they liked the drink."

Pennegroni is now celebrating its third anniversary, and with a Bartenders' Choice Award and a worldwide presence, it is not uncommon for people to come into Bruno and ask if Miss Prennegroni herself works there.

The Pennegroni is a combination of Roku gin, Galliano L'Aperitivo, lemon juice, apricot brandy, sweet vermouth and agave syrup served extremely cold in a whiskey glass with a large ice cube and a slice of orange zest. An interesting combination that quickly grew on many and took Josefine on a pleasurable journey she never expected.

On the road

Although her career is blossoming behind the bar, Josefine wishes for a more tactical position on the field and not so much between the glasses. Although she considers herself lucky, one of her biggest challenges in building her name was being taken seriously, by colleagues, bosses and guests.

"I will walk up to a guest and ask them what they want to drink, and they will ask me to get a bartender, which is one of my male colleagues. That has happened more times than I can count." Josefine recounts, "When you love something and do your best, it gnaws at your self-confidence. Luckily, I have worked with amazing men who have stepped in and told guests they would be crazy not to order from me."

In a world where harsh jargon has become the standard, Josefine sees this as an opportunity for the industry to regroup. In her own work as a leader, Thorén believes it's important to teach her younger employees the importance of respecting one's intuition.

"It does not matter what someone said or did, if it feels uncomfortable, it is not okay. It is enough to feel it." Josefine explains, "I think we have a chance to show that this is a job and a field where you can be happy and grow."

In her thirteen years, she has seen a lot of progress, both behind the bar and on the guest side.

"They are more curious than ever and now understand that we bartenders love what we do, regardless of gender."

Josefine will soon be leaving Bar Bruno to pursue bar development, but until she returns to the floor, her legacy will remain through a strong, inclusive team and the young Pennegroni.

Words by Madalena Vilar. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.

*This is a paid product placement and partnership by Sundqvist. The editorial and its content is an independent piece.