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Change by Collaboration

Tobias Dahlberg, CEO and founder of Wonder Agency, the driving force behind the Nordic Spirits Lab, talks drinking attitudes and crafting a new future for the industry

In once sentence, describe what Nordic Spirits Lab is trying to achieve?
We want to push the boundaries of the spirits industry by bringing together the best of the Nordics, the people, the nature and culture; and to experiment, explore to see what is possible and to create innovations for the whole world to enjoy.


Experimentation is a big word at the Nordic Spirits Lab. You want to experiment with the drinking experience as a whole — can you explain that? 
Experimentation is important because the world we live in is very unpredictable, and by experimenting we can discover new ideas and find out how to make them work. At Nordic Spirits Lab, we want to create new ways to experience spirits. For example, we might normally think of drinking as pouring a glass of liquid into our mouth, then experiencing a taste sensation and later a feeling of intoxication. There are basically two to three senses at play here. 


But, by reframing what drinking means, we might approach the drinking experience as an all-senses experience happening across four dimensions: time, depth, space, and time. What could that mean? For example, what if a drinking experience could transcend you to a different place, evoking childhood memories through authentic scents and tastes, transporting you to your childhood settings through virtual reality, adding sound and texture to provide rich meaning? Or what if you could tweak the molecules in your drink to fit your diet, your mood or your tastes? 

Tobias Dahlberg


One of your aims is to "come up with safe yet progressive solutions to some of the age-old problems of drinking." What aspect of today's drinking culture drives NSL to action? What problems have you identified that NSL is in a position to influence?
We are all aware that spirits also have a dark side. Excess consumption can lead to health and social problems. We are looking into this on a systemic level, analysing broader effects of drinking and how to create positive change. This, of course, is a difficult task. And to be successful we need to motivate people to want to change their behaviour. Here, technology and science can help. We believe it's time to think progressively about the consumption of spirits, making drinking safer for the consumers. 


‘Nordic' has become something of a shorthand for the phenomenon of New Nordic Cuisine — pure, simple ingredient and technique focused food dishes. Why hasn't this notion of culinary styles translated to drinks?
That is a great question, and basically one of the key questions which drove us to found the Nordic Spirits Lab. I believe the food phenomenon you mentioned is the result of great work done by a number of progressive thinkers in the Nordic food scene. On the drinks side, there are many great people doing extraordinary things, but perhaps the movement has not been curated well enough just yet — and we hope to change that. We want to bring together these people, to create the conditions where spontaneous, serendipitous discoveries happen. 


With such a talented team of collaborators — from mixologists and business developers to scientists and designers — from all over the world, how do you harness that knowledge effectively?
We believe in the power of inspiration, collaboration, experimentation, and even chance. Lots of things have happened organically so far, simply by sharing the vision with a number of visionary people. One of the driving forces representing the mixologist community has been Johan Evers from Sweden, a very creative thinker and a leader in his industry. Johan has helped us create a community of experts within the Nordic mixologist community. 

Nordic x Gin


The first product to come from NSL is the Nordic x Gin, with Akvavit botanicals. Could you explain the processes and inspiration behind this particular combination.
The first product is a blend of two iconic products: gin and Akvavit. These work very nicely together to provide something I would call a ‘Gin with a Nordic twist’. The idea came when we were working with Swedish bartenders and O.P Anderson in Sweden, when someone suddenly came up with the idea of combining the Akvavit distillates with Gin distillates. Akvavit has made a comeback among mixologists and akvavit shares a lot of ingredients with gin, like coriander, angelica and lemon peel. It's only the key botanical — caraway or dill — that makes its taste profile fundamentally different. It proved to be a perfect mix. 


What will we see next from Nordic Spirits Lab?
The year 2017 is the first full year for Nordic Spirits Lab. We will be launching new products, as well as many initiatives over the year, many of which are experiments. Unfortunately I would spoil the fun if I told you what they are. But I will promise something really cool will be next year, so stay tuned.



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