Sometimes, when you meet one barkeeper, he or she tells you about new places you have never even heard of, that would be worth checking out. And so it came that Igor from El Copitas told me about this new bar in Moscow called Korobok which is run by Evgeniy Shashin, a young and talented barkeeper. What fascinates me about the Russian cocktail bar culture is the sheer endless drive to excel. They are hungry for new concepts and new ideas, but also very socially interconnected. It feels like a big family and it is a very friendly family. Not long after I visited St. Petersburg, I found myself in the newly opened Korobok, where I was greeted warmly by Evgeniy.
Evgeniy is 27 years young. He was born in Moscow and studied IT in college. After graduating and subsequently working in IT for a tax office, he realised that he did not really like his work. A friend of his was working in the kitchen of the Hard Rock Café and Evgeniy started working there as a host. This was his first foray into the hospitality industry. On his 18th birthday, he bought some alcohol and organised his first cocktail party along with his friend. Although they mixed drinks with nasty and awful things such as Malibu, it was great fun. It was then that Evgeniy realized he really liked mixing drinks. It went so far that he decided to do a 3 week course at the Russian bartender association. After that, he joined a bar to put his skills to use. One year later and still loving it, he decided that he wanted to become the best bartender in the world. Evgeniy started entering lots of bartending competitions from then on. In his time off he was imbibing in classics. His next bar stop was Dream bar, a place with over 300 cocktails on the menu and which saw very high volumes. He improved his skills in speed mixing and stayed at Dream for 6 months. A friend of Evgeniy’s asked him to join Mendeleev bar. It was a very good team and the bar was internationally known, so he made lots of international friends who came as guest bartenders. All in all, he stayed for 3 years. All the while he continued to participate in bartending competitions; finally winning the World Class in 2015 for Russia. In 2016 he moved to Baku for a year to work as a consultant for Buddha Bar, as he needed some time off from behind the bar. While there, he was approached by the guys from the White Rabbit Family. They offered him the opportunity to run a small bar underneath the newly opened Tehnikum. It was a huge opportunity and he found his energy again. At Korobok, Evgeniy can develop what he loves. It is like a lab, from infusions to rotovap and re-distillation, he can experiment to his heart’s content. A lot of his inspiration comes from Tony from 69 Colebrooke Row.
Korobok is a small basement bar. The word Korobok means matchbox. Each match is a life and you can decide if you want to keep it, or if you want to burn it. For Russians there is a lot of philosophy in that. Children store a lot of precious things in small places like a matchbox and that is also what Korobok bar stands for: small but full of surprises. The drinks are very Russian-focused and there are only 7 on the menu. The drinks are very experimental and the focus is on local ingredients. Korobok stands for a new level in Russian bar culture. It is a new experience and guests are educated by tasting new things such as a deconstructed Manhattan. The team consists of only 3 people and every 3 months the menu changes.
Evgeniy gets inspired by what is around him. Flavours in the woods, the wind, the weather and from his travels., He is always looking for different experiences and culture and tries to realise them in his drinks while still keeping an eye on Russia. “You almost need to go away to open your eyes for the things at home”, Evgeniy explains.
He loves a cocktail called Burnt Pink Gin. He lightly burns the angostura on a bar spoon. One can play a lot with this cocktail. It is super dry and very simple to make, but every time it turns out a bit different. It has many nuances. You can see how a bartender works and what kind of questions he/she asks. “That is always very interesting”, he reckons.
Chainaya tea and cocktails in Moscow; and I can easily see why. He is a big fan of the cocktails and the tea. He enjoys the possibility to not only drink cocktails, but also enjoys tea in different ways. The superb atmosphere at Chainaya rounds off a great experience.
The future of the bar world
The drinks will change. Pre-batching will be much more a part of the cocktail experience in the future but at the same time the finished cocktail will be more sophisticated. Many think that with this method, the skills are not so visible anymore, but this is wrong. Skills will still be visible. How the bartender works will still be a big part of the experience! Small tricks, speed and also the surface he works on. It will be simpler and he will be much more visible to the clients and will also have more time for storytelling. The interactions between bartender and customer will be more important in the future.
Advice for opening a bar
The customer is your guest. Be true to your concept and stick to your story. Don’t do anything to sell yourself out.
Craziest customer experience
A girl was flirting with Evgeniy one evening. She was leaning over the counter and was trying to get very close to him but she did not see a lit candle and her hair caught fire. Fast as Evgeniy is, he immediately stopped it with a wet cloth. The girl was in shock and super embarrassed. To get her mind off things, he created a drink for her. It completely changed her mood. It was very hard to calm her down at first but after trying his drink, she was okay again. This experience showed him that with the right drink, compassion and social skills he was able to turn the experience around for her in the end. When she left, she said it was by far the best bar she had ever been to.
The city is like a big organism. You decide if you want to be part of it or if you want to create your own world. Moscow wants to eat you in the end. You can run but you will never win.
Target in life
Evgeniy wants to create something for the bar industry. He wants to show other people that no matter where you are, you can create something unique. Live your philosophy and create something new. He also wants to win the overall World Class bartending competition.
Best decision in life
To become a bartender. It was hard, but worth it. Even after 10 years in the business there is still so much to learn. It is limitless.
Gallery Images: ©Korobok
In text images: ©George Kardava for GQ Russia