Two years ago, Andy Knecht parlayed his passion for homebrewing into a bartending job at the BottleHouse Brewery in Cleveland Heights — despite the fact that he had no experience mixing drinks. But the Chardon native developed a skill for creating innovative cocktails, in some cases using the meads and beers on tap, that won him second place in Bombay Sapphire's local Most Imaginative Bartender competition last year. At the same time, he's maintained a casual-but-caring barkeep style that complements the brewery's old-time, public-house atmosphere.
I was living with two guys and a woman as roommates in a small apartment in Virginia during college. We drank a lot of beer and didn't really want to have to pay for a lot of beer. So we started making it ourselves. We got to make beers that we wanted to make, and we got to make lots of it.
I had barely drunk cocktails before I was a bartender. I had my first Manhattan, I think, on my first day of the job. So I had a lot of learning to do. But at the same time, I feel like that made me an empty sponge. I could soak up everything, every ounce of knowledge I could get my hands on.
I pretty much just try everything once. That way, you have a library of flavors in your head, and you can come up with cocktails based on your experience with each one of these flavors. It takes a bit of practical experimentation with them to really nail down the exact ratios. But you can put them together without even having to pick up a bottle.
I try to lead people to the cocktail they're looking for, the beer or mead that they're looking for, in the least amount of questions possible. [Making] complex decisions is not what people want to do when they come out.
People do think that all bartenders have psychology degrees. But at the same time, we deal with hundreds of people a day. So we do get a good cross-section of the human population that comes into bars and wants to talk, wants to interact.
I love it when people ask me what kinds of cocktails I like to make. One of my favorites is a cocktail out of the 1930s. It's called the Last Word. It's a little bit of gin, a little bit of Chartreuse, a little bit of Luxardo, which is a nice [maraschino] cherry liqueur, and a little bit of lime.
Above all, I don't want my drinks to kill people. So I really hold cleanliness as one of the virtues of bartending.