“There was a club basically next door to where I used to live and I got a job there,” he says. “Bartending came naturally to me. The social part appealed to me, and I liked the fast-paced environment.”
Five months working at the club was all Andy, as he is better known, needed to realize bartending was a career he wanted to pursue. He started moving around to where the seasonal tourist activities were in Austria – the ski regions in the winter and the lake regions in the summer. Eventually he moved to Vienna.
“That’s when I really started getting into flair bartending,” he says, referring to the showy practices bartenders can use when preparing a cocktail for the entertainment of patrons.
After taking second place in a national flair bartending competition in Austria, Andy was invited to participate in a similar competition in Las Vegas.
“It was crazy,” he says, adding that he was amazed by the talent on display and the energy of Las Vegas. “I was young and had never been in that kind of environment. Back then, it became my dream to move to Las Vegas and work there. It’s not any more though.”
Andy then opened two of his own bars in Austria, sold them both, traveled for a while and came to the Cayman Islands for the first time in 2007. For the next six years he worked between Cayman and the U.S. before finally accepting a job at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Silver Palm Lounge in January 2013.
“I came on the island and my manager told me, ‘there’s a competition starting next week and I signed you up.’” I said, ‘OK, what the heck.’”
That competition turned out to be the first wave of Diageo Reserve World Class. Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits, established World Class in 2009 to raise awareness of its premium spirit brands, elevate the craft of bartending, and highlight the bourgeoning cocktail culture trend. It quickly became the premier global cocktail competition and in 2013,ç the Cayman Islands participated for the first time.
Participating from the beginning, Andy quickly learned that World Class wasn’t like most other competitions where a good cocktail and a little flair go a long way with the judges.
“When I started last year, I had no idea how elaborate this was going to be,” he says. “It wasn’t about just making a drink.”
Participants in World Class waves are judged on many categories including taste, aroma, and balance of their cocktails, how well the base spirit expresses itself, presentation, creativity, technical skills and how well they encourage responsible drinking. Presentation involves everything from telling a story about the cocktail and its inspiration to its visual appeal.
As the competition went through the preliminary three waves in 2013 and Andy got a better understanding of what the judges expected, he continually improved. In the Cayman finals, he finished in the top two, advancing to a showdown with eventual winner Simon Crompton for a chance to go to the Global finals.
“I think I was a little green last year, but it was a good experience,” he says. “I think if I hadn’t done it, this year wouldn’t have been possible.”
With a year of experience behind him and more focus, Andy quickly established himself as a favorite in the 2014 competition. After taking second place in the opening wave in January, Andy broke through with a first place finish in the third round and won the finals, earning a trip to London to represent the Cayman Islands against bartenders from 47 other countries.
This year, Andy says he wanted to ‘think outside the box’ when envisioning the cocktails he would make, their ingredients and his presentation.
“I really wanted to win last year, and when I didn’t, it was my kick to try harder,” he says. “I did a lot of reading and research because I realized you have to do your homework and be prepared.”
Before entering each round of the competition, Andy says he practiced every move and even wrote a script that he read over and over.
This year, he also decided to be more creative with the ingredients he used in his cocktails.
“I tried to use things rarely used in drinks,” he says, noting that for the Kettle Part One cocktail he used ascorbic acid instead of fresh citrus juice because he wanted the drink to remain clear like a classic martini.
For the wave using Don Julio tequila, Andy made a hot punch that incorporated fresh blackberries and wine. The inventive cocktail, along with his well-rehearsed presentation, earned him his first victory in a wave. He used berries again when making his cocktail in the Johnny Walker Scotch wave, a very unusual combination that impressed the judges.
After winning the Cayman finals, Andy traveled to Panama for a week in June to go through intensive training with the 10 other country winners in the Latin America region. A month later, he traveled – with 110 pounds of bartending equipment and presentation props – to the U.K. for the global finals that took place in Scotland and England.
The competition was difficult and exhausting, involving 12 hours of activities every day, but Andy says he loved it.
“It was a great experience,” he says. “It gave me a lot of inspiration for new ideas and a lot of motivation.”
The judges for the World Class finals were much more demanding than those Andy faced in Cayman, he says.
“It’s a lot about the presentation you’re doing and tying the ingredients and inspiration for the cocktail into your story you tell,” he says. “They want to be entertained, and you don’t stop talking because if you stop talking, then you’re just making a drink.”
The World Class experience has made him a better bartender through the realization that people are not only looking for a good-tasting drink when they order a cocktail, but an experience that involves all the senses, Andy says.
If he could offer one piece of advice to other bartenders, it’s to be proud of what they’re doing.
“It is not just a job, it’s a profession,” he says. “People ask me sometimes what my real job is and I tell them, ‘This is my real job; I’m a bartender.’”