There are two roads to becoming a great bartender. The first is obsessively studying cocktail recipe books and reinventing the classics. The second is having an innate knowledge of which flavors work well together and playing with them.

There are two roads to becoming a great bartender. The first is obsessively studying cocktail recipe books and reinventing the classics. The second is having an innate knowledge of which flavors work well together and playing with them.

Nicolene Schwartz took the second path. And like the best folk art, her culinary cocktails have an honesty and original point of view that can't be taught. Now her new line of Roake syrups will help infuse drinks around the city with her signature culinary flair.

Schwartz took an unusual route into bartending, too. Her background is in writing and communications, but when her boyfriend's job brought them to Columbus, Schwartz landed behind the bar at the Rossi.

Customers kept asking for a cocktail menu, but Rossi didn't have one. So Schwartz paired up with the restaurant's then-chef, Michael Morton, and started experimenting.

"It's funny looking back on it, because I had no business making a cocktail. I had no idea what I was doing," Schwartz says. "I didn't know Cynar from Campari."

Instead, she made drinks based on what she did know-food. And people liked them. Her drinks landed her a job revamping the cocktail list at Latitude 41, and eventually led to consulting work for MoJoe Lounge, Rigsby's Kitchen and Arch City Tavern.

The idea for Roake arose as Schwartz worked with these various restaurants and realized the thing keeping many places from attempting great cocktails is not that they don't understand what a good cocktail is, but that their bartenders can't spend the necessary time muddling and making the kinds of complicated syrups that set drinks apart-or their customers aren't willing to wait 10 minutes for the bartender to mix a drink. Roake's line of 15 premixed tonic syrups and other elixirs make it easy for bars to offer the ambitious cocktails their customers want, Schwartz says.

Schwartz plans to eventually sell her syrups nationally. She hopes her local bartending colleagues, like Cris Dehlavi at M and Travis Owens at Curio, are inspired to find ways to creatively incorporate them in their own drinks.

"I feel fortunate to have some good people who challenge me to do better," she says of those experts. "That's a nice feeling to have about your city, that there's someone out there who does it as well as or better than you do."