Johnson Wisdom Dogbey

2 Jul. 2018
The Little Havana bartender made an impression in (big) Havana

At bartending competitions, you get to see meticulous bartenders and passionate ones. You’ll also have the stressed one or the quiet one. And you always, always have the showman. At this year’s Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix, the showman was undoubtedly Johnson Wisdom Dogbey, the Ghanaian bartender who took third spot with Mama Inés, his coffee-heavy cocktail.
That Johnson is a showman should not come as a surprise if you know his life story. Many bartenders, you’ve heard it before, become what they are by chance – they needed the money and then fell in love with their temporary gig. Equally often, they worked back of the house, maybe as chefs, and found out they loved the creativity but needed client contact – so they moved front of the house. Not Johnson, as he told us recently: “In 2011, I saw a cocktail bartender on a top Ghanaian TV show, presenting and talking about bartending. It was the first time I heard about professional bartending. I was so amazed making drinks could bring you on TV and that’s something I wanted to do too. So I got in touch with the guy and in 2012 I started my bartending journey”.
Five years of hard worked followed. In 2016, Johnson won a big Ghanaian competition. In 2017, he was finally on TV, when he entered a reality bartending show, called The Barman, pitting a host of West African mixologists against each other. It didn’t start off too well: the judges sent him through during casting but warned him that his drink lacked balance. It’s fair to say Johnson learned a lot over the following weeks: during the last program, he was announced as the overall winner!
From then, things only got better, as he won the Grand Prix West African selection and became the first African bartender to make it into the final three in Cuba. “Personally I prefer fruity drinks, but I like to create strong drinks because that’s what Ghanaians love”, he told us. And that’s what he decided to make in Havana, a strong drink with just a little bit of coffee liqueur and coffee beans syrup. The cocktail was excellent, of course, but it’s the delivery that remains with us. It involved music and loud singing mixed with some dancing. The Cubans in the room where impressed by this tribute to their culture…
Back in Ghana, Johnson is a leader of what can be described as a rising tide. “Cocktails are now growing in West Africa with Ghana having the most active young bartenders. Many new cocktail bars with great concepts are opening. 8 years ago, you only had beer bars and shot bars. Expats and tourists are our major client base and we see the trend changing over the years with people now preferring cocktails to straight drinks”. Cuban cocktails have a big part to play, says Johnson who runs a bar called… Little Havana, located in lively Osu, a dynamic neighbourhood of capital Accra. “Whether you’ve been to Cuba or not, the bar will bring back memories or give you an idea of Cuba. We’re inspired by Cuban cocktails – of course the most popular drinks in Ghana are the Mojito or the Piña Colada – Cuban culture, music, cigars, food…” And now that Johnson has been to Cuba himself, we’re sure Little Havana will be even more authentic. As for our showman, he will go from strength to strength, doing what he always wanted to do: mentoring people. “It’s a privilege for me to have achieved what I did because at the beginning nobody respected me on this job. People now look up to me and the wider community see that bartending is a real profession”.
Mama Inès, by Johnson Wisdom Dogbey
60 ml Havana Club 7 Años
7,5 ml cane sugar infused with coffee beans syrup
5 ml Kahlua
2 dashes of Coffee syrup
Stir with ice cubes, serve and garnish with orange peel and grated coffee beans

François Monti