The Rise of Orlando’s Cocktail Culture


Call it what you will— a renaissance or a revolution— but cocktails, both classic and contemporary, are getting a lot of buzz lately. Paul Johnsen, Vice President of the Orlando chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) and Mixologist at Bohemian Hotel Celebration, sees it as a movement that’s been growing in Orlando and now has picked up some steam.

“Back when prohibition was happening, people had to find different ways of hiding their alcohol. Bartenders turned to creative cocktails,” he says. “We are seeing a renaissance of the cocktails, including classic ones like the Manhattan but also fresh cocktail ideas with farm-to-cocktail ingredients. It’s really evolving every day.”

What’s new, at least in part, is that cocktails are getting a culinary facelift. “We have new product all the time, more techniques being developed, and we’re all taking the art and the craft of our job more seriously,” Johnsen says. “That’s part of the Guild’s mission. We’re focused on the craft, honing people’s skills and getting us get together to encourage education and creativity.”

Those get togethers, which typically happen monthly and almost always have a component that is open to the public, come in the form of charity events, mixologist competitions and educational seminars. As you can probably imagine, a party filled with bartenders is a blast.

“A good, well-educated bartender can really change public perception of spirits. Sometimes you can actually turn someone on to something they didn’t know they would like. We’re important advocates for this movement,” says Johnsen, who formally worked at The Woods, one of Orlando’s best known craft cocktail bars. Johnsen also sees himself as an advocate for Orlando. “I want Orlando to be known for more than just theme parks. And I want our bartenders to really support each other and become a tight community.”

In a few weeks, Johnsen will be judging a cocktail competition showcasing the skills of several Guild members. This event is open to the public and offers a great opportunity to get to know the Guild as well as sample some unique craft cocktails. Here are the details:

Fernet Mixology Competition
Monday, October 14
6 to 9pm
Siro Urban Italian Kitchen at the Marriott’s Orlando World Center Resort