About the Beverage Testing Institute

RELENTLESS MISSION.
DEEP HISTORY.

Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) was founded in 1981 as the first international wine competition in the United States, adding beer, spirits, cider, sake, mead and more to the repertoire in 1994. Using industry-leading methodology co-developed by our founder Craig Goldwyn and Dr. Harry Lawless of Cornell University and a one-of-a-kind approach to trade focus groups and sensory panelist recruitment, BTI’s evaluations are so much more than a competition. Beverage Testing Institute has become the most comprehensive and reliable source for alcohol beverage product testing and professional reviews in the world.

We’re the research, advisory and engagement company that helps alcohol brands be better. Our value to the trade is built on our unique position as an advocate for the alcohol beverage industry, an independent publication, and a decades-long, consumer-trusted brand. On this foundation, we develop, refine, recognize, and launch the world’s best beverages.

BTI establishes and advocates for the highest standards in the beverage industry. Our proprietary, ASTM-compliant methodology is so rigorous that it has been vetted and accepted by the National Advertising Department of the Better Business Bureau and used by leading beverage brands as the basis for numerous successful quality-based claims in national media campaigns.

For 39 years, our clients and partners have accelerated their development processes, improved the quality of their products, and amplified their brands reputation and worth through quality-centric messages and marketing strategies that we have developed with them.

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBCWine Enthusiast, Restaurant Hospitality, The New Yorker, Wine & Spirits, International Wine ReviewEpicurious.com, and All About Beer, are just a few of the many media outlets that tap into BTI’s acumen and expertise.

Our Mission: To improve the beverage industry, one brand at a time.

WHAT WE DO
We utilize exceptional methodology, proprietary tools, and decades of experience to offer research, development, and marketing services that protect large investments, elevate brand reputations, optimize market reception, and engage consumers.

We help beverage competitors convert concepts into winning products.

PRINCIPALS

Jerald O'Kennard Executive Director BTI

Jerald O’Kennard

Executive Director

Jerald is one of the world’s leading authorities in the drinks space who, over the course of his 20 years as director of BTI, has professionally reviewed and analyzed over 75,000 wines, beers, and spirits and trained hundreds of hospitality and drinks professionals in the science and art of critical liquid evaluation and sensory analysis. Leveraging his deep knowledge and vast experience, he collaborates with beverage brands of all sizes seeking to create great products and winning marketing and sales strategies. Over the past two decades, Jerald has worked closely with the world’s most-admired beverage brands and holding companies, including Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, Beam-Suntory, PepsiCo, Heineken, Starbucks, Bacardi, Campari, MillerCoors, Brown-Forman, and the Boston Beer Company.

Frequently sought out for his expertise and analysis, Jerald has contributed and provided articles, insights, and critiques to media that include The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, All About Beer, The New Yorker, BBC, and Restaurant Hospitality, and many others.

A graduate of the University of Chicago with a BA in Economics and post-graduate work in the arts, Jerald has amassed certifications and honors that include being valedictorian of his class at The Chicago Wine School, a Certified Sensory Specialist by The Siebel Institute of Technology, Pilsner Urquell’s Beer Connoisseur #2 (the late, great drinks author and BTI panelist Michael Jackson being #1), and an appointment as ‘Cavaleiro’ by the Confraria do Vinho do Porto—an honorary Portuguese Knighthood for his service in the understanding, appreciation, and promotion of Port wines.

Andrew Moldenhauer Director of Content & Education

Andrew Moldenhauer

Director of Content & Education

Andrew joined BTI with a decade-plus of industry experience. Starting in retail purchasing, sales, marketing, and independent bar and restaurant consulting, he has primarily been an educator, brand ambassador, and brand development manager for major suppliers including Edrington Group, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Pernod-Ricard, Glen Moray, and Remy-Cointreau.

A Northwestern University graduate with multiple majors, Andrew continues passionately pursuing projects and studies promoting the heritage and craftsmanship of fine libations. As an avid wine and whisk(e)y connoisseur he has studied with the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET, and French Wine Scholars and is beginning the Master of Wine program after hopefully becoming one of the first Masters of Whiskey. Andrew is also on the boards of RieslingKenner, a charitable organization focused on fighting food insecurity and spreading a love of wine through education and inclusion to historically underrepresented groups, and The Global Council of Whiskey Masters. 

Andrew steps into this new role with a deep respect for BTI as one of the most established and venerable reviewers and evaluators of libations. Surrounded by this institutional knowledge and tradition, he seeks to teach and work with the best and most qualified judges and authors, old and new, while modernizing and capturing the attention of the next generation of beverage professionals around Chicago and the globe.

Trade Development Manager

Amy Heiar

Director of Trade Development

Amy has been working in restaurants and bars on the floor and behind the bar for over two and a half decades; sometimes to support creative endeavors such as freelance writing, and other times just for the love of the game. From her humble hospitality beginnings in high school as a server at a chain restaurant to working as a bartender at the original Big Star Chicago for almost ten years, Amy’s service experience runs the gamut, including teaching yoga for 7+ years, of which she has been an active practitioner for most of her life. Her Master’s Degree in Linguistics and Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism help her to effectively communicate with BTI panelists and clients alike; her hospitality experience and connections allow her to continue to grow BTI’s esteemed pool of expert panelists and keep on relevant industry trends, and her dedication to the organization allows her to stay on top of the results-driven deadlines that allow BTI to produce and publish high-quality trade marketing tools and trustworthy consumer-facing reviews.

The merging of these seemingly unrelated academic and career paths has guided Amy to this point as BTI’s Director of Trade Development; her multifaceted perspective and approach plus her love of establishing a welcoming environment allow Amy to effectively create and manage a tasting space for BTI’s methodology to be properly executed and the client’s products to be properly evaluated.

Matthew Ricardson Sales and Marketing Assistant BTI

Matthew Richardson

Communications and Marketing Manager

Matthew’s combination of on-the-ground industry experience and sharp aesthetic eye provides contemporary and creative marketing solutions for BTI’s clients. Cultivated over a decade, Matthew’s tenure in the hospitality industry has spanned the food, beverage, and marketing realms. He has spent time in both front and back of house roles with the world-renowned Alinea Group, pounded the pavement in wine distribution and retail, and crunched numbers and built successful campaigns for the national reservation system Tock. Further building on his experience and education, Matthew has earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Advertising from DePaul University, a Culinary and Hospitality Associate’s Degree from Kendall College, and numerous certifications from the International Sommelier Guild

When he’s not behind the BTI desk, you can find Matthew at the stove or in front of the oven creating delicious pastries for his beloved side-hustle, Only Child Bakery.

Debra O'Kennard VP of Operations BTI

Debra O’Kennard

Vice President, Operations

Debra manages the day-to-day operations at Beverage Testing Institute.  With over 30 years of experience working in hospitality with a focus on food and beverage, Debra not only understands beverages from a product standpoint, but from the context in which beverages are consumed and brand loyalties are forged.

With a degree in restaurant management and extensive experience managing large-scale events at prestigious and high-profile occasions including the Kentucky Derby, Debra keeps a laser-like focus on efficiency and achieving objectives.  Clients and partners benefit from Debra’s ability to bring simplicity and order to complex undertakings.

In addition to bringing her culinary expertise to bear for clients and partners, Debra also volunteers by teaching cooking classes for Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger in the United States.

Lance Carlson

Lance Carlson

Senior Partner

Lance recently became the Senior Partner at BTI after decades of experience in the financial services industry where he led sales teams that provided products that offered lifetime income streams. Saving, growing, and protecting retirement investments to both maintain an auspicious lifestyle and ensure a legacy that endures is a specialty that harmonizes across markets.

Since becoming involved in BTI’s daily operations he is working with the management team to implement proven business processes to further enhance the effectiveness and deliverability of BTI’s many offerings. By taking a great service and making it even better, it is Lance’s hope to expand the reach and presence of BTI to lead the industry forward.

This is accomplished first by continuing to provide the best independent beverage ratings in the marketplace by using BTI’s unmatched proprietary methodology. Then growing additional ventures that adhere to BTI’s mission of improving the beverage industry one brand at a time with independence, integrity, and consistency. Of course, this is the beverage business, so he wants BTI to not only provide the best service to our clients, but also have some fun along the way. As his father says, “Skoal!”

"The consistency and broad consumer reach of BTI ratings and reviews really solidified the quality message of our artisan brand and helped us build a well-distributed and highly regarded specialty portfolio of beers."
Laurent-Xavier Gilbert,
VP Development at La Brasserie Unibroue
"The BTI rankings have an effect on what restaurants put on their wine lists, and ultimately on what you might be drinking."
Joe Gray,
Editor, Chicago Tribune
"BTI is still the outstanding tasting organization, uniquely independent. Keep up the good work!"
Jan Wells,
VP of Marketing, Cannon Wines
"Beverage Testing Institute is a professional operation with a professional approach. I like that they are committed to truly blind tastings and that their reviews are comprehensive and informative. We highlight the reviews in our tasting room and post them on social media; the consumer response is very positive. "
Edwin Richards,
Winemaker/Owner, Adastra
“Our BTI awards have helped us with our US distribution. Sales have increased form 0 cases to 250 cases in just a couple of months. We opened two new accounts in Seattle and New York.”
Eduardo Aguirre Victoria,
Terre de Vignerons
“[BTI's] Tastings.com is well known as a main reference for connoisseurs, experts and followers of spirits.”
Otto Flores,
Ron Barcelo
"We have used Tastings.com (BTI) for the last 5 years and couldn’t be happier. They always have great customer service and support! Not only do they have detailed professional reviews and tasting notes, the addition of the metallic stickers and shelf-talkers help us capture customers, and drive bottle sales. The trophies, medals, and printed awards are displayed as center pieces in our tasting room. Their website is easy to navigate and has great product information."
Mike Huffman,
Whidbey Island Distillery
“Our winery has had BTI rate our wines for a number of years. We use the bottle stickers and shelf talkers for both education and to enhance our marketing. We have had distributors request bottle stickers, and during wine pourings, we use the shelf talkers as a customer take away. We appreciate the information written by BTI since we find it to be concise, descriptive, informational, and a well rounded review of our wines.“
Janet Soderberg,
Alamira Wines, Vistaflores Estate
When we found out that our 20 year Pappy Van Winkle had been entered in BTI's 1997 World Spirits Championships and received their 99-point rating, that’s when we started getting calls from distributors around the country looking for our whiskey.

That was a benchmark moment for our business. Every time we received a high rating from BTI over the years, interest increased for our brand.

We owe a lot to the Beverage Testing Institute for our success.
Julian P. Van Winkle, III,
President, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery
BTI has been our go-to partner for our alcohol awards program for years now, providing quality reviews of our wide selection of wines, beers and hard seltzers. The unique quarterly submission process allows our team to highlight new, trending and seasonal offerings and the staff at BTI is always responsive, collaborative and supportive to help us reach our goals.
Carrie Reitz,
Corporate Buying US, ALDI Inc.
The trust that consumers, major retailers, distributors and suppliers have for BTI makes their reviews and recommendations an invaluable complement and a huge asset to the success of Atlas’ bespoke label brands. I enthusiastically recommend their tools and services to anyone in the control or private label beverage program spaces.
Jim Cosma,
Atlas Imports

Brand Partners