“We believe in reviews based on objective, benchmark-based criteria.”
|We have a deep commitment to impartiality, open-mindedness, and fairness. All of our tastings, ratings, and evaluations are done by trained panelists using our proprietary blind tasting methodology and custom built software. Beverage Testing Institute will never accept remuneration for a favorable review.|
Our obsession with details creates the most professional tasting environment in the industry.
To ensure consistency and accuracy, Beverage Testing Institute uses a dedicated sensory lab located in our offices in Chicago. The room is specially designed to minimize external factors and maximize our panelists’ concentration.
We taste in the morning, under the same ideal conditions in our specially designed lab—yielding far more consistent results than working out of a suitcase, a trade show, or at a producer’s facility.
We limit flighting to 15-30 samples a day. Tasting more than these amounts in a single day, as most other competitions and many magazines do, negatively affects the accuracy, quality, and consistency of alcoholic beverage evaluations.
A BASIC TENET OF QUALITATIVE EVALUATION
The shorter the scale, the easier it is for tasters to repeat their scores — and repeatability is the essence of accuracy.
We use simple scales so that our panelists do not concern themselves with the difference between an 88 and an 86, or a 90 and a 91. This method allows our tasters to consider general quality, without the distraction of adding points. Products breaking the critical gold medal barrier are tasted twice without exception, virtually guaranteeing that they deserve their accolades.
After panelists have assigned a quality level, the scores are then converted to a modified consumer-friendly 100-point scale. This scale correlates to BTI’s five quality bands of score.
To help translate the panels’ scores, we use a different statistical method, relying on the mode (the most frequent score) rather than the mean (the average score). This helps reduce the impact of maverick scores; the mode is much closer to what the panelists are really saying. Controversial permutations are always re-tasted. Those falling in the lowest band (less than 80) are simply listed as “79/NR” (Not Recommended). “Not Recommended” scores and reviews are always kept confidential.
Sensory panels at Beverage Testing Institute are one-of-a-kind research tools that have guided tens of thousands of production and marketing decisions for thousands of brands. We uncover the deepest product, on-trade, consumer, and market insights by combining detail-obsessed test design, meticulous record keeping, exacting environmental standards, and an unprecedented approach to focus group recruitment and execution.
BTI panels are comprised of leading buyers and influencers. We recruit beverage directors, sommeliers, top bartenders, retail buyers and educators and train them as sensory analysts. These panelists evaluate products using their extensive professional experience and BTI-trained palates. The panel then discuss their findings as a group, while a BTI moderator records their attitudes, impressions, and conclusions.
Meet the BTI Panelists.
We conduct daily, invite-only judging panels that include highly-experienced, professional tasters. Our panelists are industry buyers and experts such as beverage directors, educators, retailers, restaurateurs or prominent writers. Many of them have completed certifications of their own such as SWE, CSW, CSS, MS, Cicerone or others from credible institutions. Extensively trained in our proprietary methodology, they follow strict protocols for maintaining the tasting lab environment and priming their palate prior to an analytical tasting session.
Originally from Los Angeles, Damian has spent close to 20 years in the hospitality industry. He has been with Marriott International for 13 years, and has led the bar program at the JW Marriott Chicago for the last 10. Damian has excelled in multiple cocktail competitions, even having a drink featured in the 2017 Aspen Food and Wine Festival, and passed the Barsmarts Advanced Certification with a top score.
Liz's curiosity about wine led her to a job leading to PR and corporate communications for Terlato Wines in 2012. Eager to amplify her knowledge, she drank from a fire hose, learning everything she could. Liz passed the Society of Wine Education's "Certified Specialist of Wine" exam in 2015. After five years managing PR and events spanning from Napa Valley to New York, she started her own communications and writing business specializing in wine, spirits, food, and lifestyle clients. Liz is an enthusiastic wine educator and believes that blind tasting is the best way to truly judge a wine.
For almost 20 years, Elliott has worked in the beverage/hospitality industry in various roles ranging from cooking in kitchens to bartending and managing front of house. He was among the first 43 people to become a Certified Cicerone® and has achieved the title of Advanced Cicerone®. Elliott was the Beer Director of the popular Owen and Engine in Chicago for 8 years and is now the General Manager of BiXi Beer. He has served as a beer-focused panelist with BTI since 2012. Elliott’s beer evaluations are centered on style, applying his depth of knowledge of the category before considering his personal preferences. He believes Beverage Testing Institute’s truly blind tasting methodology leads to more accurate scoring, concluding that “The scores are always true to the liquid.”
Patrick began his career in the hospitality industry over 30 years ago as a dishwasher at age 14. He has since risen through the ranks, and has been credited for transforming Paddy Long’s from a little dive bar to one that draws guests from all over the world. Patrick has served as a beer-focused BTI panelist for over 5 years, and in that time has encountered many surprising and enjoyable beers, the most memorable among them so far being a Tripel from a small brewpub in Michigan that he could have sworn came straight from Belgium. Patrick believes the strength of BTI’s methodology is the environment for judges to focus exclusively on the liquid without getting caught up in strict style guidelines or marketing techniques.
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, THE NORTHMAN CIDER COMPANY
Ambrosia first fell in love with cider almost 10 years ago while drinking scrumpy out of dusty old kegs in English pubs. Since that first taste, she has been on the hunt for unique and tasty ciders, ultimately finding her home at The Northman, Chicago’s first cider bar. Passionate about education through inebriation, she teaches spirit courses in the city and loves to hold class at the bar. She is well-traveled across a unique booze landscape, combining an inventive mind and adventurous spirit. Away from The Northman, Ambrosia can be found foraging apples around the city, making cider at home, and traveling by bicycle.
In dedicating his life to raising up the bartending craft, Carlos Enrique Cuarta has tirelessly gone above and beyond as a bartender for countless spirit brands, private clients, catering companies, and more. Throughout his years of involvement in the USBG Illinois Chapter, Carlos has actively shown up for his fellow bartenders, supported various charitable organizations, and taken pride in mentoring other latinx bartenders in their pursuit of the craft. At home Carlos is constantly working on various infusions, syrups, cordials, and recipes--both for his own pleasure and in preparation for the many projects and competitions he has committed himself to.
Alan has been a spirits-specialized panelist with BTI since 1993. His extensive knowledge and experience draw from his role as the president of Allied Beverage Tanks, a manufacturer of craft brewing and distilling equipment with clients spanning the globe from Canada to Japan and everywhere in between. In 2009, Alan refined his wealth of experience in The Art of Distilling, a comprehensive guide to artisan distilling co-authored with Bill Owens, founder of American Distilling Institute.
With a passion for hospitality and a keen eye for detail, David Disney has spent the last 15 years honing his knowledge of the spirits industry. David came to Chicago by way of Indianapolis and he has since worked across Chicago bartending and running beverage programs, ever developing his discerning, in-depth knowledge of the art and science of a perfectly balanced cocktail recipe.
Erin is a Philadelphia-area native who made Chicago home in 2004. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago studying Linguistic and Cultural Anthropology with an emphasis on Iberian language and food cultures. In tying her academic and personal interests, she began her wine career in 2007 at Lush Wine & Spirits. Erin moved into fine wine distribution in 2012 with Cream Wine Company where she was a key accounts sales representative as well as Director of Education for nearly 5 years. Her hard work and passion earned her the role of Midwest Market Manager for Olé Imports and Obrigado Vinhos in 2018, where she now proudly represents over 70 winegrowers from every corner of the Iberian peninsula. In addition to her vibrant wine career, Erin is the chair of Next Bites, a nonprofit focused on environmental sustainability in the hospitality industry, as well as a volunteer chef instructor for elementary school students with Pilot Light.
Martin is an internationally renowned spirits educator and enthusiast. His appreciation of adult libations started during his early years as a bartender and continues on to this very day. Martin has studied distilling with some of the most accomplished distillers, blenders, and craftspeople in Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, Canada, and the US. He has managed numerous prestigious spirits portfolios and has conducted master classes at Whiskyfests in Chicago and New York, Portland Cocktail Week, Boston Cocktail Summit, Tales of the Cocktail, and many more. In 2014, Chilled Magazine selected Martin as one of their "Top 100 Drink Industry Influencers in the US."
Beau Forbes has been working in craft beer since 2013. He's an Advanced Cicerone, Certified Bourbon Steward, and is a Certified Cider Professional. Beau has judged dozens of competitions as a certified beer judge with the Beer Judge Certification program, and has done stints at Goose Island Beer Co. and Finch Brewery, the latter at which he helped found the QC program. He is a proud BTI panelist and enjoys judging wine, beer, and spirits but has a special focus on craft beer.
Perry grew up in the wine industry, beginning with selling fine wine in his family’s liquor store while still in high school. Post-university, he became certified by the Master Court of Sommeliers and curated the huge wine and spirits selection at Mainstreet where he was voted “Retail Wine Consultant of the Year” at the Midwest International Wine Exposition. Perry then went on to create The Tasting Room & Randolph Wine Cellars and the Highball Lounge. In addition to his work with Louis Glunz Wines, Perry is Ambassador for C.O.R.E., Children of Restaurant Employees, a national 501(c)(3) supporting food and beverage industry employee by providing immediate micro-grants to families in need.
David Frost has traveled the world looking for the finer beverages to bring into the US; the more historic or cultural the better. His expertise extends from beer to sake, meads, and ciders, and he is an expert panelist in all of those categories. Previously a software engineer, David undoubtedly believes he made the right decision moving into the beverage industry.
Toni has judged BTI's annual Packaging Competition since 2016, and as an esteemed design expert, she leaves no detail unexamined when it comes to finding the best in form and function. Toni spends her days at the Berlin Packaging design division producing eye-catching creations for clients ranging from Walt Disney Studios to the Houston Astros.
PRODUCTION MANAGER, BEVERAGE TESTING INSTITUTE
Julia’s introduction to the spirits world began at the tender age of eleven: making their dad drinks from Dale Degroff's The Craft of the Cocktail. They majored in the Anthropology of Food and Beverage at Indiana University and upon graduation launched right into the joys of the hospitality industry. Julia was on the opening teams of Three Dots and A Dash, Milk Room, and Lost Lake in Chicago, bartending and bar managing before bringing their expertise to the BTI team.
EDUCATOR and LUXURY SPIRITS SPECIALIST
Mark Gruber has been a panelist at BTI since its inception in Chicago. Throughout his career, Mark has authored numerous magazine articles on the topic of wine and spirits, most notably the whiskey entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Mark also served as the consulting mixologist for The Art of Distilling co-authored by fellow panelist Alan Dikty and founder of the American Distilling Institute Bill Owens. Currently, Mark teaches wine and spirits classes at his alma mater, Northwestern University.
Dejorn is a scholar of wine and spirits, ever eager to share her passion and expertise. During her tenure as Spirits Portfolio Manager for Tenzing, she not only helped educate the team but also showcased the company’s extensive artisanal spirits portfolio through cocktail development. Prior to her work current role with Maverick Wine Company, Ms. Huffman was also the Midwest Market Manager for Lucas Bols USA and one of the driving creative forces behind world-renowned cocktail bar, Sable.
With an extensive and ever-growing background of experience, Monique has served as a spirits-specialized panelist with BTI for over 5 years. She spent 10 years curating the world's best whisky collection in her Omaha hometown and has spent countless hours in whisk(e)y distilleries over the years, also making time to visit Spain to cultivate her knowledge of wine and maturation. Despite being in the industry since age 14, Monique knows there's always more to discover, stating that "Five years on the distribution side have taught me that every day I have more to learn." She firmly believes there is a whisky for every individual, and that the right amount of time and conversation is exactly what's needed to find the connection. Monique comes to every tasting with an open mind, ready to compound every day's food and beverage experience into a tasting note that is honest and helpful to consumers. She believes that "The diversity of the tasters really makes for the best tasting notes."
Charles has been in the spirits world for over 20 years, working in nearly every type of establishment that makes its business selling spirits and cocktails, and receiving numerous awards and recognitions along the way. Charles was named American Bartender of the Year in 2013 at the Spirited Awards during Tales of the cocktail, was crowned the Global Bartending Champion in Diageo's World Class Competition in 2014, was nominated in 2015 and 2016 for the James Beard Award in Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional, was deemed one of Bon Appetit's 10 Most Influential Bartenders as well as one of Wine Enthusiast's Top Spirit and Wine Professionals, and has contributed his talents to numerous high-profile events including: Oprah's 25th Anniversary Party, the 2015 Grammy Awards, the 2016 Academy Awards, and the Kentucky Derby. Charles has served as a spirits panelist with BTI for over 5 years. He brings with him a methodical approach to tasting and takes into consideration all the unique complexities of each spirit. Charles says that he is constantly learning from the people around him and greatly values the time he spends with colleagues and other panelists.
Dave has served as a beer-specialized panelist with BTI since 2010. As a Master Cicerone®, his approach to tasting ensures that he pays careful attention to each product, deeply considering aroma and flavor. Dave also considers the brewing process--from the initial brew to the bottling of the final product—in order to analyze where flaws may have occurred and write informed suggestions for improvement where necessary. In his free time, Dave publishes articles for the Mash Tun Journal. He attributes his curiosity to keeping him in the business for over 30 years and enjoys the constant opportunity to both learn and teach in the industry, "The more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know.”
Peter Kim is the beverage director for The Franklin Room, a Chicago restaurant and bar featuring a selection of rare and fine spirits that Kim sources from around the globe. He features weekly whisky picks for Facebook fans and is highly engaged with customers in and out of his bar, lending his strong background in blind tasting and judging spirits to help educate guests.
INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT, WINE and SPIRITS
Jennifer began her beverage industry career at 21 in a French Quarter daiquiri shop. The passion and hard work that she has put into developing her finely-tuned palate has led to multiple recognitions and awards. In addition to receiving her Certified Sommelier designation, Jennifer was named one of the Top 50 Women to Watch in Food and Beverage Magazine and was on the opening team of numerous restaurants, national and international, for the Kimpton group.
Before she arriving in the US via Krakow, Kasia worked for wine importer Terra Galos and quickly realized her passion for wine. She is currently a wine consultant for Binny's and obtained the Sommelier Diploma through the International Sommelier Guild.
Magro began the development of her hospitality career at age 21. She has run bars across Chicago, including the nationally acclaimed Prairie School, much-beloved Sportsman's Club, Estereo, and, most recently, Lone Wolf. While balancing the forward motion of her beverage career, Magro is also focusing her energy on mentorship, her mental health awareness non-profit, and building a community inside and outside of the food and beverage industry.
Mark found his true passion in the world of wine during his last year of law school. He is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and holds the Diploma of Wine and Spirits from the WSET program. Before joining Connoisseur Wines, Mark was the wine director of Benny's Chop House with a wine program that received considerable acclaim from Wine Spectator.
Michael Miller, one of BTI's longest serving and most outspoken panelists, is owner and operator of the 27-year-running Delilah’s Nightclub and the craft beer centric Bottom Lounge music venue in Chicago. Delilah’s is America’s most recognized whiskey bar (2004 Whisky Magazine, Best Whisky Bar Award) and is equally world famous for both its jukebox and its unparalleled selection of beer, wine and spirits. Miller has published dozens of articles concerning all things drinks, music, travel, and nightlife. Miller has one feature film to his credit, a cutting-edge bar in Spain in the works, and a tremendous dedication to offering the best experience possible for his many patrons and friends. Miller always brings considerable sensory skills, product knowledge, and thought-provoking opinions to his BTI panels.
In all of his projects and study, Andrew is deeply passionate about helping promote the heritage and craftsmanship of fine libations. As an avid wine and whisk(e)y connoisseur, he has studied at the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as the WSET in his consistent pursuit of knowledge. Currently working as an independent wine and whisk(e)y consultant, Andrew was formerly an ambassador for Pernod Ricard and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society with an emphasis on luxury brands, and he brings his expertise and excitement to every BTI panel.
Julia was born and raised in Japan where her passion for hospitality took root from a seed planted by her mother. She has headed the programs at multiple award-winning Chicago establishments like The Aviary, The Office, and GreenRiver before landing as a creative partner and beverage director for two Michelin starred Oriole and her newest project, Bar Kumiko, one of Food and Wine's 2019 Best New Restaurants and Time Magazine's World's 100 Greatest Places in 2019.
Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, Kristine's culinary career began at home where she learned the basics of cooking with her family. Her passion for food and hospitality took her to the Culinary Institute of America in New York City where she earned degrees in Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management. After finding herself in Chicago, she graced the kitchens of Graham Elliot and Morimoto before exploring front-of-house roles and developing an interest in wine during her time at Spiaggia, Swift & Sons, and Somerset. At Galit, she curates a unique wine list with focus on natural and Middle Eastern selections. Kristine is dedicated to creating memorable experiences for guests through the coupling of great wine and her genuine hospitality.
Vinny came to Chicago in 2017 to study music. As most do, he quickly fell in love with the city, and in turn, the restaurant scene. He decided to pursue a career in hospitality and has worked behind the stick at some of Chicago's most iconic cocktail bars, including Barrelhouse Flat and Queen Mary Tavern. Vinny joined the opening bar team at Bad Hunter in 2016 and during his tenure as bar manager (2017-2020 when the beloved restaurant sadly closed) was responsible for the development of the award-winning, uber-creative, low-ABV cocktail menu--the first of its kind in Chicago. Adding to his resumé, Vinny was a global finalist in the 2017 Lustau Solera Standout competition and the winner of the 2018 Old Forrester Old Fashioned Face Off. Most recently, as a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, he founded HELLO, cocktails, a ready-to-drink cocktail company with a focus on designing thoughtful, shelf-stable beverages. Vinny enjoys sherry, vermouth, and all thing pink and spritzy, and is passionate about functional sustainability, light flavors, and session-able drinking.
Bret officially began his hospitality career at age 16 as a fry cook at I-80's World's Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa. He continued working in kitchens at various restaurants before moving to the front of house where he found his passion for all things fermented and distilled. Bret's beverage career kicked off with the Goddess Restaurant Group where he served for a decade as Wine Director at Feast, Cru Wine Bar, Teatro Zinzanni, and Goddess and Grocer. From there, Bret joined One Off Hospitality Group as the opening Wine Director for Nico Osteria and Publican Anker. His world travels, working harvests and visiting wineries, distilleries, and breweries throughout Georgia, Slovenia, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and across the US have led to thoughtful curation of his wine programs focusing on lesser-known regions. A lifelong collector, Bret enjoys peppering his wine lists with affordable obscurities he finds at auctions, giving his patrons a chance to enjoy something rare and off the beaten path.
Rebecca graduated from Wells College, nestled in New York's vine-laden Finger Lakes region, with a degree in theatre. While working as a stage manager in Chicago, her college-rooted love of Riesling coupled with a borrowed Jancis Robinson book to set her on the wine and spirits path. Rebecca helped open and eventually managed a boutique wine and spirit store in Lincoln Park, worked as a wine and spirit buyer for Whole Foods, wine captained and led events at City Winery Chicago, and is currently the spirits buyer for Plum Market in Chicago's historic Old Town neighborhood. She is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and is avidly making her way through the WSET Wine Diploma program. When not working, studying, or swirling, Rebecca practices barebow archery, reads wine books, and plans her next wine adventures.
BEVERAGE AND SALES CONSULTANT
Michael is an Ohio-native-turned-Chicagoan. After graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago, his passion for hospitality became profession as he worked his way through the ranks of the industry, landing coveted positions at some of the city's most-renowned outlets like The Violet Hour and The Publican. Michael's hard work and innovation earned him the StarChefs Chicago Rising Star Sommelier award in 2010 and he was recognized in 2013 in Zagat's 30 Under 30 list for Outstanding Industry Excellence. He honed his sales skills as East Coast Sales Manager with Virtue Cider and eventually joined Heisler Hospitality as a corporate beverage director, curating programs at many of Chicago's dearly beloved haunts. Most recently, after cultivating and combining his extensive knowledge and experience, Michael formed a consulting company through which he provides top-notch beverage programming and manages national sales for his clients.
INDEPENDENT WINE CONSULTANT
Pat Brophy is the Director of Spirits Sales and Education at Binny’s Beverage Depot, where he has worked for 14 years in a variety of roles, including Beer Buyer. He was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago with a brief stint in beer-rich Seattle in the late 90’s. It was there his passion and obsession for great beers and whiskies was sparked. After studying economics at Loyola University of Chicago he realized graphing economic data wasn’t nearly as rewarding as drinking and making great beer and spirits. He currently works extensively on The Whiskey Hotline, an all-encompassing specialty spirits buying, training, marketing and sales team where he hand selects several hundred single cask spirits every year. In his spare time he can be found doting upon his wife and two young daughters, curating his collection of vintage video games, and enjoying a variety of encased meats.