“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.
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.
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 actively 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 he 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.
Pat officially started working in the beverage/hospitality industry in 2012, though his passion for beer was clear long before. He became a Certified Cicerone® in 2010 and in 2013, at 25 years old, became the youngest person ever to pass the Master Cicerone® examination, an accomplishment boasted by a mere 16 people world-wide. Keeping his momentum, Pat was named one of Wine Spectator’s 40 under 40 Tastemakers in 2014. “I love beer as a beverage and from a flavor perspective, but I also love it as a lens through which you can look at history, or a shared interest you can use to bring people together,” Pat says. “It’s fun, interesting and tasty.”
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 her dad drinks from Dale Degroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail. She 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 her 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. As Spirits Portfolio Manager, she not only helps educate the Tenzing team but also showcases the company’s extensive artisanal spirits portfolio through cocktail development. Prior to her work with Tenzing, Ms. Huffman was 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.
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.
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, BEVERAGE TESTING INSTITUTE
Laura is a Certified Specialist of Spirits and professional spirits nerd with an affinity for unique regional liqueurs and single malt Scotch. Previously a BTI panelist, Laura joined the BTI team where she uses her passion for flavor to serve as panel moderator, editor, and a lead in the consulting division. Laura has spent a decade in the bar and restaurant industry doing it all–from barback to director of a multi-outlet hotel beverage program.
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.
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.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BEVERAGE TESTING INSTITUTE
A graduate of the University of Chicago, Jerald has enjoyed over a decade of food, beverage and event management experience. He first worked with BTI as a senior panelist due to his remarkable sensory abilities, quickly joining the team in 2000 to launch e-commerce development and database management. Bringing his passion for beverage to print, Jerald is a contributing writer for several news publications and often consulted and interviewed for The New York Times, Business 2.0, The Wall Street Journal, Men’s Journal, and Reuters. He loves to travel and learn from wine, spirits and beer producers around the world.
Nick grew up working on the prairie, then in a greenhouse, always relying on his senses in the field and never afraid to use taste and smell when helping to identify plants. Drawing on his extensive background in the natural sciences, he enjoys making connections between the natural world around us and anything fermented. Nick’s fervor for fermentation has led to past work at West Lakeview Liquors and a cellar director position at Fountainhead, and he brings his field-developed faculties to BTI’s beer, cider, and mead panels.
Samu Rahn is a Certified Cicerone® and on-premise key account manager for Louis Glunz Beer, an independent Chicagoland distributor established in 1888. After receiving an MBA from North Park University in 2011, he explored multiple facets of the industry–homebrewing beer, cider, and mead, bartending in Sweden, beer travel journalism in Italy and Germany–before settling into distribution in Chicago. When he’s not working or on a BTI beer panel, Samu also serves as an Advisory Board Member for the Business of Craft Beer program at the College of DuPage and judges for the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition.
Throughout the past 15 years, Alex has built a strong, broad foundation of beverage experience, from bartending at the acclaimed Sable Kitchen and bar, holding a beverage director position for Menin Hotels, consulting on multiple spirits brands through The Dogma Group, and representing The Macallan as a brand ambassador, to his current position with Edrington. His passion for his career has led to traveling to multiple distilleries world-wide and providing top notch spirits education around the country, and he brings these experiences to every panel.
Regine fell in love with wine during a college study abroad trip to Besançon, France. Bitten by the wine bug early on, she began her career in the beverage industry as a salesperson for a wine distributor. While in this role, Rousseau noticed how the barrier of “wine speak” formed a disconnect between wine professionals and consumers. Inspired to bridge the gap, Rousseau started her company Shall We Wine; a wine, spirits and beer tasting company based in Chicago. Rousseau received her Level II certification from the International Sommelier Guild and an Executive Bourbon Steward from Stave and Thief Society. Rousseau has traveled around the globe to share her wine and beverage expertise, and has been listed as one of 40 African-American Tastemakers in Black Food & Beverage. Rousseau was a featured panelist at the Association of Writers & Writing Program conference in 2013, the inaugural Blacks in Wine Symposium in 2017, the Women’s Breakfast Business Panel presented by the City of Chicago and the SoloCEO Summit in 2019. Additionally, Rousseau has been featured in The New Yorker, Vine Pair, Black Enterprise, and Wine Enthusiast.
Joel’s time bartending at multiple Chicago locations led him to a stage at the Aviary, where he fell in love with ice. After some experimenting, Joel found that not only could he create perfectly clear ice, but a limitless range of ways to chill a drink in style. He runs the ice programs for two food and beverage groups in Chicago, driven to elevate design and experience. “Without a passion for the craft…this would just be ice.”
Cindy Rynning has been writing about wine on her award-winning wine blog, Grape Experiences (one of Feedspot’s 2019 Best 100 Wine Blogs and the Lux International Magazine Best Wine Blog US in 2016, 2017, and 2018), since 2011. She completed the WSET Level 3 program with merit in 2012. Cindy is based in Chicago, Illinois and attends international and national trade tastings and media events, meets and interviews winemakers and others who share their stories, and writes about tastings, food and wine pairings, wine travels, and more. Cindy has written for a variety of print and digital publications including Crave Local, Wine Tourist Magazine, and the wine club newsletter of Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants. Cindy also writes for Wine Traveler and Drizly on their online sites, and received a Drizly Blogger Award for Best Wine Blog in 2017. A former educator, Cindy understands the value of lifelong learning and strives to share her knowledge of wine through writing, social media, personal wine tastings, and real-life conversation in order to inform, entertain, and inspire others to discover the beauty of our favorite beverage: wine.
Benjamin got an unusual start in the food and beverage industry on his family’s apiary where he trained his nose and palate on the subtle differences between varieties and vintages of honey. Over the years, he has tirelessly developed a reputation as one of the top bartenders in the nation, and has won numerous competitions and acclaim in the press for his work in the industry. He brings his sensory precision and discipline to his innovative cocktails, as well as to BTI wine and spirits panels.
Nancy began her wine career at a small Michigan winery and tasting bar. After developing an understanding for the chemistry and art of winemaking as a vintner, she began serving at the tasting bar. She has worked in several wine and craft cocktail focused venues in Chicago as both a server and floor sommelier. She now focuses on wine education, staff training, and service in one of Chicago’s local, chef-driven restaurants, Coda Di Volpe. She is a certified beer server through the Cicerone® Program, WSET Level 3 certified, and currently pursuing education through the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Society of Wine Educators.
Shana Solarte is an Advanced Cicerone® and Content Manager for the Cicerone® Certification Program, where she keeps training and exam content up to date, runs educational programming, and teaches Cicerone courses. She has also been part of the team at Chicago’s Dovetail Brewery since day one, where she works behind the bar, conducts tours, and spends plenty of time ensuring that the beer tastes good.
David’s first job in the beverage/hospitality industry was as a wine buyer in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the early ’90s. In his time in the industry, David has worked primarily in the retail sector at places like Sam’s Wine and Spirits and Binny’s Beverage Depot, where he is currently a Spirits Specialist. His passion for the industry is derived from the rich history of each spirit. “I love traveling and exploring the many cultures and traditions associated with each category,” he says. “The best resource of each spirit is the people involved in producing it. Many of the great spirits have multiple generations involved in its history and development.” For over 10 years, David has served as a panelist with BTI, specializing in spirits. When he tastes he looks for a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. “The nose is the beginning. It should make you want to continue forward with the spirit. The taste is the middle–it should have a solid foundation whatever path it takes. The finish is the end. It should be memorable, in a good way.” His most memorable experience tasting on a blind panel was discovering one of the best rye whiskies he’d ever encountered, from the Skip Rock Distillers in Washington.
For years, Adam ran the Midwest’s largest beer department at the Binny’s Lincoln Park location. He has become a respected member of the Midwest beer community and regularly tastes and evaluates beers for home-brewers to help guide their vision into a solid brew. He’s also had his opinion sought by the Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio, among others. Formerly the beer director for The Publican, Adam now runs his own beer distribution company, Do Right.