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Meet The Tastings Panelists


Jerald-O’Kennard-DirectorJerald O’Kennard, Director, Editor-in-Chief, Man of the World

Jerald O’Kennard is the Director of the Beverage Testing Institute, one of the world’s foremost authorities on alcoholic beverages. The Beverage Testing Institute (BTI)—was founded in 1981, as America’s premier independent alcoholic beverage review organization with a mission to create fair and reliable reviews of wines for consumers. In 1994, BTI began reviewing beers and spirits and founded the World Beer Championships and the World Spirits Championships—now named the International Review of Spirits. BTI regularly reviews thousands of beverages every year.

BTI was the first organization to publish wine reviews online —managing the America Online Food and Drink Network from 1989 to 1999. All of our reviews, including over 30,000 of our most recent reviews, plus hundreds of articles, now appear on our website, Tastings.com. Leading producers and marketers participate in BTI’s reviews and competitions because they recognize the Institute’s ability to identify and describe the best products and get that information out to consumers. Additionally, BTI partners with many other websites and media that feature its reviews. Examples include: CNBC, BusinessWeek TV, the Chicago Tribune, WGN Radio, Martha Stewart Radio, BBC Radio International, All About Beer magazine, Restaurant Hospitality magazine, and many others.

Jerald received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago, completed post-graduate work in the arts, and has over a decade of food & beverage management and event management experience. He has developed beverage programs and lists for many of the Midwest’s major cultural institutions and trained thousands of service personnel in all facets of wine, spirits, and cuisine.

He began his relationship with BTI in the late 90’s as a taster and quickly established himself as a senior panelist based on his remarkable sensory abilities. He then worked as a consultant for BTI, helping to develop e-commerce applications for BTI’s product review databases. In 2000, he was hired as Tasting Director. As a man experienced in both the arts and business, he brings a robust palette of organizational and creative skills to the Institute and is directly responsible for administering and marketing all of BTI’s tasting and private consultation programs. His writings on spirits, wine, and beer can be regularly found on Tastings.com and in All About Beer, the Chicago Tribune, and Restaurant Hospitality magazines. He is a beverage contributor to the CNBC television network, BusinessWeek TV, and BBC ‘s Radio International and is often consulted on and quoted by the New York Times, Business 2.0, Wall Street Journal, Men’s Journal, Reuters, and other national and international publications on the subjects of wines, beers, and spirits.

He loves to travel and learn from wine, beer, and spirits producers around the world and is developing a beverage television show that will share his insights and discoveries. In what little spare time he has, he is a musician and composer with several albums and movie soundtracks to his credit. He also has an intense passion for pursuing what he calls the “Three C’s” of the beverage and entertaining industries: culture, cuisine, and celebration. However, wherever he goes, he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convince people that he actually works for a living.

Bob Bansberg with glassBob Bansberg, Senior Wine Panelist, Keeper of the Flame

Robert (Bob) Bansberg is an award winning sommelier and wine educator, formerly at Chicago’s four star restaurant Ambria for its full twenty-five year run, and currently the general manager for Miramar Bistro in Highwood IL and a faculty member at the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago. Since 1992, Bansberg has taught a Wine and Beverage Management Class at Kendall College’s School of the Culinary Arts and for five years has hosted the The Wine Series, a wine appreciation and food-pairing course for the community. Since 2000, he has lectured at the Alliance Français and The Calphalon Culinary also based in Chicago. He is an active board member of the “Toast to Humanity” charity and has donated his time to the National Charity “Share our Strength”.

In 2004, Bansberg was one of five nominated for “Best Sommelier” in the Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence. In their July 2000 issue, Food & Wine magazine Bansberg selected in a national poll of their readership as “The Best Sommelier in Chicago”, Chicago Magazine also listed Bansberg as the cities best in their August 2000 issue. In 1999, Bansberg was nominated for the highly coveted James Beard Award.  He has won regional French sommelier competitions.  He is a senior wine judge at the Beverage Testing Institute and has judged for the National Restaurant Association’s Wine Classic, and has served on numerous panels for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.

He has written for Wine & Spirits and The Wine Enthusiast, and has lectured at the Midwest International Wine Exposition as well as Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. He has been writing wine tasting notes for Sante Magazine in 2004. Bansberg is a graduate of Northwestern University and studied in the Neurophysiology Graduate Program at the University of Illinois Medical Center.  He resides in Evanston with his wife and their two children.  He continues to be a leader and educator in his community. A gifted and gracious man in many respects, he is truly the "Sommelier’s Sommelier."


 Mike Miller, Senior Spirits & Beer Panelist, Tavernista Party Whip

Michael Miller, one of The Beverage Testing Institute’s longest serving and most outspoken judges, is owner and operator of the twenty-year old 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), 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. Mr. 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. BTI is proud to have Mike on board our panels and thankful for his considerable sensory skills, product knowledge, and thought provoking opinions.


Matthew Gundlach, Wine Panelist, Wine Vanguardian

As the General Manager and Wine Director for postmodern restaurant mecca MOTO, Matthew has the enviable challenge of pairing the world’s most exotic, exclusive, and esoteric wines to some of the most inventive cuisine in the world on a daily basis. Yet, despite his high industry profile in this cutting-edge institution, he is a remarkably pragmatic and broad-minded wine professional who is not impressed by the pomp and circumstance of the high-end wine trade. Quite simply, Matthew is focused, like a laser, on finding the best wines available for his customers. A former sommelier at another Chicago culinary legend Charlie Trotter’s, he brings his combination of openness, sensitivity, and broad range of wine expertise to every tasting to help us find them too.


  Adam Seger, Spirits and Wine Panelist, Wine and Spirits Guru

As Founder and Mixologist for Chicago-based hum Spirits Company, Cocktail Advisor for Lettuce Entertain You and Consulting Sommelier/Mixologist for iPic Entertainment, Adam Seger takes a chef’s approach at the bar to the point of being dubbed ‘The Charlie Trotter of Cocktails’ by New City and a ‘Spirits Guru’ by Food & Wine and Fast Company Magazines. Seger is a Certified Culinary Professional and a Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier as well as an alumnus of world-renowned restaurants TRU, The Seelbach Hotel’s Oakroom, Strasbourg’s Michelin Star Chez Julien and The French Laundry. Seger’s mixing takes him all over the world, from his week of ’Fresh Market Alchemy’ for the Russian Cocktail Club at City Space, Moscow to regularly scouring the cocktail scene in London for inspiration. He is currently working on his first cocktail book ‘Drink Like You Eat: 40 Cocktails from the Garden to the Glass’.


Benjamin Schiller, Spirits and Wine Panelist, Cocktail Assassin

As the Beverage Director for the 50/50 Restaurant Group’s Homestead and Berkshire Room Benjamin has tirelessly developed a reputation as one of the top bartenders in nation, winning numerous competitions and acclaim in the press.  Benjamin got an unusual start in the food and beverage industry on his family’s apiary where he where he trained is nose and palate on the subtle differences between varieties and vintages of honey. He brings the same sensory precision and discipline to his innovative cocktails and of course BTI’s wine and spirits tastings.


Adam_VavrickAdam Vavrick, Beer Panelist, Beer Predator

Adam is the Beer Manager of the Midwest’s largest beer department at Binny’s Lincoln Park location. He has become a respected member of the Chicago 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. When not at beer events or the store, Adam is usually found piddling about with his analog modular synthesizer in the apartment he shares with his roller derby playing wife and their two cats. You can see what he’s up to by following his Twitter account, @beeradam

Edward_HamiltonEdward Hamilton, Spirits Panelist, The Minister of Rum

Edward Hamilton, widely considered the world’s foremost authority on rum, is the author of the legendary books Rums of the Eastern Caribbean, The Complete Guide to Rum and the Ministry of Rum website. He has shared his research on the pages of Yachting, Drinks, Nightclub and Bar and a number of other magazines and journals. When he isn’t sailing, writing and visiting his colleagues at distilleries in the lush Caribbean basin, he’s busy sharing his passion for sugar cane spirits with people around the world. To quote the Minister: “When I dream up a better job, I’ll take it.” 

Terry Sullivan Headshot

Terry "Iron Wrist" Sullivan, Spirits & Wine Panelist, Dean of Drams 

Terry Sullivan is a free-lance writer with a specialization in spirits, wine, cocktails and humor. He is a contributing editor with drinks/beverage columns in Playboy Magazine, Plate Magazine and The Malt Advocate--and a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine and Chicago Magazine.

His Mixology column was a monthly feature in GQ for five years, where he wrote from 1987 until 2002, and his work has appeared in Whisky Magazine, Playboy, Polo On-line and many others. He believes himself to be the only living writer whose work has appeared in both Brides Magazine and This Old House Magazine, although he’s not proud of it. 


 David Soto, Spirits Panelist, Purveyor of Palatable Pleasures

David has twenty-seven years retail and marketing experience in a range of industries, nine years specifically related to spirits. As the spirits specialist and buyer for Binnys Lincoln Park, America’s preeminent spirits retailer, he approves the acquisition of new products and coordinates events from formal sit down tastings to Sam’s massive Annual Spirits Night. Always on the hunt for exciting new products, he travels regularly to Europe, Mexico, and Kentucky, selecting premium barrels from award-winning distilleries around the world. His talent for recommending items customers enjoy has earned him a large, loyal, national following that anticipate his next find. This talent manifests itself in our tasting room through his clear insights and no-nonsense approach to tasting and appreciating spirits, always with an eye as to what the average consumer as well as connoisseur might enjoy.


Charles Joly, Spirits Panelist, Commissioner of Cocktails

Master Mixologist Charles Joly is the former Executive Barchef and Chief Mixologist at Chicago’s world famous cocktail mecca The Aviary. Recently named the 2014 DIAGEO Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year and "Best American Bartender Of 2013" by the Tales of the Cocktail, the "Beverage Professional of the Year" for 2011 and "America’s Top Bartender" for 2010 by The Chicago Tribune and NBC’s On the Rocks TV show, respectively, he has quickly risen to the top of the international mixology scene in the past few years. His razor sharp palette and keen insights into the applicability of a given spirit have been invaluable to Tastings’ spirits reviews.

Craig Goldwyn

Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn, Maverick, Guru, Savant

Craig Goldwyn is a freelance writer and photographer currently working on a book about barbecue and running the world’s number 1 ribs website AmazingRibs.com. Since 1970 he has written hundreds of articles about food and drink as a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. A pioneer in digital media and communications, he began and hosted the Food & Drink Network on America Online, taught at Cornell University’s famous Hotel School, and at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. He founded the Beverage Testing Institute in 1984 and served as its president for 16 years. He has judged wine and food around the world, and highlights of his year are judging wine at the California State Fair and barbecue at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. He calls himself an "omnivore" and says he’s got wine and sauce stains on all his shirts and the well-marbled waistline to prove he does it well. We are grateful to have the dynamic Craig Goldwyn back on Tastings’ panels as he continues to be a source of wisdom and inspiration for us all. 


Alan Dikty, Senior Spirits and Beer Panelist and Consiglieri

Alan has been involved with Tastings since 1993 when he first joined our taste panels. Over the years he has been involved in many Tastings projects, including writing for Tastings: The Journal and being the editor of the BTI Buying Guide to Spirits. His most recent work, The Art of Distilling Whiskey and other Spirits was published by Quarry Books in 2009. In the real world he is president of Allied Beverage Tanks, Inc., a manufacturer of craft brewing and distilling equipment. Alan is partial to a Macallan 18 year Single Malt Scotch Whisky with a Capital Blonde Dopplebock chaser, and will not turn down an H. Upmann Vintage Cameroon Panatela cigar if it is offered.

MarkGruberMark Gruber, Senior Spirits and Wine Paneilst, Professor of Potent Potables

Mark Gruber is the Luxury Spirit Specialist and Director of Spirits Education for Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois.  He teaches wine appreciation and classic cocktail classes at his alma mater, Northwestern University.  He has been a senior panelist at The Beverage Testing Institute since its inception in Chicago.  He has authored numerous magazine articles on wine and spirits, most notably the whiskey entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia for Food and Drink in America.  Recently, Mark served as consulting mixologist for The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits, by Alan Dikty and Bill Owens.  Mark enjoys the good life, i.e., good food, friends, his champagne gold 1977 Avanti, fine wristwatches, formal entertaining, fashion-forward shirt cuffs, and feeling the breeze in his…

Carlos Cuarta

Carlos Cuarta, Spirits Panelist, Cocktail Explorador

Carlos Enrique Cuarta is a native of Venezuela. His enthusiasm for life, and his inexhaustible curiosity are an example to many people he has touched in his career as one of Chicago’s finest bartenders. Although Carlos has never worked at a Chicago bar establishment, he has tirelessly pushed the limits as a bartender for many spirit brands, private clients, and catering companies. During his involvement in the USBG Illinois Chapter, he has been extremely active in supporting his fellow bartenders, various charitable organizations, and also mentoring and financially assisting other Latino bartenders in pursuing the craft of bartending.