2017 International Whisky Competition® Tasting Panel
In alphabetical order
- Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits National Director of Education Beam Suntory
- Market-Fresh Mixology Author
Bridget is an advocate for upbeat education that makes an impact. She has designed beverage programs for top national accounts, including the Hilton Worldwide Resorts.
She is the co-author of Market-Fresh Mixology, a book of seasonal cocktail recipes inspired by fresh ingredients.
Bridget has won numerous awards and honorable mentions for her work in the beverage world, including first place at the Tale of the Cocktail Bar Chef Competition, Chicago Tribune Good Eats Award, the coveted Share Our Strength Sustaining a Community award and the United States Bartenders Guild Lifetime Achievement Member Award . She has had the pleasure of hosting charity beverage events for a variety of companies, including the Bellagio, Locks of Love, Sky Blue, Cocktail for a Cure, Make a Wish Foundation, Hadassah, Taste of the Nation, and New Leaders for New Schools.
Bridget is the Founder of the National Charity Foundation of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, the world’s largest contributor to the cocktail culture. Currently she holds the position as the Souhtern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits National Director of Education Beam Suntory. Bridget is the Founder of the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service IL, KY & MN a program for bartenders that covers the history of all spirits and pre-prohibition cocktails, and the Advanced Mixology Culinary Academy.
Sir Adam Carmer:
- Owner of the Whisky Attic, Las Vegas, NV
- Owner of Freakin Frog, Las Vegas, NV
Knighted last year (2014) in Belgium for his body ofwork focusing on education Mr. Carmer thereby earned the title of Sir. Adam was honored as the 2013 teacher of the year in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV where he has spent the last 19 years building students knowledge, specifically in the area of alcoholic beverages. In the mid 1990’sAdam became Steve Wynn’s first Hotel Sommelier. Looking to add value to Las Vegas and the world he followed his entrepreneurial conscience and opened his own food and beverage establishment. After establishing the first craft beer bar in Las Vegas in 2002 with the Freakin Frog, Sir Adam went on to open the first Whisky only bar in the USA, The Whisky Attic. While operating these venues and continuing his research in alcoholic beverages he developed a number of philosophies and systems. In 2008, Sir Adam Carmer developed a new method of tasting alcoholic beverages. This new discovery of a more advanced hierarchy of sensory perception led to classes, seminars, speeches and a loyal following of people using this new technique. Officially named the Carmer Spirits Tasting Enhancement Method it more commonly goes by the moniker of CSTEM.
Currently Adam spends his time teaching, consulting and judging and writing about alcoholic beverages.
- Wine Aromas - Le Nez du Vin, COO
- Discovering & Mastering Single Malt Scotch Whisky Author
- International Whisky Guide 2016 & 2017 Co-Author
Sébastien Gavillet is a wine and whisk(e)y consultant and a winemaker with 20+ years' experience in the industry. Sébastien is COO of Wine Aromas-Le Nez du Vin, a world leader in coffee, wine and whisk(e)y sensory education. He is also the Head of the International Whisky Competition tasting panel, a book author, and an entrepreneur.
As a wine and whisk(e)y consultant, Sébastien provides wine/whisk(e)y tasting, blending, and production evaluation services as well as marketing and branding guidance to wineries and distilleries. He educates professionals and corporate clients through seminars and workshops. He advises collectors on acquiring and maintaining their wines and spirits collections. He is also a recurring judge at international wine competitions.
Sébastien developed the new IWC (International Whisky Competition) Medallion rating system and blind tasting procedure, and he designed the WhiskyVibe Tasting App for single malt Scotch whisky enthusiasts. Sébastien also co-founded both SLK Production and Master Barrel; the former produced affordable wines, while the latter is focused on selecting and producing world-class wines and spirits.
Sébastien's published works include Discovering & Mastering Single Malt Scotch Whisky, The International Whisky Guide 2016, The International Whisky Guide 2017, and the upcoming "Petit" Arvine, mon amour. He is also read in more than 180 countries through his blog, www.WineVibe.com.
- Southern Glazer Wine & Spirits, Director of Spirits Education, IL
Mark Gruber has been in the hotel, OFF Premise & ON Premise wine and spirits industry in Chicago for over 30 years. He is a founding member of the Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) in Chicago, Illinois, and has authored many magazine articles regarding the alcohol beverage industry. Most recently, Mark contributed to The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits (Quarry Books). He is the author of the “Whiskey” entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink In America (Oxford University Press). He frequently travels to mixology conferences and wine and spirit producing regions around the world. He most recently visited the rum distilleries on Barbados.
As Director of Spirits Education, Mark offers all SGWS-IL employees a four part Spirit Fundamentals Class, Bourbon Master Class, and Scotch Master Classes. Mark lectures on a variety of topics at SGWS-IL’s Academy of Spirits and Fine Service and consults with SGWS-IL employees preparing for the Certified Spirit Specialist exam. He recently received his certification from the Mexican government’s “AWARD T” Program of the Consejo Regulador del Tequila.
A Chicago native, Mark has taught both Wine Appreciation and Classic Cocktails classes for over thirty years at his alma mater, Northwestern University.
- Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, Executive Director of Mixology & Spirits Education
One of the world’s foremost mixologist, Francesco Lafranconi is the Executive Director of Mixology and Spirits Educator for Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits of Nevada.
Francesco’s personal appeal has made him a hit with his A-list celebrity clientele, world-class corporate clients, world renowned michelin star chefs, national restaurant chains, international hotel companies and the thousands of people who’ve attended his seminars and live events around the world.
His distinguished career includes tenures at the helm of some of the world’s leading hotel bars — The Gleneagles in Scotland; The Palace Hotel in Gstaadt, Switzerland; The Intercontinental Hotel in Cologne, Germany; and Harry’s Bar and Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy — and winning many of the world’s most prestigious cocktail competitions — including the Bacardi-Martini Grand Prix World Final and J.White Course in Singapore — but his proudest achievement is founding the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service in 2000, a 12-week education program that has trained over 1000 beverage professionals and imbued them with the same enthusiasm he brings to every cocktail. Most recently awarded Best In Show at the Iron Mixologist Competition sponsored by Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Of America.
Winner of many high-profile print awards including the Bartender Hall of Fame Award from Bartender’s Magazine, the Raising the Bar Award from Cheers Magazine, Mixologist of the Year Award from Nightclub and Bar Magazine, Spirit Professional of the Year from Santé Magazine and Tales Of The Cocktail’s Golden Spirit Award. He also contributes with his mixology expertise to national publications like the Robb Report Magazine’s Host Guide since 2009. Francesco recently designed and oversaw fabrication of an innovative under bar work station know as The Racetrack.
Francesco is an honorary member of The United States Bartenders Guild, and a National Ambassador and Founding Member of the US Bartenders Guild Master Accreditation Program as well as Member of the Museum of the American Cocktail. Since 2010 Francesco has been a member of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. He owns the Level 1 Sake Certification by the Japanese Sake Council and he is also an international Cognac Ambassador appointed with Gold Diploma by the B.N.I.C. (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac). In March 2015, he graduated from the Luis Ayala Rum University.
In a time when Cocktail Culture is booming, Francesco has the ingredients — the education, the expertise, the enthusiasm— to stir up his audiences and pour on the charm as he schools the world on the finer points of fine drinking.
After all, his motto is, “We’re not drinking, we’re learning.”
- Food & Beverage Consultant, Las Vegas
- Advanced Sommelier, Level III
John has spent 20 years in the hospitality industry that has extended from Concierge at a 5 star, Relais & Châteaux property to computer operations director for a 30 restaurant and hotel group. In 1997, he turned to the restaurant and beverage industry, which has taken him from world-renowned resort locations to the culinary cities of New Orleans and Las Vegas. Over the years, he has served as beverage manager, bar manager and most recentlythe Director of Wine at Caesars Palace.
John holds certifications from various organizations in Saké, beer, wine, and spirits, but he is most proud of mentoring a vast number of professionals over the years who have moved on to become directors, managers, and owners of their own organizations. John is currently working with "PowerfulThirst.Com", a new educational/professional growth website for the beverage industry.
John's hobbies are drinking in good company, drinking in new company, finding new watering holes, and finding old watering holes that are new to him.
- Southern Glazer Wine & Spirits, Mixologist & Training Educator, Tampa FL
Debbi began bartending 20 years ago when she moved from Chicago to Maui, Hawaii. After three years, a few thousand Piña Coladas and Mai Tai’s, it was “back to reality” and back home to Chicago where she trained under Master Mixologist Bridget Albert. After taking the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service and the Advanced Mixology Culinary Academy, Debbi caught the competition bug which allowed her to win several national and international competitions in Italy, France, Poland, Singapore, Taiwan and St. Martin. Before joining Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois’ Education Department in 2012, Debbi ran the Farm to Table cocktail program at The Bristol and the first “Amaro” based cocktail program in Chicago at Balena. As the previous Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois’ Mixologist, Debbi designed cocktails for the top restaurants, bars, hotels and lounges in the State of Illinois in addition to teaching at the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service and Advanced Mixology Culinary Academy.
Ms. Peek was honored by the James Beard Foundation as one of the Nation’s Top Female Mixologists in 2008 and was a 2011 nominee for Jean Banchet’s “Best Mixologist” Award. She is a three time National Champion in the I.B.A. World Cocktail Challenge (2007, 2010 and 2011) and was a cast member on Season 3 of the reality bartending show “On the Rocks” The Search for Americas Best Bartender. Debbi has been featured in the following publications: Chicago Tribune, Time Out Chicago, CS Magazine, Michigan Avenue Magazine, Chicago Social, Night Club and Bar, Cheers Magazine, Red Eye, The Reader, and United Airlines Hemispheres.
Newly-relocated to Florida, Debbi is the currently the Mixologist for Southern Wine & Spirits Florida in Tampa and looks forward to serving all of North Florida with her expertise. She also serves on the USBG National Charity Committee.
- Founding Partner, Dogma Group
Alex Renshaw is a founding partner of The Dogma Group. He graduated from Miami University (OH) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. Alex worked for four years managing multiple sales teams for Frito Lay in Cincinnati, OH and worked in multiple bars on the side. Moved to Chicago to pursue improv comedy and work in a bar. Landed at Sable Kitchen and Bar, learned how to make a proper drink, and never turned back. After 2.5 years with Sable, Alex went on to run DrumBar at the rooftop of the Raffaello hotel in conjunction with being the beverage director for Menin Hospitality (Miami, FL). He is currently consulting on the following projects with The Dogma Group: Presidio, The Dawson, The Gage, and Fernet-Dogma with CH distillery.
Outside of his work with Sable and DrumBar, Alex is a current member of the Tales of the Cocktail Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP) leadership team. He has helped execute and organize back of the house operations as a CAP for the past 3 years and has joined the leadership team for 2015 Tales of the Cocktail planning.
Accolades include: Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge 2012 - U.S. Finalist Cointreau Ambassador of Libations 2012 - U.S. Finalist 1 of top 10 bartenders to watch in the country 2013 - Beverage Media 30 under 30 culinary influencers 2014 - Zagat 1 of top 10 new mixologists in the country 2014 - Food & Wine Magazine Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) 5-Day Ready 2014 Diageo World Class Midwest Regional Finalist - 2014 Diplomatico World Cocktail Tournament 2015 - U.S. Finalist
- Mixologist: Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits of Nevada
Max Solano is a primary mixologist for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada, as well as the Head of Whisky Education and Relations. Solano is an extremely seasoned industry veteran that has become one of Las Vegas’ most exciting, respected and creative mixologists and educators. Max’s expertise on whiskies extends to all major whisky producing countries; their styles, production, brands and laws. In regards to cocktails, his passion for a well-crafted libations extends to all spirits, but he puts a particular emphasis on the whiskies of the world.
Along with having won several national cocktail competitions, and having received many accolades and awards over his years behind the bar, in 2011, he was named Bartender of the Year by the Nevada Restaurant Association and also Best Restaurant Bartender by Vegas Seven Magazine. In 2014, again, he was named Bartender of the Year by Desert Companion Magazine. And, in 2016 he was awarded Best of Show and overall champion at the WSWA’s Iron Mixologist competition. Solano, also, currently serves as a Spirits judge at both the coveted San Francisco World Spirits Competition and New York World Wine & Spirits competitions.
Solano has been featured in many media outlets, including Forbes Magazine, USA Today, Whisky Advocate Magazine, Shanken News Daily, New York Times, Saveur magazine, GQ Magazine, The Tasting Panel, LA Weekly, Imbibe Magazine, Cheers Magazine, Las Vegas Review Journal Vegas Seven Magazine, Today in Las Vegas, Style Magazine, Las Vegas Food & Beverage Magazine, Fox News, ABC’s “The Morning Blend,” “The Valley View” and many more.
Adam R Seger, CCP:
- Corporate Sommelier/Mixologist: IPIC Luxury Movie Theaters
- Mixologist in Residence: The Art Institute of Chicago
An alumnus of Michelin Starred restaurants Chez Julien in Strasbourg, TRU in Chicago and The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Certified Culinary Professional and Advanced Sommelier Adam Seger takes a chef's approach behind the bar, being called appropriately by New City 'The Charlie Trotter of Cocktails' and the 'Grant Achatz of Spirits'.
Dubbed 'Chicago's Godfather of Craft Cocktails' by TimeOut, Seger has helped to spread the reputation of The Windy City's cocktail culture to the international stage, creating cocktails for The W Singapore, Eric Ripert's Cayman Cookout, The Russian Cocktail Club in Moscow and closer to home The 84th Academy Awards Governor's Ball, Oprah's celebration for her 25th season finale and the Reelz Channel's monthly 'IPic Now' cocktail segment shown coast-to-coast on the big screen at Ipic Theatres.
His creations can be found in some of the top bars, hotels and restaurants in the US and Asia. They include HUM Spirit, Rare Botanical Bitters Company's 'Truffe Amere', 'Egyptian Lemon Syrup' and 'Magnolia Shrubbery' as well as BALSAM, the first American wormwood-based Sweet Vermouth since Prohibition that he produces with Master Tea Blender Rodrick Markus and Master Distiller Barry Young.
He is working on his first book "Drink Like You Eat: The Seasonal Cocktail Cookbook" and lives in the heart of Chicago when not traveling to discover new tastes and inspiration.
-Master Beer Judge, Educator, Sensory Expert, Whiskey Lover, Founder of BeerMBA.com
Ron Smith has a passion for all types of whisky and beer, and he brings a wealth of judging experience to the competition. As a Master level judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), and with over 25 years of judging and brewing experience, Ron is one of the highest ranking beer judges in the world. He is also a Certified Cicerone™, which is a tested and proven beer expert / beer sommelier that focuses on beer & food pairings and beer serving issues. Ron teaches college courses in Professional Brewery Operations, World Beer Styles, Beer Evaluation & Sensory Analysis at Indiana University (IUPUI Indianapolis campus), and conducts private training, exam prep, off-flavor programs and more for alcoholic beverage distributors, industry personnel, breweries and the general public.
Ron also leads guided beer-focused trips throughout Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic. While heavily focused on beer, whisky is never far from Ron’s reach. Growing up in Central Indiana, just a couple hours away from the famed Kentucky Bourbon country, Ron first developed a passion for Bourbon and Tennessee Whisky, but that was just the start of an appreciation for anything barrel-aged. Ron has a deep appreciation for the art and science of barrel-aging, as well as how whisky is made around the world. Ron also enjoys educating others about whisky and leads a social media group on the topic. Ron has an MBA in Marketing and owns MarketWise Solutions, a B2B marketing firm in the Indianapolis area.
Agi Toth, DWS:
- Wine Consultant, Tour Director
- Whiskey Aficionado
Agi Toth is a Sommelier, Wine Educator and Wine Writer who holds the internationally acclaimed Diploma in Wine & Spirits (DWS) from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust in London, the certification leading to the Master of Wine.
Her commitment to quality wine education extends to both the consumer in the form of wine events and her peers in the culinary and hospitality professions including the Culinary Training Academy and Art Institute in Las Vegas.
In her efforts to better understand the process of winemaking, she took part in vineyard research and management in Northern California at UC Davis Cooperative Extension working in such notable vineyards as Roederer, Duckhorn’s Golden Eye and Bonterra. It was in the experimental vineyards in Hopland where she made her first wine.
She has managed wine lists at the Michelin starred Andre’s French Restaurant and the M Resort in Las Vegas as well as the Metropolitan Club in Chicago. Agi regularly contributes to her blog, www.redgrapevine.com.