MEET THE JUDGES
Past and Present
San Diego Spirits Festival
International Bottle Competition
Andrew Faulkner - Consultant to the Spirits Industry
Drew was the vice president of the American Distilling Institute, whom he had been with for 12 years filling such positions as Curriculum Coordinator for distilling workshops, Judging Director and Managing Editor of Distiller magazine. He also writes an occasional articles on craft spirits for Whisky Magazine and Fine Spirits, France, and Modern Distillery Age.
Drew's over twelve years in the distilled spirits industry has brought him close to the next generation of entrepreneur/distillers. This portion of the market is the most exciting and rapid growing in the industry. As Photography Editor and Managing Editor of Distiller Magazine, Judging Director, he has developed working relationships with top spirits experts internationally and the producers of the best spirits in the world. He now offers Communications services for craft distilleries and photography for products, portraits, editorial, architecture, and events.
Philip Dobard -President of the Center for Culinary Culture (CCC) in Los Angeles
HE plays an integral role in all its programs. He serves as Director of The Cocktail Collection (formerly The Museum of the American Cocktail), leads A Virtual Feast (the CCC’s media division), and produces the organization’s Pacific Taste, Private Tastings, Spirited Suppers, and Touring the Cocktail events. Under the CCC's media banner, he serves as Executive Producer of a slate of food and drink web series and podcasts, including Cocktails: The Grand Tour, Complete Greek, Culinary Quickies, Spirits of R(h)um, and Spirits of Whisk(e)y.
He has contributed articles, features, and reviews to numerous publications, including Bonfort's Wine and Spirits Journal, The Clever Root, Drink Me Magazine, and The Tasting Panel Magazine. A frequent judge at cocktail, spirits, and cooking competitions, including those staged by the American Distilling Institute, San Diego Spirits Festival, and Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association, he also serves as a tasting panelist at Wine & Spirits Magazine
Brian Christensen – Artisan Spirits Magazine
Our mission at Artisan Spirit Magazine is to share and celebrate the art and science of craft distilling. We seek to support creativity, innovation, and integrity within this industry that we love so much. We serve as an informative medium through which distillers and industry vendors can be introduced to each other. We are the magazine for craft distillers and their fans.
Communications, editorial calendar, content management, writing, administration, looking serious, and being super handsome.
Paula Dezzutti - CEO Local Choice
Sought after Brand Developer and investor with a demonstrated successful history of creative platforms in the wine and spirits industry. Built the #1 distillery in SC with over 50 brands. Created Pixie Records to showcase talent in music and film. Strong entrepreneurship, unparalleled industry connections, professionally skilled in working with Celebrities, the Entertainment Industry, Nascar, Hospitality sector, Nonprofit Organizations, Negotiation, Business Planning, Advertising, Tax Strategies and Sales. Real estate and distillery development is taken to the next level with strategic partnerships.
Rich Manning - Writer, Blogger, all round expert
Rich has been in the freelance writing business for over twenty years, he has cultivated a wealth of experience in writing about food, wine, travel, and other various lifestyle pursuits from features and reviews to press releases and advertorial copy.
His publishing credits include Gayot, Tasting Panel Magazine, Laguna Beach Magazine,
M Luxury Magazine, Food Enthusiast Magazine, CBSLA.com, Where Magazine and OCFoodies.com. Rich earned a BA in Humanities with a Writing Emphasis from Concordia University in Irvine, CA. Shockingly, it is actually being put to use.
His Specialties: Writing, pure and simple. If you want something written professionally that will impress your desired audience, Rich is your guy, no matter the subject manner. It’s his goal to do nothing short of exemplary work with every assignment given to him. He will not accept anything less from himself or for you. Over the years, Rich has been asked to judge numerous International Spirits competitions, Chef competitions, and Mixology competitions.
John Fluke - CEO Placed4Success L.L.C. (P4STV)
John Fluke, comes to us by way of Hollywood California. The C.E.O. of two companies: Placed4Success LLC (P4STV) a liquor-centric Media Brand Enhancement Agency in Los Angeles, California, John now spends most of his time introducing already established and emerging liquor brands to tens of Millions of potentially new customers every week using Feature film, Music video, and Television shows such as,” The Big Bang Theory” and “Shameless. However his 20+ years in the beverage industry are what bring him to this festival as a judge.
John has judged at over 30 different Beverage/Spirit contests ranging from Blind tastings, Trick-based contests ( now called “Flair Bartending”) to Craft Cocktail contests, and even tag-team bartender speed contests.
Billy Nordmeier - Wine Educator at Young's Market Company
Billy continually strives to learn about anything and everything food and beverage related with a strong emphasis on wine. He is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators, a level II Mezcalier as sanctioned by CONOCER (Consejo Nacional de Normalizacion y Certificacion de Competencia Laborales) and COMERCAM (Consejo Mexicano Regulador de la Calidad del Mezcal), French Wine Scholar from the Wine Scholar Guild, he holds the Advanced Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and is currently a candidate for the Level 4 Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
Billy has held various managerial roles with companies like; The Patio Restaurant Group, Enlightened Hospitality Group, RMD Group, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
Billy enjoys sharing his knowledge and passion at wine and spirits competitions domestic and abroad.
Dennis Morales - Drink Labs
Dennis has been in the beverage industry for the past 10 years. He has extensive experience in development as well as launching new brands. He has extensive knowledge of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage markets. Dennis Morales offers decades of accomplishment-laden experience in various industries. Beginning his career in the pharmaceutical industry, Dennis Morales was a chemist for 3M Pharmaceuticals. During his tenure with 3M, he led numerous research teams as well as heading several committees which conducted FDA compliance audits. Dennis has been a valued judge for several competitions.
Irina Ponomarenko -Wine Educator at IVDC Wines, LLC
Raised in Russia, Irina Ponomarenko moved from New York to California to pursue graduate work in political science but soon was seduced by the world of wine and spirits. A Silver Pin Certified Sommelier (NASA/AIS/WSA), course developer, and wine educator with the North American Sommelier Association, she also serves as Wine & Spirits Educator at the Center for Culinary Culture in Los Angeles. Additionally, Irina is a BNIC Cognac Educator and Certified Sherry Educator, and it's in these capacities that she works to increase consumer appreciation for two—from a long list!—of her favorite drinks.
Hayden Stewart - Media Strategist | Journalist | WSET 3 Sommelier
Hayden has over 10 years of industry experience in San Diego. He is a WSET 3 Certified Sommelier. Hayden is endorsed by the American Institute of Wine & Food. Hayden is the Sales Consultant and Adjunct Educator at Winebow. The Instagram Content Creator @The_Angry_Somm and supporter of @WineAndHipHopShow.
Simone Rubio is a speakeasy operator in Corona Del Mar located on PCH in Orange County. Focused on seasonally and ethically driven cocktails, UnderCdM creative director encourages guests to expand their palate and understanding of craft cocktails and exceptional spirits. Miss Rubio is currently working toward her C.S.S. & C.S.E. to nurture her passion for education and story telling.
Luis Navarro - Senior Brand Ambassador Beam Suntory
Luis’ work with Beam Suntory is personal. As El Tesoro Brand Ambassador for Beam Suntory, Luis Navarro sees tequila as an integral part of his Mexican heritage.
He wants you to know the gospel of agave spirits..
He wants you to understand the culture, the process, the people, and the history that surrounds it.
When you say ‘tequila’, everyone has their own idea of what it is. Luis’ objective over the past 10 years in hospitality has been to peel back that surface layer and take you to the heart of what tequila really is—a totem of genuine connection. For Luis a pour is more than just a pour. It’s the beginning of a long-lasting partnership forged in the tequila tradition.
Greg Nagel – Writer, Blogger, all round expert
Greg Nagel is the Food and beverage writer for OC Weekly. Beer, cocktail, and spirits writer for Orange Coast Magazine's "Booze Blog O.C.". Freelance writer for Beer Connoisseur. The Equipped Brewer, and other sites. PR Social Media films (food, bar, interviews). Host of Foodbeast/Visit Anaheim video series covering breweries in Anaheim. Podcaster on Four Brewers and The Lazy Hunter. Event founder/producer at Firkfest Cask Beer Festival.
Montgomery Paulsen - has been making wine and spirits for over 30 years, starting with his family's winery in Sonoma County during the 80s, up through his work at San Francisco's Gold Bar distillery at the present. He is a graduate of the University of California at Davis with degrees and studies in winemaking, brewing and distillation, and has managed distilled spirits operations around the globe. An experienced judge, Monty regularly sits on judging panels at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the Sacramento Cal Expo State Fair among others. As an official sponsor of the San Francisco 49ers and the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, Monty's spirits are poured at both sports team arenas and can be found nationally at BevMo, Total Wine, Safeway and premium liquor stores everywhere. Monty currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where he raises pink cockatoos and enjoys afternoons in front of the fireplace with his dog Cerberus.
Master Blender/Master Distiller, Goldbar Bottle Company, San Francisco, CA
Studied Winemaking and Distilling at UC Davis (B.S. Fermentation Science)
Managed Spirits, Wine and Beer production for Winery Exchange, with operations in 15 countries
Crawford McCarthy - Principal - The Best Ceats
Following years of success in the digital marketing field for team sports and sporting equipment, my career took a hard pivot in late 2017. After founding The Best Ceats, I then set out to establish myself in the world of food, wine, and spirits writing. Instantly finding success with featured articles among many notable print and digital outlets - I quickly established my presence through professionalism, dedication, and commitment to all members and aspects of the hospitality industry.
Crawford runs a fully-fledged out website, produce video content, host podcasts, consult for social media management, and continue to freelance write for multiple publications.
Eric Strand - The Whiskey Scout
As the current Whiskey Scout, Mr. Strand has reviewed over 1,500 spirits and cocktails. He has judged cocktail competitions for several distilleries including Dewar’s, Monkey Shoulder, and WhistlePig. In addition to spirits, he also scouts the best bars, lounges, and (his personal favorite), speakeasies. Along the way he might direct you to the perfect whiskey pairing with food, cigars, or even books. He has contributed to many publications, including Whisky Advocate, Locale, and Nobleman. In spite of this, Mr. Strand says, “It’s not my job to tell you what you should or shouldn’t like. It’s my duty and privilege to provide guideposts on the journey—to provide the tools, information, and expertise necessary for each person to decide for themselves.” Follow him as he blazes the trail on Facebook and Instagram @thewhiskeyscout and enjoy the journey!
Tony Menechella - Writer, Reviewer, Certified Specialist of Spirits
Tony is a skilled and dynamic spirits professional with robust experience fostering organizational growth through extensive product knowledge, sales and marketing abilities, and an innate ability to educate staff and customers on a vast variety of spirits. He is adept at building strategic relationships with vendors, bars, and restaurants to effectively market spirits and increase brand awareness. Tony has made an impact with: Central KY Spirits Consulting, Liquor Barn, Total Wine, and others - Tony has been in the spirits industry and business for 20 years, and has over 15+ years of experience with spirits from all over the world, including many various and different production methods.
Sean Hallman - Owner, Founder at Shadow Ridge Spirits Company LLC he is the Distiller at Shadow Ridge Spirits Company. SR Distilled is small, veteran-owned company consisting Sean and his wife. This is a part-time venture for the former Navy Surface Warfare Officer who currently work as a Federal Civilian Employee for the Department of Navy. He has judged several competitions.
Mario Marquez -Spirits Specialist Pacific Edge
Since the beginning his career Mr Marquez has invested in traveling to more than 30 of the most world renowned tequila and spirit related distilleries to gain hands on knowledge on the production, history and culture of the brands.
He has organized educational tasting at prestigious restaurants / bars and retail stores to help educate and inspire staff to give them the necessary tools to that would make them knowledgeable and confident in the selling process.
Mr Marquez has certified expertise in Tequila and Mezcal with a strong background on Sotol, Bacanora, Raicilla and Pulque. One of the most decorated catadores (tequila tasters) in the country, he brings with him a wealth of experience that is vital for any tequila/mezcal/sotol brand start up's survival and longevity. His passion for small-batched, micro-distilled, handcrafted agave spirits is only surpassed by his love of guiding the consumer in the delicate art of its appreciation.
Alfredo Gamma - Spirits Manager Wine Warehouse
Alfredo Gama brings to the trade, thirty years of product development experience, organizing and directing distribution and sales efforts through all industry trade channels. Following his graduation from the University of San Francisco with a Bachelor’s degree in International Business Administration, Alfredo began achieving his career goals at Miller Brewing Corporate as an Account Executive, at Young’s Market Company as the First Hispanic V.P. Division Manager, and at Pernod Ricard as the First Multicultural Manager in charge of Hispanic, Asian and African American business. Alfredo joined Wine Warehouse in Southern California Ten year ago as their Spirits Manager for Southern California to help further the development of the WW spirits portfolio he is currently a Spirits Specialist. Mr. Gama has also participated as a Judge at the Spirits of Mexico and at the International Spirits Competition in Los Angeles.