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.
Rich Manning - Writer, Blogger, all round expert
Rich has been in the freelance writing business for over ten 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. This may be Mr. Fluke’s first year judging at the San Diego Spirits Festival, he is no stranger to the Beverage Industry or to contests.
John began his adventures “behind the stick” at a local underground speakeasy slinging set ups in northern Minnesota at the age of 15, & continued working in the industry as bartender and bar manager for over 20 years! During that time, he has judged at least 30 different Beverage/Spirit contests ranging from 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.
Dennis Morales - Drink Labs
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. He became an expert at implementation and spearheaded several development initiatives throughout the company. Dennis pioneered and developed new technology in Near Infrared Spectroscopy which is still used today. Dennis became a 6-sigma black belt in complex quality methods for both cost reduction and profit maximization.
Leveraging his ever expanding base of qualifications, Dennis was recruited by the Nevada EPA. While with the EPA, he served as a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectroscopy chemist. He was responsible for analytical research and method development.
Dennis has been in the beverage industry for the past 6 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. He has been tirelessly evaluating markets and identifying new trends for the beverage world.
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.
Julie Albin - Brand & Media Strategist | Journalist | Dip WSET Educator
Julie Albin, is a veteran of the wine and spirits industries whose focus includes journalism, education, brand consulting, media relations, and event management. In addition to serving as a Certified WSET Educator in San Francisco, she is also a wine & spirits judge and product designer for a soon to be released wine app. The former Editor-in-Chief of Drink Me Magazine, her works have also been published in Decanter Magazine, Harpers Wine & Spirit, The Drinks Business, THE PRESS (San Francisco Chronicle), The Flaviar Times, Liquor.com, SevenFifty Daily, Whisky Advocate, Chilled Magazine, SOMA Magazine, and more. She earned her WSET Diploma in late 2014 and is currently a candidate for the Master of Wine title.
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.
Been in the industry for about 14 years. Currently working as a bartender at Park Hyatt Aviara Hotel and Resort as well as assisting with a seasonal cocktail menu. Holds multiple spirits certifications and been occasionally writing for some spirit and cocktail magazines. Loves challenging himself and been actively participating in multiple cocktail competitions and events, including San Diego Spirits Festival. Passionate for the craft and creativity.
Paul Garduño - PGV Restaurant Consulting
Paul Garduño, the owner of PGV Restaurant Consulting, has his roots in Mexico City where he grew up cooking together with his grandmother. He studied business and culinary arts there until he moved to Europe to continue his studies. There he developed a keen appreciation of wine and its history. When he arrived to the US, he obtained variety of experiences ranging from Management, Business Operations, Restaurant Construction, Design, Marketing, Financial Analysis, and multi-ethnical and regional Cuisines. He started his consulting company to help new and existing businesses to succeed in a challenging world of Restaurant Industry. PGV’s client’s vary in sizes and types of businesses: Tequila 100 (Mexican Restaurant), Allegro Bistro (Modern European Restaurant), Ida Bailey and Palace Bar at Horton Grand Hotel, Whiskey House (whiskey & wine bar), Patron's Corner (Modern Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar) – to name a few. Paul is still very passionate about Spirits. One of his hobbies is wine and tequila blind tasting with a group of friends.
Jeremiah White - American Beverage Brokers
Jeremiah White has previously judged the Bartenders Battle at the San Diego Spirits festival twice. He has been building brands and creating household brand names for over 20 years. As one of the founding members of American Beverage Brokers his primary function is to explore and create new business partnerships, recruit beverage brokers, on premise account activation, and oversee all marketing and branding efforts for American Beverage Brokers clients. American Beverage Brokers successfully secured the brokerage deal for launching the entertainment mogul Snoop's Cuca Fresca Cachaca. Jeremiah previously worked for Conjure Cognac where he was instrumental in launching the beverage brand for the Grammy recording artist/actor Chris "Ludacris" Bridges as well as building sales and consumer awareness for on and off premise. He was also instrumental as Director of Marketing for Power Brands a beverage development company where he launched new non-alcoholic beverage and functional waters - Kole and IndieBlue. Successfully having worked with brands such as US Bartenders Guild, NASCAR, Pepsi, Tasting Panel Magazine, Grammys (NARAS), Activision, Timberland Sportswear, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Special Olympics, and Heineken to name a few.
David Rippentrop - Americas Executive Beverage Consultancy
David Rippentrop is the Senior Managing Partner of Americas Executive Beverage Consultancy and a true beverage industry professional. He has over thirty years of experience in national and international sales, marketing, and Senior Executive level management in the beverage, consumer packaged goods, recruiting, consultancy, celebrity, and agriculture industries. He has toured, studied, and worked with distilleries and wineries all around the world, been featured on many TV programs as an industry expert and Mixologist, published articles in Trade publications and Blogs, industry expert and judge on tasting panel spirits competitions, writes brand reviews and tasting notes, has completed numerous formal Adult Beverage educational courses, has taught Adult Beverage courses at the collegiate level, and is one of the top beverage industry Executive Recruiters and Consultants in the country. He and his company will also be hosting a networking breakfast on Sunday where the winners will be announced.
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.
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.
Felipe Soto Mares -Catador (Sommelier)
Mr. Soto earned his Catador (Sommelier) status at La Academia Mexicana del Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico in 2005. Mr. Soto received the designation of Maestro Catador (Master Sommelier) in 2006 by conducting extensive educational tequila tastings, seminars and being appointed the Director of La Academia Mexicana del Tequila for California, the first designation offered outside of Mexico. Currently there are only a few Maestro Catadors (Master Sommeliers) in the Tequila Industry. Soto Mares, also a professional consultant in tequila formulation for family-owned tequila making firms, is one of only a handful of maestro catadores, or master tequila sommeliers, honored by the Guadalajara-based Academia Mexicano de Catadores de Tequila for his contributions in conducting educational seminars and tastings and providing training in how to evaluate and taste tequilas. He also served as the Academia’s director within the state of California.
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.
Mario Marquez -Spirits Specialist Wine Warehouse
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.
Forrest Cokley - Writer, Blogger, all round expert, Minister of Culture Hass Bros.
While working in the service industry, Forest has been the entertainment, waiter, bartender, cook, trainer, quality assurance inspector, barista in restaurants, cafes and bars. He has been called upon to judge International Spirits competitions, Mixology competitions, workshops, tastings, training and to create Branded Cocktails; Beverages for Bars; Restaurants; Events; Fund-raisers; Parties; Competitions; Drink Menus; Pairing Menus, and a bunch of other "stuff"; Forest works as a 'Minister of Culture' for Haas Brothers, he is an 'Ambassador of Goodness' for PM Spirits and a liquor specialist/consultant by day. He writes spirit focused articles for multiple magazines. Forest is a Charter Member of the Ministry of Rum Connoisseurs Cabinet in good standing, a Charter Member of Rum XP (Expert Panel) where he has judged many international rum competitions. He also participates on multiple Liquor / Spirits / Mixology / Bar Culture forums; Forest is a founding (board) member Key-holder for the Orange County Bartenders Cabinet (OCBC); He is a Society of Wine Educators Certified Spirits Specialist (C.S.S.); he is Bar Smarts Certified, and a member of the Compagnie des Mousquetaires d'Armagnac and he has a blog called 'a drink with forrest'.