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Tastings the Oscars of Drinks

Meet the Tastings Team

We’re aromatic, deeply extracted, full-bodied, muscular, and jump from the glass with lovely legs and an exotic lingering aftertaste. Now if you want to know how we conduct our reviews, read on...

Jerald O'Kennard

Jerald O'Kennard Director of


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.

In 1999 he came on-board 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 regularly be found on and in All About Beer, the Chicago Tribute, 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 an online series 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.

Debra O'Kennard

Debra O'Kennard General Manager of

VP Strategic Juggling

Debra began her food career serving hash and flipping burgers at the local Woolworth's at the tender age of 15. Her passion for food led her to restaurant management school, where she received an A.S. in Applied Sciences. She has worked in the food industry for more than 30 years, including a stint with Arnie Morton and 15 years with the Chicago Caterers and Culinary Enterprises. Debra left the brutal schedule of the food industry to become a mother, an occupation in which, by comparison (she says), the hours are minimal and the pay is great. Breaking her nine-month abstinence from drink led her to the perfect job; she can organize and rally the troops all day long, and taste the day's leftover samples at leisure. She like Champagne, chardonnay, and rosé wines, gin & tonics, and Irish stouts.


Gallit Greenspoon

Gallit Greenspoon Social Media Marketing

Production & Project Coordinator

Gallit began her career in the media production world and spent 10 years producing everything from infomercials to political spots for a then unknown Barack Obama. In 2004, she took a job on “Check, Please!” and after 5 years, the restaurant world had her hooked.  She took her talents to the front of the house, doing everything from events to hosting to managing. While learning the ins and outs of the restaurant scene, she also wanted to broaden her knowledge and love of whiskey–working with both Diageo and Angels’ Envy. Gallit joined the Tastings team in 2016 in order to help boost social media and assist in marketing efforts. Being around all the wine, spirits, and beer is very rewarding because after becoming a mom of twins in 2015, alcohol has become especially important!

Laura Kruming-Berg

Laura Kruming-Berg Assistant Director at

Assistant Director

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 judge, Laura joined the 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. She has spoken at the NRA's BAR show and competed in numerous cocktail competitions, including the all-female speed-bartending competition, Speedrack. When not indulging her passion for spirits, Laura is with her wife, their new baby girl, and their Italian greyhounds. She believes that there's a finite number of drams to enjoy in one's life, why not have an excellent one?

Steven Polanco

Steven Polanco Marketing and Production Assistant at

Marketing & Production Assistant

After growing up in a small town in Northern California, Steven decided to try his hand as a dishwasher in fast-paced seafood cafe. Working in different positions in the back-of-house led him to discover his passion for food, beer, and wine. This discovery led him to Chicago, where he decided to try his hand in the beverage industry as a Marketing & Production Assistant for Being a member of the Tastings team enables him to help develop his natural skill set as a multi-tasker, team-supporter, and a problem-solver for Tastings' customers. During the rare moments he is not working, you can find Steven cooking meals for himself and his friends, studying the humanities, going to concerts, and planning his next destination spot.