Our Judges

Mikey Ball
Ballin' Drinks & Creative


Mikey Ball is founder of Ballin Drinks Workshop, a beverage consultancy for the hospitality industry with a mission to deliver world-class drinks and experiences to New Zealand through training, consultation and his most recent thoughtful beverage offering, Ballin’ Drinks Workshop

Ballin Drinks champions an understanding of local ingredients with a clear focus on innovation and unconventional techniques whilst at all times minimising waste.

Mikey works with brands within the beverage industry, including his major roles as “Brand Advocacy” & “Product development” for Scapegrace Distillery & East Imperial.

He is also a co-founder Choice Hospo New Zealand, and works closely with Healthy Hospo NZ., along with wearing many other hats on our hospitality industry

Mikey has more than a decade of international experience (Dubai, London & Canada), including a stint as head bartender at the award-winning Dandelyan in London from 2015-2017. During his time at Dandelyan, the bar and team won international acclaim and awards including “Best International Hotel Bar“, “Best International Bar Team” and “Worlds Best Bar” in the Tales and Spirits awards in New Orleans.>

Mikey returned to NZ in late 2017 with a focus on developing the local hospitality community through training, consultancy and several special projects. He trains bartenders and hospitality operators to balance the intricacies of service and science in delivering exceptional experiences. His unique focus on using local ingredients with unconventional methods has been well sought after since his return to NZ.

Stephen Burke
Thirsty Camel /
Campari New Zealand


As well as having over 15 years of bar and restaurant experience across the UK and NZ, Stephen has been the National Ambassador for the TCL / Campari portfolio in New Zealand since 2021. Looking after brands ranging from Chartreuse to Grand Marnier, and Appleton Estate to Aperol, Stephen's knowledge and expertise of the industry is broad. He has a keen understanding of the nuance of distillation and has developed a keen pallet for exceptional spirits.

Adam Chapman
Wine and Spirit Inc


Adam does consulting for winery and distillery designs, running expenditure, capital requirements, and reverse engineering of COGS from RRP $ showing all NP% and gear, labour and style of wine or spirits to be made. A great tool before you invest into the wine or spirit industries. Can even help in the waste and CO2-e sectors.

Please find a list of Adams Qualifications below

BD - Diploma in Distilling – (Yr 1, Yr 2, Passed, Yr 3 awaiting results) • IBD - General Certificate in Distilling • IBD- Spirit Sensory Analysis • Diploma in Work, Health and Safety BSB51319 • Certificate IV in Training and Assessment TAE40122 • WM – Certified Spirit Judge • WSET - Diploma in Wines and Spirits • WSET - Certified Wine Educator Level 3 • WSET - Certified Spirit Educator Level 3 • WSET - Level 3 Award in Sake • WSET - Level 3 Award in Spirits • Royal Rum Society - Certified Master Rummelier • EWA - Diploma in Single Malt Whisky • BNI – Foundation Certificate in Sensory Science • AWRI - Advanced Palate Assessment Course • Diploma in Project Management • Diploma in Winemaking • SWE - Certified Wine Specialist • Certificate in Hazardous Area Classific

Luke Dawkins
The Victoria Free House


Luke has a wealth of experience within the hospitality industry spanning over 15 years. From growing up in pubs in the UK and to moving to New Zealand 10 years ago, he has helped small businesses grow and helped develop concepts. Luke now runs his very own English-style pub in the Central City of Christchurch called, The Victoria.

Mike Enright
Barrelhouse Group


Originally from the UK, Mike Enright (or sometimes known as Mikey) started his hospitality career in 1990, running Public Houses in the North of England and later trained in London as a Cocktail Bartender. He moved to Sydney, Australia in 1999. During his time in Australia he has opened some of the most successful, award-winning Premium Restaurants & Cocktail Bars in Sydney Including The Loft, Zeta Bar, Merivale portfolio Bars Incl Ivy as ‘Group Bars Manager’

In 2013 Mikey ventured out with his business partner to open the ‘Barber Shop ’ in Sydney, which gained Global recognition. Among national awards, it also won ‘Gin Bar of the Year’ in 2016/17/18/19/23. Also ‘Bar of the Year’ ALIA’s in 2018 and Worlds Best Gin Bar 2020 by UK Gin Magazine. Late 2017 Mike and Julian opened ‘The Duke of Clarence’. A British Tavern which has gained great recognition by the locals and Hospitality Industry. Hickson House Distilling Co, opened in late 2021 in the Rocks Sydney, they launched Hickson House Gin range and have already won ‘Best DIstillery Bar’ and Gold medals for the range. Barrelhouse Cellars, a boutique liquor and wine store is their latest venture in the Rocks

He has consulted on prestigious bars across Asia. He’s got his own Gin ‘scented’ grooming range and developed the recipes for a mixer range in the UK named Artisan Drinks Co. He has executed seminars and assisted panels at trade shows such as Tales of the Cocktail, Berlin Convent, Australian Bar Week. He has been the Chairman of the Australian Gin Distillers Awards for the last 3 years.

His personal achievements led him to be named ‘Time Out Legend Award’ in 2014, ‘7th and 17th Most Influential Bar Professional’ in 2015/22, Three times winner of ‘Bar Manager of the Year’ by two bar publications and ‘Prestigious Outstanding Contribution Award’ 2017.

Shaanah Evans
New Zealand Gin Day


My name is Shaanah, I have been in the industry for over 20yrs I am passionate about a well made drink, but I am even more passionate about well constructed spirits. Coming from a background in wine, that taught me the fundamentals of, environment, care, knowledge, and a good palate. It had my attention which then led me into the world of spirits where my passion lies. I am currently doing photography and cocktail design, as well as sales of spirits in NZ. I co-founded New Zealand Gin Day, an annual event that celebrates the local gin industry and culture, and I own and operate New Zealand Gin Day Gin, a unique product that showcases creativity of our amazing distillers making gin around our country.

Charles Gillet
The Last Word


Formally trained with a degree in Hotel Management, Charles has been in the hospitality industry for a good 15 years. After learning each facet of the different areas of bar work from humble local Pubs to Hotels, then nightclubs and cocktail bars he has seen a lot of different aspects of the country's hospitality industry. He's been competing in cocktail competitions since 2008, and represented New Zealand on a global level in London, New Orleans and Kuala Lumpur as well as at home in New Zealand for some of the worlds largest brands such as Bacardi, Beefeater Gin, Plantation Rum and Cointreau . He finds competitions help develop creativity and thinking outside the box. A large chunk of my hospitality career has been spent in Christchurch as well as managing some of Auckland's busiest venues in the aftermath of Christchurch's Earthquakes during the 2011 Rugby World Cup period.. One thing he loves about being back in the Christchurch hospitality scene is showcasing classic southern charm and hospitality infused with the modern intricacies of global bartending trends he's picked up along his professional journey.

George Grbich
The Gin Club


New Zealand-based spirits judge and author with a strong passion for the world of gin. At the youthful age of 25, he has already published seven books on gin, covering over a thousand gins and 300 distilleries. His books provide an in-depth breakdown of the ever-growing and developing craft spirits scene across the globe, with a particular focus on the industries of New Zealand and Australia. He holds a WSET Spirits Level 2 qualification and has sat his Level 3 in late 2023.

Andy Griffiths


After studying as a chef in his hometown, Whanganui, Andy was drawn to the hospitality hub - Wellington, NZ.

For 6 years he plied his trade across the scene, being instrumental in the setup of The Hummingbird and other iconic venues.

14 years in Melbourne followed. Starting as head of the cocktail program at the iconic Cookie. Winning high profile cocktail competitions including; Copper Cup Thailand, Suntory UltraPour and The Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge.

Held in Trinidad and Tobago, Andy represented Australia. Winning the global title led to a year as the Global Brand Ambassador. Hosting events, and judging competitions at iconic venues such as The Ivy, London and workshops at the Moscow Barshow.

Andy was inducted as the 2051st Chevalier de Chartreuse recognizing his knowledge and passion for Chartreuse. Andy was presented with his plaque by the Head Monks at the distillery in Voiron, an incredibly rare honour.

As Head of Creative for the Speakeasy Group he headed up the design and implementation of the cocktail program across 6 venues Australia wide. Including designing some of their kitchens and bars.

From there he took the reins as Head of Operations and Creative at Idlewild in Singapore.

He now has a global hospitality consultancy, The Barchitect and a boutique event company, TippleSmiths.

Joanne Hort


Professor Hort is an internationally renowned sensory scientist, previously SABMiller Chair of Sensory Science at the University of Nottingham (UK) and now Fonterra-Riddet Chair in Consumer and Sensory Science at Massey University (NZ) where she is director of FEAST, the Food Experience and Sensory Testing Lab. She is also a Principal Investigator at the Riddet Institute, a NZ Centre of Research Excellence. Her research focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the factors affecting consumer perception of food and beverages and consequent choice behaviours, as well as developing effective methods to measure them. Prof Hort has over 100 research publications and is co-author and editor of several key texts in Sensory Science. She sits on the editorial board of Food Quality and Preference and Pangborn Sensory Science Trust. She is a Fellow of the UK Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST), Member of the NZIFST, and a founder member and past Chair of the European Sensory Science Society and the Institute of Food Science & Technology’s Sensory Science Group.

Aroha Jakicevich
Glengarry Wines


With over 10 years in the liquor retail industry and a key role in her family business, Aroha is a seasoned expert in the world of spirits, especially whiskies. Her palate is honed by extensive tasting experiences and participation as a judge in local competitions. Aroha is currently in her third year as a judge at the New Zealand Spirit Awards.

Jo James
Begin Distilling Ltd
T/A Juno Ginn


Jo is a New Zealand distiller with a number of medals recognizing her work in Gin and Vodka – from Taster’s Pick (Classic Gin) by the NZ Gin Guide (2020, 2021, 2022, 2023) through to IWSC Double Gold.

She has worked with other companies on recipe development and scale up to full production, with those gins also going on to win international and domestic medals in competition. The coaching she has provided to other distilling teams during this contract work has increased their skills and confidence, with some going on to further spirits qualifications and activities, including judging. Her work as a dark panel judge for the NZ Spirits Awards in 2022 and 2023 was commented on favourably by the lead judge for the panel (Tash McGill) and by her fellow judges.

Jo has been working with her own team at Juno Gin to develop their palates and tasting skills, with great results including an expanded distilling team and some unforgettable cocktail deliciousness!

Nigel Kelly
Whisky Baron Import Ltd


35-year veteran of the Hospitalty Industry. Have been fortunate to have travelled extensively visiting many distilleries and wineries across the planet

Natasha McGill
Sola Fida Consulting


Judge, writer and consultant Tash McGill is an internationally recognised communicator and consultant in the spirits world. In addition to judging, writing and consulting with spirits development, she is a co-founder of The Feed, president of Food Writers New Zealand, Chair of the NZ Whisky Association and an associate member of the DSA.

Justin McKenzie
Hawthorn Lounge/CGR Merchant & Co/Cuckoo Emporium


I am the owner of Hawthorn Lounge, Cuckoo Emporium,and CGR Merchant & Co in Wellington. I have 35 years of experience in the industry including 11 years at 42 Below

James Millar
           Pernod Ricard                        


James Millar is the Spirits Brand Ambassador at PRNZ with an extensive knowledge of the Hospitality Industry. 

Before joining the Pernod Ricard Pacific team James forged a hospitality career over a 12-year period which saw him manage some of the top bars in Auckland including Bedford Soda & Liquor, Mea Culpa, Racket & Orleans, The Gin Room, Fukuko and was part of the team that established the award-winning bar, Clipper. He has a detailed knowledge of spirits and cocktails which he is passionate about sharing to drive education and premiumisation in the NZ hospitality community.  

Over the last decade James has achieved highly competing on the local and international cocktail circuit with strong showings as a national finalist in; Beefeater MIXLDN (twice), Diageo World Class (twice), Bacardi Legacy (twice) & Patron Perfectionists. What's more, his efforts saw him crowned national champion for Bacardi Legacy in 2018, the 42 Below Cocktail Earth Cup in 2016 as well as the Belvedere Martini Challenge Asia Pacific winner in 2015.  

In recent years James has worked in marketing as a brand specialist for FMGC companies such as Shott Beverages and Monin syrups. This work has allowed him to travel extensivly throughout the Asia Pacific region hosting events and trainings.  

Gina Nicholls
Tickety Boo Liquor


Currently working as an On Premise account manager for Tickety Boo Liquor. Have been with the company for nearly 3 years, organising trainings, activations and collaborations. Hospitality background, managing high volume cocktail bars, as well as working in restaurants, hotels, events. Passionate about the spirits world and education around it. In 2023 was a judge for Drammys, Junipers and the Rumbles.

Richard Nicholson
Richard Nicholson Consulting

Richard Nicholson is a seasoned judge and consultant in the spirits industry with a broad range of expertise. In 2022, he judged the Spirits Selection by Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, assessing spirits from Baijiu to grappas, as well as being selected as judge for the German Rum Awards. He has also judged various other smaller events. Richard's wine training, including advanced qualifications from the International Sommelier Guild led to extensive collecting and teaching, focused on New Zealand and California wines from the 1990s to 2010s.

Beth Scott
Reefton Distilling Co.


Beth Scott started her career in the Food and Beverage industry in 2015 working as a Food Technologist, prior to taking on a role as a Distiller at Reefton Distilling Co., producing a range of Gins, Whisky, Vodka and Liqueurs.

Beth has completed both Level 2 & 3 Awards in Spirits with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, as well as a General Certificate in Distilling with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

While in her role as a Distiller, she has worked alongside and gained knowledge from many industry gurus. Now a Brand Ambassador for Reefton Distilling Co., Beth is passionate, skilled and well trained, and was also a light panel judge at the 2023 New Zealand Spirits Awards.

Marcel Thompson
Still Magic Pty Limited


Marcel Thompson is a gin expert and spirits judge who has earned his authority as a master distiller. He began his spirits career in 1987 as an assistant distiller with United Distillers (NZ) Limited in Auckland Since then he has delivered spirit product solutions for packaging operations in New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji.

Marcel is a strong advocate for the craft spirits industry, representing The Distillers Institute in Australia and New Zealand, Distilled Spirits Aotearoa, and The Australian Distillers Association. He's also a two-time Amazon best-selling author and host of the popular "Still Magic" podcast. In addition to his many accomplishments, Marcel is also a gin tutor for BDAS in Kentucky and received the APAC Insider's Leading Authority in Gin Distillation - 2023 award.

Marcel's impressive credentials include an IBD Grad Certificate in Distilling, and WSET Levels 1 and 2, both with distinction. Despite these accolades, Marcel remains humble and approachable, eager to share his knowledge and passion for gin with others. So, if you're looking to learn more about gin, or just need a drink recommendation, Marcel is your go-to!

Keith Tibble


Im somewhat of an industry veteran over 35 years in the industry working for a number of Spirit /wine companies - actively promoting spirits through Master classes Food matching and events. I've been a spirit Judge since these awards inception and would love to be involved again.

Cate Toomey
Moore Wilson's


With over 20 years experience Cate has worked in (and owned) cocktail bars, pubs & cafes both in NZ and the UK and is now Spirits and Beer Category Manager for Moore Wilson's in Wellington.

Alastair Walker
Caretaker Group


One of the owners of the Caretaker Group, which owns Caretaker, Deadshot and Rocketman. I have always been involved with spirits one way or another and have a passion for whiskies in particular.

Nick Widley
Kismet Cocktail And Whisky Bar


Nick Widley Co Owner Kismet Whisky & Cocktail Bar has had a colorful career in the hospitality industry over the past 20 years. Originally training as a chef in the UK, then ventured beyond the kitchen where he found his place behind the bar cultivating a passion for classic cocktails and a strong desire to learn everything he could about the world of liquor. Nick travelled to the other side of the pond to work and travel when fate had its way and he met his wife to be Kymberly. Together the combined their passion for great food and boundary pushing drinks, opened Cod & Lobster Brasserie in 2015 and for several years boasted New Zealand’s largest gin collection and was the go to space for exotic flavors! Since then Nick has competed in a variety of cocktail competitions including the Glenfarclas Cocktail Competition in 2018 of which he won and took out the ambassadorship of the brand. Another highlight of 2018 was opening the doors to Cod & Lobsters sister bar Kismet. With long distance goals of conquering more of the spirit world, Nick is not nearly ready to rest yet. (His liver is not yet pickled)