The South’s Best, the first-ever regionally focused spirits competition, open exclusively to spirit brands produced in the Southern region of the U.S. has announced their lineup of knowledgeable and prominent judges. The primarily Charleston-based expert judging panel will convene in the Holy City this November to select The South’s Best Spirit, along with 300+ other “Best of” Category and State winners.
The selected panel of judges includes leading industry experts such as bartenders, restaurateurs, retailers and beverage influencers. Please see below for a brief background of each selected judge. A reminder that Early Bird pricing ends September 8.
Jeff Hopmayer, Brindiamo Group
Jeff Hopmayer boasts decades of experience in food and wine, spirits, bulk sourcing, mergers, acquisitions, branding, marketing, turnarounds and capital sourcing. Serving as its Founder, his company Brindiamo Group is one of the largest suppliers of bourbon, whiskey and other bulk spirits in the world.
James Hewlette, Brindiamo Group
Joining Hopmayer from Brindiamo Group is their Vice President of Brand and Distillery Sales. James’ extensive background in the beverage and alcohol industry includes more than 15 years of managing all facets of the bulk whiskey sales cycle, as well as domestic and international customer relations.
Amanda Phelps, Frannie & The Fox
Amanda serves as Beverage Manager and lead bartender at Frannie & The Fox, located inside Hotel Emeline. With refreshing and intriguing cocktails such as the Gus & Mundy, featuring ramazzotti, red wine, lemon, cola and soda, she creates a one-of-a-kind experience for all guests who have the chance to visit the downtown restaurant.
Nathan Thurston, Miller’s All Day
Working as a professional chef in the South for over 25 years, Nathan went on to gain extensive experience as a restauranter and restaurant consultant, working with the likes of Kiawah Island’s The Ocean Room, The Darling Oyster Bar and Félix Cocktails et Cuisine. He also serves as Chef and Owner of Miller's All Day.
Jamie Bolt, The Gin Joint
Jamie is the owner and operator of The Gin Joint, a 1920s-inspired craft cocktails bar on East Bay St. With over a decade of experience working in bars and restaurants, he uses his culinary background to thoughtfully create seasonal cocktails with fresh ingredients, which have landed him in numerous award-winning publications.
Jim McCourt, Prohibition
Originally from Belfast, in Northern Ireland, Jim left school at age 15 to begin a career in the bar industry. He has held positions from dishwasher to bar manager, working in a variety of establishments including Irish bars, hotels, fine dining restaurants and cocktail bars. He brings this versatility and depth of experience to his position as Co-Owner and Bar Director at Prohibition on upper King Street.
Emily Heintz, Séchey
Emily serves as the Founder of Sèchey, an alternative spirits shop and lounge on King Street featuring functional and alcohol-free beer, wine, spirits and mixers. Since launching Sèchey in 2021, a nod to the French word for dry, she has curated a premium selection of alternatives to alcohol not only for Sèchey's assortment, but for a national retail partner, as well as cocktail menus at leading hospitality groups.
Nicholas Dowling, Daps Breakfast & Imbibe
Nicholas brings over 20 years of restaurant experience to his position as Owner of Daps Beverage Co., a beverage company producing the original canned mimosa. He previously served as Head Distiller for a local distillery, where he helped open and run production for over four years.
Travis Hartong, Bottles
With a bartending career extending all the way back to 2001, Travis transitioned to his current role as Mount Pleasant’s Bottles Beverage Superstore’s Spirits Consultant and Liquor Buyer Wholesale Manager in 2013. His primary focus is selling liquor to bars and restaurants throughout the state of South Carolina.
Mike van Beyrer, Bottles
Mike is the Owner of Mount Pleasant’s Bottles Beverage Superstore. A cross between a superstore that boasts unbeatable price points and a neighborhood wine shop that offers boutique bottles and personalized services, his 15,000 sq. ft. establishment offers a wide variety of wine, beer, bourbon and more. From working at wineries in California to a distributor in Atlanta, he’s been in the alcohol and beverage business for 18 years.
Austin Dain, The Hive
Austin has worked in a variety of different roles in the alcohol beverage industry since he was 21 years old. First as a distributor, then for a retail liquor store, he spent four years on a journey that led him from barback, to craft bartender and ultimately restaurant manager. He currently works for creative agency The Hive on behalf of a large wine and spirit supplier.
Taneka Reaves, The Cocktail Bandits
Co-founder of The Cocktail Bandits, Taneka has been in the beverage industry for over 15 years, beginning her career in local dive bars and neighborhood restaurants. The Cocktail Bandits aims to educate, empower and entertain followers about beverages from a feminine urban perspective. In 2018, The Cocktail Bandits wrote the book “Holy Spirits: Charleston’s Culture Through Cocktails.”
Johnny Caldwell, The Cocktail Bandits
Johnny joins Taneka to create the dynamic duo known as the Cocktail Bandits. The curly ladies who talk cocktails daily, educate and entertain their growing audience by sharing original cocktail recipes, promoting the craftsmanship of other bar professionals and sharing their experiences at F+B events around the Holy City and beyond.
SCBIZtv is part of the SC Biz News family, serving 100,000 high-level business execs throughout South Carolina. Click for more from SCBIZtv.