The Trophy Spirits Show

Judges 2024

Michael Fridjhon is the convenor of the Trophy Spirits Show and is responsible for selecting the judges and managing the judging process. All judges are suitable experienced spirits judges, with at least one member of every panel a recognised international authority.

As with The Trophy Wine Show, associate judges are drawn from the local spirits industry, some of whom are graduates of the Spirits Judging Academy launched in 2021. Associate judges participate in the tasting and post-judging discussion, though their scores are not included in the final tally.

Click on image for biography.

Show Chairman

Michael Fridjhon

International Judges

David T. Smith
Claire Blackler MW

South African Judges

Sean Gunns
Mare-Loe Prinsloo
Neil Paterson
Leah van Deventer
Andy Watts
Carla Weightman
Michael Fridjhon

Michael Fridjhon

Show Chairman

Author, co-author and contributor to a number of wine books including The Oxford Companion to Wine, The Global Wine Encyclopaedia, and Platter’s South African Wine Guide. Recipient of the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Merite Agricole (France). First international co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge (2007). Visiting Professor of Wine Business at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and head of the Wine Judging Academy run in association with the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. Winner of the Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year award (2012).

David T Smith (UK)

International Judge

An independent spirits writer and consultant who specialises in gin. The author of a variety of books on gin and gin drinks, including Gin Tonica, The Craft of Gin and, most recently, The Gin Dictionary, having reviewed over 400 gins on his website SummerFruitCup.com. Chair judge for a number of international spirits competitions and a consultant for distilleries across six continents. The inaugural winner of the Think Gin Communicator of the Year. Judged at The Trophy Spirits Show in 2019.

Claire Blackler MW

Claire Blackler MW (UK)

International Judge

Head of ‘Claire Drinks’ in the UK, a wine and spirits education and consultancy business, having transitioned from a decade in pharmaceutical research. She provides WSET courses and tailored training globally, drawing from her extensive knowledge gained initially through a simple love of wine and further developed through the Master of Wine program, completing the qualification in 2021. Beyond education, a wine competition judge, providing sensory evaluation and copy writing services, collaborating on events and marketing projects, compiling wine lists and offering private cellar guidance.

Sean Gunns

South African Judge

Co-owner of The Whisky Rebellion and a member of the Wild About Whisky team. In the spirits industry for the past eight years, at events and tastings, in the trade and marketing as well as in a training role. He has conducted hundreds of private and corporate tasting experiences, endeavouring to raise the status of spirits in South Africa. Sean began his working life in music and sound engineering, but his love for the family business took hold and he gained his knowledge of and expertise in spirits through global travel and many hours behind the bar at Wild About Whisky in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga. Associate judge at The Trophy Spirits Show in 2023.

Dr Mare-Loe Prinsloo

South African Judge

As head of research at Heineken Beverages, she leads a team of scientists driving the development of new products as well as processes/technologies for the company across numerous categories including liqueur, cream liqueur, brandy, whisky, cider and gin. Holds a Doctorate in Organic Chemistry from the University of Stellenbosch and an LLB degree from UNISA. Switched from the pharmaceutical industry to the wine and spirit industry in 2006, becoming the technical manager for distilleries at Distell and part of a team responsible for the sensory approval and quality of raw materials, matured goods and final products. In 2016 she was appointed head of brandy and other spirits at Distell’s Centre of Excellence. Judge at the South African Women’s Wine and Spirits Awards, and at the International Spirits Challenge (2016 to 2019). Guest lecturer in brandy at the University of Stellenbosch and the Elsenburg Agricultural College (2006 to 2020). Judge at The Trophy Spirits Show since 2019.

Neil Paterson

South African Judge

Co-owner of the international award-winning retailer WhiskyBrother, he has been in the industry for 10 years and has been collecting, tasting and appreciating all things whisky for 22 years. If he is not at home working his way through numerous samples for the next exclusive single-cask release, he can be found at the WhiskyBrother Bar in Sandton, talking and enjoying whisky from one of the 1450-plus malts and blends on offer. Judged at The Trophy Spirits Show in 2021 and 2022.

Leah van Deventer

South African Judge

Leah van Deventer is a distinguished writer, educator and consultant specialising in cocktails, spirits and bar culture.
She serves the international trade through several panels, including being an academy chair for the World’s 50 Best Bars and judging the likes of the San Francisco World Spirits and International Wine and Spirits competitions.
In her day-to-day in Cape Town, Leah favours projects that facilitate community, such as the Ajabu Cocktail and Spirits Festival. She also runs an upliftment initiative called the Sisterhood for Industry Support (SIS).
Leah’s commitment to effecting positive change has twice earned her a place among the 100 most influential figures in the global bar industry, while her storytelling has seen her named Bar Communicator of the Year three times in South Africa, and Top 4 Spirits Communicator worldwide.

Andy Watts

Local Judge

Owner of The Watts Whisky Company (Pty) Ltd and the first ambassador for the Whisky Vault in Johannesburg. Awarded the title of Global Icon ‘Master Distiller / Master Blender of the Year’ at the Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Awards in 2018, named Global Icon ‘World Whisky Brand Ambassador of the Year’ at the 2020 edition of the awards, and in 2021 he was honoured as the 70th inductee into the magazine’s Whisky Hall of Fame in acknowledgement of his lifelong contribution to the whisky industry and his role in establishing South Africa as part of the world whisky community. In 2024 he was appointed as an advisory board member for the Council of Whiskey Masters, an American-based organisation founded to define and uphold a new set of education standards among sommeliers and spirits professionals, offering credentials in the field of whisk(e)y that are equivalent to the well-established designations in the world of wine. Back in the 1980s, he worked at Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and Bowmore before his appointment as manager of The James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington. His many achievements include the first single malt produced in South Africa and the first 100% locally blended whisky (as part of the Three Ships portfolio), the country’s first single grain whisky (Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky), as well as numerous titles over the years at the World Whiskies Awards. A judge at the inaugural Trophy Spirits Show in 2019 and again in 2022 and 2023.
Carla Weightman

Carla Weightman

Local Judge

Currently a sensory specialist at Heineken Beverages’ (previously Distell’s) Intrinsic Centre of Excellence, she has been running the sensory laboratory and leading the tasting panels since 2018. Responsible for conducting sensory research across the company’s diverse product portfolio (RTDs, wines and spirits) on new as well as existing products. She holds a BSc in Food Science as well as an MSc and PhD in wine sensory science from the Institute for Wine Biotechnology at Stellenbosch University. Has judged at the South African Women’s Wine and Spirits Awards (LUMO) and the Vitis Vinifera awards since 2020. Assisted with training at Michael Fridjhon’s Spirit Judging Academy in 2021. Associate judge at The Trophy Spirits Show in 2023.