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Where Happy Hour Lasts From 9 to 5
By Nancy Einhart

(Business 2.0) – Each morning, while the rest of corporate America wearily gulps down coffee, the staff at the Beverage Testing Institute starts sampling booze, and lots of it.

It's all in a day's work. Chicago-based BTI is an independent testing agency that's poised to become the J.D. Power of cocktail hour. Founded in 1981, the seven-person firm reviews as many as 8,000 wines, beers, and spirits a year. Taste tests occur in a strictly controlled environment, and drinks are carted out in numbered glasses. Ratings are mapped on a 100-point scale, and scores are published on BTI's website, Tastings.com.

Most of the group's small profit comes from consulting assignments and entry fees. Grey Goose, for example, hired BTI to scrutinize its L'Orange vodka for use in cosmopolitans. The 2001 tests put Grey Goose in first place, and the company still cites the results prominently in its ads. (BTI says even commissioned studies are completely blind and unbiased.)

While the perks are obvious, employment at BTI entails some unique occupational hazards. "You should never taste more than 15 spirits or 30 to 40 beers in one day," warns BTI tasting director Jerald O'Kennard. Sobering advice indeed. --NANCY EINHART