Flight of reality

08 February, 2018

Drinks International ‘newbie’ Shay Waterworth recounts his experience of undertaking the WSET Level 2 Award in Spirits.


I'VE BEEN WRITING for DI for nearly a year now and, to celebrate, my editor sent me on the WSET Level 2 Award in Spirits to give my name more credibility and expand my knowledge of spirits – I guess he also saw it as an opportunity to get me out of the office for a few days.

Although a year doesn’t seem like a long time, I’ve visited some of the most prestigious and largest distilleries in the world, learning about the production of spirits and how they function, both technically and financially.

Admittedly, on the first day of the course I wasn’t sure where that left me in terms of knowledge and experience over the other students. The class of 20 pupils contained bartenders, brand ambassadors and general enthusiasts seeking a more in-depth knowledge.

The WSET has recently refreshed the content of its spirits courses to give a more up-to-date and relevant education on the bar and spirits industries. Bandy de Jerez, for example, has been dropped for the ever-growing mezcal and vermouth categories.

The three-day course not only covered the technicalities of spirits production from the harvesting of raw materials through to distillation and maturation, but some of the chemistry too. My course was led by a former Milk & Honey bartender who gave an interesting insight into the bar industry as well as deep knowledge across the board. Although not part of the final exam on day three, tastings were held each afternoon on everything from bourbon to pisco, using the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Spirits & Liqueurs. It was refreshing to taste an interesting range of products rather than just whisky and gin, although the pastis flight could go a miss in my book.

Although DI traditionally covers all sectors of the industry, admittedly I’m considered ‘the beer guy’ rather than wine or spirits, so it was a great opportunity for me to further my knowledge. As for the final exam, it was an imitation of a university exam with strict conditions and yellow and black rubber-ended pencils – just remember to bring in your photo ID on exam day.

Overall I can’t have any complaints. I went on the course to get a better, more rounded knowledge of spirits production – and I got it. It makes sense for businesses to invest in its employees and I’m sure DI will benefit from sending me on the course, boosting our credibility and prospects.

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