2019 will mark the start of several new WSET Spirits programs.  The renowned education company has created a suite of Spirits only courses focused on today’s drinks business and the trends shaping it.  With three Levels (1-3) in Spirits there is a course for everyone.  Grape Experience will host a Level 2 Spirits course in San Francisco February 2-3 and you can find out more at https://www.grapeexperience.com/events/spirits-level-2-san-francisco/?doing_wp_cron=1542590186.1309440135955810546875

The interview below with WSET USA’s Spirits Development Manager, Rob McCaughy brings to life how these classes were shaped.

Q&A with Rob McCaughy, WSET USA Business Development Manager – Spirits & Sake

With more than 20 years experience working in the hospitality and beverage industries throughout Europe, Asia and the USA, Rob McCaughy has a wealth of knowledge of the drinks business. In his current role, he is responsible for the continued growth of WSET’s spirits and sake qualifications within the USA. Here we catch up with him for an in-depth look at the WSET’s new Level 3 Spirits course, slated to roll out in 2019.

How does this new course fit into spirits trends today?

Beverage professionals have had access to great objective education in the wine and beer sectors for some time but the spirits segment of the industry has traditionally been dominated by brand-led initiatives. The spirits sector has been on an upward trajectory for many years now and more and more beverage professionals are looking for impartial spirits education to deepen and broaden their knowledge and understanding.

We currently have a spirits module in our Diploma qualification and beyond that our levels 1 & 2 Spirits certifications provide a great entry point. However, there is a gap in the market for an in-depth spirits focused program and we feel that the Level 3 Spirits qualification will fill that void. The spirits module of the Diploma will be removed from August 2019 to coincide with the launch of this course – which we hope will provide the missing link for those who have completed Level 2 Spirits and are looking to progress further.

What spirits are covered?

The content will be split into two sections: depth and breadth.

Section 1/Depth: Students will need to be able to describe in detail the key characteristics of the core global spirits categories as well as understand decisions made at every stage of production, the impact those decisions will have and explain why a spirit has a certain style and quality.  In the examination these spirits will be assessed using both multiple choice and short answer questions.

The spirits covered in this section are: Bourbon, Rye Whiskey (US), Tennessee Whiskey, Scotch, Cognac, Armagnac, Caribbean Rum, Tequila, Mezcal, Vodka and Gin.

This is not an attempt by WSET to say these spirits are somehow superior to others. In order to dive deep into the ‘why’ of spirits production we needed to select a small number of spirits in order to make the course manageable. They also needed to be globally accessible and we feel that the selection above achieves this.

Section 2/Breadth: These are the spirits students will only need to know about – the key facts and styles to be assessed using multiple choice. For some, a number of these spirits are personally or professionally important.

The spirits covered are: Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whisky, Japanese Whisky, other whiskies, Grappa, Pisco (Chile and Peru), Brandy de Jerez, South African brandy, European fruit spirits, Sotol, other agave spirits, Cachaça, other rums, Baijiu, Shōchū, Soju, flavored vodka, Genever, spiced rum, flavored whiskey, aquavit, aniseed spirits, liqueurs, bitters and aromatized wines.

What are the differences between the different levels?

All of our qualifications are tiered to develop key competencies in students. Level 1 courses are designed to provide a foundation of knowledge and facts.  At Level 2, the student begins to expand upon those foundations and begins to develop a broader understanding and the ability to compare and contrast as well as describe key processes and procedures.  For both of these levels a multiple-choice assessment is sufficient to ensure that the key learning outcomes have been met.  Once a student reaches Level 3 we begin to develop some of those key critical thinking skills to be able to not only understand and explain the ‘how’ but also the ‘why’.  This is difficult if not impossible to assess through multiple-choice testing so short answer theory questions are required to show that these skills have been acquired.

What sort of trade is WSET Spirits geared towards: retailers, bartenders, enthusiasts?

There is a course for everyone, whether an enthusiast just looking for a framework to underpin their enjoyment, someone just starting their journey in the spirits business, or an industry veteran.  By focusing on developing core competencies and skills in the student rather than solely concentrating on product knowledge and rote learning, our courses are designed to give students not only a level of understanding but also the confidence to make qualitative assessments.

If you’re a distiller, is this a course you should take?

With the proliferation of craft distilleries emerging in recent years there has never been a greater need for courses that will not only provide an understanding of the benchmark expressions within a category but also the tasting skills necessary to make qualitative assessments.  We have had a great response from the distilling community and I certainly see our Level 3 course has been a valuable tool for any serious distiller.  Most professionals tend to live in a particular bubble or lane, focusing on one particular category. By providing an understanding of processes involved across all categories our Level 3 course provides opportunities for distillers to tweak and hone their best practices as well as to innovate.

Does it cover cocktails? Is it more production or service based?

One of our learning outcomes for Level 2 is an understanding of how spirits are best served and cocktail applications as well as the key considerations when making a balanced cocktail.

At Level 3 we are really focusing on four key competencies:

1)    Develop detailed knowledge of the spirits of the world

2)    Provide accurate descriptions of complex processes

3)    Ability to explain why certain processes are required and how they affect a spirit’s style and quality

4)    Ability to reasonably and confidently assess the quality level of a spirit

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