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Six new ways to become a wine, beer or spirits expert in 2020

We’ve rounded up some of the latest courses to launch in the wine, beer and spirits worlds you might want to consider if you’re looking to broaden your horizons in 2020.

Do you fancy yourself as a beer sommelier, or want to learn more about the mysterious world of Scotch whisky? Drinks education is bigger business than ever. The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and has now awarded over 500,000 of its qualifications since 1969.

But as the craft spirits and beer markets have expanded in recent years, it is now possible to learn about almost anything in the drinks trade, from discovering the world of saké, to the best etiquette for pairing beer with food.

We’ve taken a look at some of the newer courses that have emerged over the past year, to help you on your journey to becoming a drinks connoisseur.

Step up your spirits expertise with WSET

The Wine and Spirit Education Trust launched its Level 3 Award in spirits in May, with bookings being taken for the first courses in the UK and US.

Building on the Level 2 course, the new programme will look in greater detail on production methods from fermentation to distillation and post-distillation and their impact on styles as well as expanding the spectrum to include shochu, baijiu and soju as well.

In addition there is a more in-depth coverage of Scotch, Armagnac, Cognac, rum, Tequila, Mezcal, vodka and gin.

The exam includes a blind tasting exam and a written paper consisting of multiple choice and short written answers.

Become a whisk(e)y master

In the US, the Council of Whiskey Masters recently launched a certification programme for whisk(e)y professionals, leading to the level one title of ‘certified Scotch professional’ or ‘Certified Bourbon Professional’. Candidates can also take on studies to become a Master of Scotch (SM) or Master of Whiskey (WM).

To prepare for the exam, students are given a 100-page study guide. The exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions. To pass, students must score at least 80% or higher, after which they will receive a diploma and can add CSP or CBP letters after their names, making for a more studious CV.

Exam dates will be offered four times per year in local exam centres throughout the US, Europe and Canada. After the foundation level, prospective students can then enrol in another course to become a Certified Whiskey Specialist (CWS).

Later, they can take on studies for the Master of Scotch (SM, Level 3 – enrolment in 2020) and, in 2021, students will be able to enrol in the Master of Whiskey (WM, Level 4 – enrolment in 2021) qualification.

Become a Spanish wine maestro

Much like the WSET, the Wine Scholar Guild offers highly sought-after and respected courses on wine appreciation, but instead of providing a broad overview of global industry, WSG offers programs focusing on specific nations and winegrowing regions. Having already launched French Wine Scholar and Italian Wine Scholar programs in recent years, WSG officially launched a new Spanish Wine Scholar program this October.

It has been created by Spanish wine specialist Rick Fisher the Spanish Wine Scholar Education Director.

The textbook students are given at the start of their course covers all of the important wine growing regions of Spain in nine chapters. Each includes an overview of the history, climate, topography, soils, grapes, and viticulture/viniculture of each autonomous area. Specific wine appellations are then discussed in their respective regional chapter.

The Spanish Wine Scholar curriculum is comprised of eight classes lasting around two and a half hours each, and a final exam usually held on the same evening over consecutive weeks. All students receive a comprehensive study book as well as access t interactive E-Learning Modules, and an average of 8-12 wines will be tasted per class with some matching with typical regional foods, depending on the course provider you go with.

This course covers all the regions of Spain in-depth, as well as an overview of key export markets, so it is ideal for those currently studying or have just completed a WSET Level 3 or Level 4 as an perfect supplement, but it could also be suitable for anyone with a huge amount of enthusiasm for Spanish wine.

To find course providers, or to sign up for online study, click here.

Get an introduction to European wine

The SWS programme is not the only thing Wine Scholar Guild have been working on. Speaking to the drinks business earlier this year, Lisa Airey, the Guild’s education director, said a new “foundation” level course for Italian, Spanish, and French wines is set to launch next year.

The foundation courses include three classes which can be taken either over three weeks, or in one crash-course day, much like the Level 2 program with the WSET. Airey said the guild will launch the Italian foundation course in spring 2020, with France and Spain to follow later in the year.

However, Airey told db comparing the WSET’s course structure and Wine Scholar Guild’s approach is “like comparing apples with oranges”.

She said the foundation course will cover the top appellations that are widely commercially available, “things they can find on the wine list and retail shelves – all the while giving them a little background as to why those wines taste the way they do. We’ll be putting our toe into terroir, and also bringing in cultural aspects around those regions, so history and food, for example.

The education boss said the Wine Scholar Guild’s strategy of adding historical and culinary context to their teaching helps students to get a more grounded understanding of the regions themselves, “so the wines aren’t in a vacuum.

“If this class is being given in a classroom the teacher can get the appropriate cheeses to supplement the wine tasting so its’ more of a whole experience.”

This is not the only way the foundation course differs from the WSET: the exam at the end of your three sessions is optional.

“If yo want to test your knowledge then you can, but it’s just a bit of a different spin.

“We feel once people get a taste of specialised study this would give them the confidence to go out and purchase wine, to explore a little further.”

Take a deep dive into American beer

The Cicerone Certification Programme, which provides a wide range of courses for those who want to get to grips with beer appreciation, recently introduced an American Beer Styles coursebook and specialist exam to its Road to Cicerone education series.

These courses educate beer professionals looking to set themselves apart in the industry, taking into account beer history, brewing methods, service, and styles, in a textbook laid out over 16 chapters. The accompanying online specialist exam consists of 72 Certified Cicerone-level questions, while the learning activities themselves involve side-by-side beer tasting comparisons, building up your hop aroma memory, malt comparisons, and exploring how various fermentation styles can affect the flavour of your beer.

Launched in 2008 by brewer and author Ray Daniels, the Cicerone Certification aims to educate those working in all aspects of the beer industry, whether brewers or servers or writers, focusing on topics such as keeping and serving beer, beer styles, evaluation, key beer ingredients and brewing processes, and food pairings. There are four levels to the Cicerone programme

While the Cicerone programme originated in the US, it launched two courses; Certified Beer Server and Certified Cicerone® exam syllabi, in the UK in 2018.

Learn about wine, beer and sake with db‘s Man of the Year 2019

Whether you’re working in the wine trade or just an enthusiastic drinker, if you live in London, we recommend checking out the West London Wine School in Fulham.

Founded by Jimmy Smith, winner of the Drinks Business Man of the Year Award in 2019, it offers a wide range of courses from in-depth examinations of prestigious regions such as Bordeaux, to WSET-accredited programs from Level 1 through to Level 4, as well as the Advanced Scholar Programmes developed by the Wine Scholar Guild.

Speaking to db this month, Smith said his school will also ramp up its offerings outside of the world of wine, with more courses on Saké through WSET and the Saké Sommelier Association, as well as committing more course dates for the school’s BPET (Beer Professional Education & Training) sessions that assist students in achieving their Cicerone accredited qualifications.

“We feel that these are both emerging educational topics in the UK and we hope to be pioneers at offering a comprehensive schedule of events in 2020.”

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