Eight online courses to educate spirits fans
Spirits enthusiasts can sign up to a wide number of programmes to deepen their knowledge of distilling or develop their tasting skills. Here, we present eight top courses that can be completed at home.
Right now the internet is awash with suggestions on how to make the most of lockdown, from learning a language to writing a novel. But we think there’s no better time to delve deeper into the world of spirits, brush up on your tasting, distillation knowledge and even gain a certification, all from the comfort of your arm chair.
The Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) for one has already announced that it is fast tracking plans to take all its qualifications online after seeing “an explosion” in online learning with classrooms closed due to coronavirus. While many of its courses were already available online, it will now offer enhanced digital options to 800 course providers across the world. The school has also said it was fast-tracking the use of online testing for all its courses.
Ian Harris, WSET CEO, said: “Our digital education team has been working around the clock over the past few weeks to progress our digital learning offering at an unprecedented pace. We are determined to give our course providers the best online tools available and to minimise the impact of the current crisis on our students’ educational journey with WSET.”
Regardless of a pandemic-induced increase in online learning, distance learning remains a flexible and accessible way to gain further education and understanding. There are many organisations that offer distance and online learning, with courses aimed at complete beginners to professionals.
So whether you are looking to gain a bit more of a handle on your spirits knowledge, tasting or have ambitions of becoming a distiller, there should be something here to spark some inspiration in all of us.
Click through the following pages to see our pick of the best online spirits courses that you can sign up to right now.
NB: It’s worth pointing out that we have selected our pick of the best online courses currently available, but that the majority of these institutions also offer traditional classroom-based and practical courses, which we hope will resume in the future and are well worth investigating too.
Institute of Brewing and Distilling
Course: General Certificate in Distilling
Level: Intermediate to professional
Price: From £385 (US$481.50)
The Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) has a history that dates back to 1886. At that time some coffey stills were being used to produce high quantities of gin and whisky, but pot stills were the norm. Science was not as widely accepted within either world, and chemists employed as consultants had a fractious relationship with brewers who lamented their practical knowledge. It was in 1886 that a group of scientists came together to form The Laboratory Club, with the aim of meeting to discuss scientific issues relating to malting and brewing, forming The Laboratory Club, later morphing into the IBD, which today encompasses the fields of brewing, distilling, malting and packaging.
One of its most popular courses is its General Certificate in Distilling, which is typically aimed at those already working in the beer and spirits industries. It is run online and covers the entire distilling process for spirits including whisk(e)y, vodka, rum, gin, brandy and Tequila. The course advises 60-80 hours of study time and culminates with a two-hour multiple choice exam. This is currently being offered remotely, allowing students to take their final exam online, however there are also more than 400 IBD-accredited exam centres worldwide.
Council of Whiskey Masters
Course: Certified Scotch Professional (CSP), Certified Bourbon Professional (CBP), Certified Whiskey Specialist (CWS), Master of Scotch and Master of Whisky.
Level: Beginner to professional
Price: From US$395 (Level 1), US$495 (Level 2)
Based in the US, the Council of Whisky Masters offers online courses in whisky, Bourbon and Scotch, beginning with its Level 1 qualifications: Certified Scotch Professional (CSP) and Certified Bourbon Professional (CBP). After completing either course, students can progress to a Level 2 course, the Certified Whiskey Specialist (CWS), which covers the whole world of whiskey beyond Scotland and America, including regions like Ireland, Japan, Korea, Canada, India.
The first two levels are based on self-study followed by an online exam, with students guided by a 100-page study guide, meaning it can be completed remotely from anywhere in the world. 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.
However the council will soon take its credentials to the next level, having created a new qualification, available from 2021, that will allow students to take their studies further and sit a Level 3 course to become a ‘Master of Scotch’. This can be followed by a Level 4 exam, which would qualify them as a ‘Master of Whiskey’.
Master level courses will include a rigorous written exam and blind tasting and are conducted in person in exam centres in either Lexington, Kentucky, or Inverness, Scotland. The first Master of Scotch examination will take place on 27 May 2021 in the Scottish Highlands.
“For the first two years of the programme, exam panels will be overseen by Keepers and Masters of the Quaich. Once the first 10 Masters of Scotch have been certified, they will join the Council of Whiskey Masters and lead subsequent examinations,” explains the council. It’s advisory board meanwhile includes some of the world’s greatest authorities on spirits, including Dave Broom, Steve Beal, Lew Bryson and Charles MacLean.
Edinburgh Whisky Academy
Course: Introduction to Whisky Certificate / Gin School
Price: £84/US$105 (normally £120/US$150) / £63/US$78 (normally £90/US$112)
In 2019 the Edinburgh Whisky Academy launched a new online course, The Introduction to Whisky Certificate. Aimed at beginners, it covers the basics of whisky across eight modules, including history, business and raw materials to production, distillation and maturation.
For gin lovers, the academy also offers a gin school across six modules covering the history of gin, styles and definitions, distillation, botanicals, tasting and cocktails.
“The course material mixes interactive explanations with illustrated activities and videos,” the academy states. “There are pop quizzes at the end of each module, too, so you can measure the knowledge you are distilling along the way.”
Upon completing either course you can choose to take the formal assessment and gain your SQA Certificate (Scottish Qualifications), which incurs an additional charge of £180 (US$225) and is undertaken at an exam centre.
The test covers four modules: Pre-production, Production Process, Warehousing & Bottling and is a one-hour multiple-choice format requiring a minimum 60% pass rate.
There is no time limit on completing either course, which can be carried out at your leisure.
Course: MSc Brewing and Distilling (Distance Learning)
Price: £3,500 (US$4,384)
A professional qualification by all standards, the MSc in Brewing and Distilling is run by the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. While the course is offered as a full-time course from its Edinburgh campus, it can also be studied via a distance-learning format.
As described by course leaders, the two to five-year programme prepares candidates for entry into the malting, brewing or distilling industries, or to conduct research, covering brewing science and chemical engineering, business studies and production management.
Available to students regardless of their location, the distance learning programme can be started at any time of year but runs on a six-month learning cycle with materials issued in January and July. Two assignments are due at the end of April and October and final examinations take place during the first week of June and December.
One course, Project and Practical Studies, involves attendance at a two-week summer school held every two years in Edinburgh. Examinations are arranged within a local university or British Consulate.
This is an intensive course for those looking to get into the professional world of distilling from a production perspective, and sets the ground work for future master brewers and distillers.
Course: The Science of Alcohol
The Open University offers hundreds of online courses across all kinds of subjects, and one of them is alcohol. Completely free, this is a complete beginners course to the absolute basics of distillation, fermentation and brewing.
With an open university account, you can sign up instantly and complete over the course of eight weeks (during which you will have been guided to produce your own homebrew).
The online course covers the science behind alcohol, brewing and distillation, largely from the perspective of gin, exploring this spirit’s different styles, history and cultural significance.
Upon completion of the course you will receive a digital badge and a statement of participation. It won’t satisfy the needs of those looking to go deeper, but it’s an excellent introduction to the world of alcohol, and it’s free. You really can’t go wrong.
Salcombe Virtual Gin School
Course: Virtual Gin School
Price: £300 (US$376)
Had enough of virtual pub quizzes and Zoom catchups? Then this interactive, make-your-own gin session could help relieve lockdown fatigue. Salcombe Gin in Devon, England, is offering online sessions with its distillers, during which participants are invited to get together with friends and family and follow a live distillation, learning the what it takes to produce a gin.
During the 1-1.5-hour session, you will co-create a unique gin by choosing from a range of botanicals, guided by one of its expert distillers. Together you’ll choose a name for your gin, which will then be printed on a personalised bottle label and placed in a wooden presentation box, complete with a recipe card and serving suggestion.
Up to four households can tune in at a time, making the £300 cost more manageable. And regardless of the number of participants, your purchase will include four bottles of your own gin. Free delivery is included for up to four UK addresses.
Course: Bar Smarts and Bar Starts
Level: Professional bartenders
Price: US$29 per course
Bar Smarts is aimed specifically at bartenders, providing an online educational resource to give students a comprehensive foundation to work across all areas of the on-trade. US-based, the resource was originally founded for Pernod Ricard USA but it has since become an industry standard across the states and is used by many businesses to help train up and support their staff. It’s also open to international bartenders wishing to take part from anywhere in the world.
There are two programmes offered online. The introductory Bar Starts covers spirit and wine knowledge including basic production methods, an introduction to spirits and liqueurs, essentials for proper service and the fundamentals of bartending. The more in-depth Bar Smarts programme is a comprehensive course for bartenders on how to taste like a professional, while also covering in-depth production methods, the history of spirits and liqueurs, cocktails from the 1800s onwards and service management techniques.
Once registered, participants receive instant access to online videos, reading materials and various exams with 60 days to complete the course online. A third option, Staff Certified, allows on-trade businesses to provide both Bar Starts and Bar Smarts programmes to their staff members and track participants’ progress.
WSET online spirits course
Course: Level 1 Award in Spirits, Level 2 Award in Spirits
Level: Beginner to professional
Price: From £115 / £315
Perhaps the best known and most accessible wine and spirits school in the world, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has greatly increased its focus on spirits in recent years, launching a Level 3 Award in Spirits in 2019, building upon its Level 1 and 2 Awards. The new programme looks in greater detail at production methods, from fermentation to distillation and post-distillation, and their impact on styles as well as expanding the spectrum to include shōchū, baijiu and soju as well, alongside in-depth coverage of Scotch, Armagnac, Cognac, rum, Tequila, Mezcal, vodka and gin.
The WSET has said that all of its courses, as well as exam testing, will soon be available online. However for now, currently only the Level 1 and 2 Awards in Spirits are available online. Both can be completed in four and five weeks respectively, with exams taken online.
In addition, this month the WSET announced a partnership with Teeling Whiskey, the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards and the Irish Whiskey & Spirits Institute to offer spirits courses to support Irish hospitality professionals during the COVID-19 crisis. The initiative will enable hospitality staff who have lost their jobs due to the current crisis to take an online WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits. A total of 40 bartenders, waiters or barbacks, aged over 18, will be able to sign up to the WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits.
The course which is co-funded by WSET and the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards is being facilitated by Teeling Whiskey and by WSET Approved Programme Provider Nick Ryan of The Irish Whiskey & Spirits Institute.
Additionally, Edward Dillon Company will provide students with a tasting kit including Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum, Bombay Sapphire, Hennessy Cognac and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Charlie McCarthy, WSET Business Development Manager EMEA Spirits, said: “This is a very hard time for the Irish hospitality industry and, in particular, for service staff. We felt that it was time for us all to band together to help our community.”