Whisky Knowledge for Career and Hobby
Who needs Whisky Education and Certification Programs?

by Dr. Dwight Furrow, WSET Advanced Certified

Interest in spirits in general and whisky in particular is exploding throughout the world, with consumers showing increased demand for premium products. The reason for this growth is that whisky offers high quality, highly differentiated products with long, cultural histories that provide interesting brand stories. In other words, whisky has the same potential that wine tapped into with great success. What whisky has not had, in contrast to wine, is an educational infrastructure to support these growth trends.

Whisky Bourbon Certification Program

The Council of Whisky Masters was created to address that problem. The Council of Whiskey Masters is the first organization to offer an accessible, rigorous, affordable certification program dedicated specifically to whisky, with special focus on Scotch and Bourbon at the entry level. The title “sommelier” in the wine industry signifies knowledge and quality. The Council of Whiskey Masters seeks to give the “Master of Scotch” and “Master of Whiskey” path the same cachet and legitimacy.

For much of its history, wine was a dinner table staple or a status symbol for wealthy connoisseurs. It has been transformed into an aspirational pursuit, a subject worthy of life-long study and exploration for virtually anyone who is interested, largely through educational programs carried out by wineries, industry associations, sommeliers and media organizations. At the heart of this educational infrastructure are rigorous certification programs, at a variety of educational levels. They provide the wine industry with a steady stream of qualified professionals to staff positions that involve public communications while providing accessible information to members of the general public wanting to learn more about wine. The whisky industry sorely needs a comparable certification process.

Whisky Knowledge Books Online Course

The recently-launched Council of Whiskey Masters offers a unique opportunity to build our a career path in the finest spirit. There are other certifications available, but none offer the focus and rigor of the Council of Whiskey Masters’ structured, four-level learning program. The Society of Wine Educators and the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust are respected organizations, and both offer a general certification in spirits. But whisky is a field of its own with its own history, methods of production, and critical standards of appreciation. The complexities of whisky and its prominence within the spirits industry give it a unique standing which requires specialization to master. Students opt to specialize in either Scotch or Bourbon for their level-one certification because the richness of the subject matter demands concentration. Just as a general education in science would not make you a master of nuclear physics, a general knowledge of distillation processes will not give you the information and insight needed to fully appreciate whisky and pass that on to the general public.

Some of the other certification options that specialize in whisky are either inconvenient, inordinately expensive, or of questionable rigor. The reputable Edinburgh Whisky Academy is rigorous but, aside from the introductory course, requires repeated attendance in Scotland for classes and exams and offers only limited exposure to Bourbon. The Scotch-focused Whisky Ambassador program is only a one-day program of classes that requires travel to their venue locations. The Whiskey Marketing School appears to focus on marketing, offers a level-one, two-day class which costs $4000, and requires travel to Texas in order to attend. Subsequent levels cost $2000 each for a cursory, two-day seminar. Needless to say, the rigor of its program has been a subject of some debate. Few other programs may offer self-study options, but those I reviewed are not rigorous enough to convey and certify comprehensive understanding to the candidates. Meanwhile in the field of wine, sommeliers must spend years of study and take difficult exams to qualify. The one or two-day seminars (with relatively easy exams) offered in the current whiskey education landscape just do not measure up, although I have no doubt that they are wonderful experiences to partake in.

By contrast, the Council of Whiskey Masters offers a self-study program that requires in-depth knowledge of the best educational materials available in order to pass their rigorous exams. Students are expected to spend significant time studying at each level before passing the exams. Level 1 exams are administered at test centers almost anywhere in the world and thus require minimal or no travel. Master level exams do require travel to Scotland or Kentucky for the tasting panels but there are no obligatory classes to attend—only self-paced study of comprehensive, in-depth materials written by whisky experts. The best feature of this program is the cost—only $395 for Level 1 materials and exam.

Self-Study Program Whisky

Who needs whisky certification? Increasingly as the market for whisky grows and consumers become more sophisticated, the need for knowledgeable, effective communicators to work in various facets of the industry will grow as well. Distilleries, distributors, and retailers will need some way of sorting through prospective employees. As has happened in every other industry from plumbing to wine, certification will become the entry point for employment. If you have the certification you will automatically be one step ahead of competitors who lack it; certification creates its own demand. In the near future, bartenders who can talk about the differences between Speyside and other Highland scotches or Tennessee whisky and Bourbon will have an advantage in the job market.

But even if you don’t aspire to work in the spirits industry, if you love Scotch or Bourbon, an education in their complexities will enhance your enjoyment of these intriguing beverages. Sometimes you have to know the charm of something before you can taste it. Only education will reveal what you’re missing.

The Council of Whisky Masters’ comprehensive education program is the most solid route to genuine appreciation.

Find detailed information about this whisky study program at www.WhiskeyMasters.org.