September, that dreaded time as a child where the blissful holidays came to an end and a new wave of responsibility dawned as you entered a next year of school. Though daunting at the time, you may have found as the years have passed a growing nostalgia for those times; a period where you were challenged in new ways, defining yourself as the world around you demystified.

Whisky has a way of reigniting the passion for education. Its challenging strength and stereotypes can be intimidating initially, but once the barrier is broken and the spark of interest flared, enthusiasts find themselves looking to understand every facet of this simple yet unendingly complex spirit: the history, the science, the flavours, the practices, the people; whisky really is a topic where the more you know, the more you realise how little you know.

So, if you’re yearning for that challenge and whisky has piqued your interest, we’ve put together a list of a few avenues of education that can take your understanding to the next level. It’s never too late to go back to school!

Image from Edinburgh Whisky Academy Facebook Page

Edinburgh Whisky Academy

 

The Edinburgh Whisky Academy is a brand endorsed and Scottish Qualifications Authority certified award. Their Diploma in Single Malt Whisky may be taken online or in person over a two-day period, covering everything from the history of whisky, to raw materials handling, to a sensory assessment. The material is taught by a team of industry experts, making it not only a fantastic opportunity to learn from veterans, but also a great chance to network. The course concludes with a two-hour invigilated exam.

Grain & Glass Whisky Specialist Renata attended the course, she says:

 

“The course really clarified some of the most complex topics of production, diving into rabbit holes of knowledge that I never considered before. The course really opened my eyes into how vastly complex the production of whisky is and inspired me to take this passion to the next level.

It was also a chance to meet some well-respected faces in the industry, helping me to propel my career to new heights.”

 

Overview:

Officially Accredited – Yes

Course Length – 2 days + Study Time

Cost – £960.00

 

The course is suitable for both industry workers and enthusiasts who wish to know more. To find out more about the Edinburgh Whisky Academy, visit:

https://www.edinburghwhiskyacademy.com/

Image from Islay Whisky Academy Facebook Page

Islay Whisky Academy

 

Islay: Scotland’s most divisive region. To the uninitiated, the region is ‘that place where the whisky smells like TCP’; to those who have taken the time to understand the region, you’ll know that the island is steeped in Mesolithic, Celtic, and Viking history, home to a proud and friendly people with whisky deep in their hearts. The Islay Whisky Academy (IWA) embodies this.

The academy was founded by Rachel MacNeill, a proud Scot and loyal resident of the island. Her passion for the history and people of Islay, and Scotland as a whole, permeates the academy’s approach to education in whisky.

Grain & Glass Whisky Specialist Steven (yes – I’m quoting myself here) attended the course. Here’s what he gained from attending:

 

“Not what I expected to gain. There were, of course, invaluable practical points that were learned on the trip, but the main take away for me was the cultural side, and even the people I shared the experience with. From dancing a jig with ex-distillers in stretches of peat, to sharing a dram with legends of the industry, to simply getting to know my fellow course attendees; I made some lifelong friends on that trip.

I can’t attest this will be everyone’s experience, but if you’re willing to immerse yourself, you will be rewarded.”

 

Overview:

Officially Accredited – No

Course Length – 5 days

Cost – Enquire

 

The course is mostly geared to enthusiasts as it is not officially accredited, but it’s also great for industry workers. To find out more about The Islay Whisky Academy, visit:

https://islaywhiskyacademy.scot/

Image From Springbank Distillery Facebook Page

Springbank Experience

 

The Springbank distillery itself is one that has resonated deeply with whisky enthusiasts, being one of the only survivors of Scotland’s once capital of whisky production, Campbeltown, and a distillery that still keeps to the ways of old, traditionally floor malting barley onsite and little to no use of computers throughout production.

The Springbank Experience allows enthusiasts to fully immerse themselves in this world. It’s no wonder, this experience has a waitlist of several years!

To explain more, we contacted Canadian distiller Terri Lam who completed the course several years ago. Terri has worked in many facets of production at many distilleries across Canada and Scotland, including the odd stint as a distiller at Glen Scotia:

 

“If you get a chance to speak with a Springbank Whisky School Alumni, you will understand why the waiting list is long (I personally waited four years) and due to overwhelming interest, Springbank Whisky School has closed the waiting list. The experience and intake class are capped at six people where the utmost attention and quality of the experience is cared for. Without giving away too much, it is a highlight for any whisky enthusiast to be fully immersed in the traditional production and practices while touching and smelling every aspect of the distillery. Smells, taste, touch, sights and sounds are forever imprinted to memory; spending 24/7 with classmates and the production team, lifelong friendships are forged, my heart is in Campbeltown.”

 

Overview:

Officially Accredited – No

Course Length – 5 days

Cost – Enquire

 

Like the IWA, the course is mostly geared to enthusiasts, but it’s a hands-on experience that is also great for industry workers.  To find out more about the Springbank Experience, you’ll likely have to go knocking on their door!

Image From WSET Facebook Page

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust

 

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses are widely adopted by industry personnel, they “are globally recognised as the international standard in wine and spirit knowledge” (WSET Website, 2022). The courses cover a broad range of wines and spirits. With whisky inheriting flavours of many other tipples through cask maturation, this variety is a great plus for understanding where those flavours come from.

Joe Ellis is a Whisky Specialist for Edrington UK, the brand behind world-leading distilleries such as Macallan and Bowmore. His role focuses on education for industry employees. He has passed Level 3 in the WSET spirits course. Here are Joe’s thoughts on the WSET qualifications:

 

“Not only did I gain globally recognised qualifications in spirits, I also massively increased my knowledge and understanding of all the main spirits categories, especially at level 3 where you learn about some of the main spirits from Asia such as Baijiu and Shochu. My tasting ability also really improved as I progressed through the three WSET levels. I am now able to use my theoretical understanding of spirits production and apply that to my palate to correctly describe the aroma and flavour of spirits across all main styles.”

 

Overview:

Officially Accredited – Yes

Course Length – 1 day for Level 1

Cost – Starting from around £165.00 for Level 1

 

This officially accredited qualification is mostly geared to industry workers, but there’s nothing stopping enthusiasts from also partaking. To find out more about the WSET offerings, visit:

https://www.wsetglobal.com/

Where Will Your Journey Take You?

 

There are many courses out there that can elevate your understanding of whisky, many not included in this article, but hopefully this serves as a nice appetiser. Whether you’re looking to enhance your hobby or grow your career in the industry, there are plenty of options internationally to help you expand the areas of understanding you’d like to explore. So, pack your pencil case, get out your notebooks and get back to school!


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