An expert judge in matters of taste
Ever since I started my first job back in 2012, I’ve been exposed many different types of “connoisseurs”, but mostly those well-versed in whisky and/or the spirits business. Now that I’ve moved on into my own business that focuses on Spirits Education, I’ve met many more of whisky connoisseurs and even more who merely love their drinks (like me!).
However, due to the company (business) I now partially own, as well as the company (people) I keep, it goes without saying that I most definitely have to up my game — particularly when it comes to whisky/whiskey.
As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I’ve been enjoying my whiskies since I was 15 or 16, thanks to very cool parenting and an elder sister with a great appreciation for the finer things in life. But, a connoisseur, I am not — though many seem to assume I am one because of who I’m with and because I seem to know what I’m doing most of the time (but that comes with my job, haha).
Not to say I’d like to start portraying or defining myself as one, but it’d be great to know what people are talking about and what these tasting notes mean more of the time. That ability to tell what whisky I’m drinking with just a whiff? Jeez, that’s magic! I may not be able to reach that level, but I would like to at least pull together similarities that will help me identify my whisky notes far better.
The great thing is that, whisky education is becoming such a big thing that there are actually certified programs now available here. Two that I know of are The Whisky Ambassador programme and The Whisky Academy. Now of course, I’m a little biased towards The Whisky Academy since I’ve actually gone for the course.
I’ve sat for 2 out of the 3 certified levels of The Whisky Academy, and am actually a certified “Whisky Journeyman” now. It’s an independent initiative by William Grant & Sons that delves into everything you’d need to know about whisky both as a consumer and even as an outlet/bartender/server. The first level, Whisky Apprentice, covers all the fundamentals from the distillation process, identifying whiskies from different countries (namely Scotland, Ireland and USA), the Scottish whisky regions, and even goes into how to serve and recommend whisky, which is great for those who are in the service industry. There are a couple of tastings in between, and you of course have to pass an theory + practical exam in order to get your certificate.
The Journeyman course is much more intensive as it involves a lot of theory and delves far deeper into the distillation process — going into detail about what some distilleries alter or do differently in order to achieve their ideal whisky flavour. For the exam, your palate and nosing skills are put to the test when you have to identify whiskies from the different regions of Scotland (along with some theory questions that are a mix of multiple choice and fill-in-the-blanks — felt like SPM all over again. Except with whisky).
One of the interesting parts about the Journeyman course is that one has to submit a “Progression Map” of your own whisky journey that indicates how you intend to improve your palate — which is a large part of what happens during the final level, Whisky Master. From what I gather, the Whisky Master level basically has you tasting a load of different whiskies and at the end of the session, being able to identify them during a blind tasting — or something similar. Lord knows when I’ll be ready for that level.
The Whisky Academy is definitely a course for whisky-lovers and connoisseurs alike. Even if you’re well-versed with whisky, you tend to always learn something new with each class, especially if you have super attentive classmates who ask a lot of questions. It’s a nice change from meeting these people in a bar or at a whisky event, gulping down drinks and trying to share tasting notes over music and chatter that’s just too damn loud. With The Whisky Academy, you’re given an interactive space to discuss with your peers as well as the Course Instructor.
Since both the courses, I’ve been a lot more comfortable in adding in my two cents when it comes to tasting/nosing notes at events or private tastings, no matter how ridiculous they sound. If my Course Instructor could smell “cat piss” in an Irish whisky, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at me for saying “it smells like fresh lemons”, even if they don’t. But the main issue I’ve noticed with my notes is… I have a very limited vocabulary of flavours and scents! Mainly because I generalize everything under one category, i.e. Nuts instead of Cashews, Macadamias, Peanuts, etc. I never realized how much that crippled my notes until sitting for Journeyman, when I could only describe each whisky as “sweet”, “smoky”, “salty”.
I don’t have the intention of moving on to the Whisky Master level any time soon, but I am still keen to develop my whisky palate to recognize flavours in more detail. And this blogspace is where I intend to document my notes. I will be posting them under a new category: Whisky Notes. Be sure to stay tuned!
In the meantime, do check out any of the above programmes to learn more about whisky and “up” your whisky knowledge like me 🙂 You won’t regret it, I assure you.