School Spirit


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Moonshine University’s Stave and Thief program was originally geared toward students within the hospitality industry. However, thanks to demand from passionate bourbon consumers, Moonshine U offered 25 one-day courses last year.

ARE YOU THE ONE OF YOUR FRIENDS WHO FINDS YOURSELF IN INTENSIVE CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR BARTENDER ABOUT THE OAK AGING OF BOURBON, WHILE EVERYONE ELSE HAS GONE BACK TO THE TABLE? Or perhaps you’ve been too shy to ask, but have always wanted to know what the difference is between a blended malt and a single malt?

You could continue teaching yourself—nothing wrong with that, of course—but there are a lot of myths out there that could mislead you. Colin Blake, director of education at Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky, has seen it all.

“I think one of the bigger misnomers when it comes to bourbon is that it has to be made in Kentucky,” he says, noting that while 95 percent of bourbon is made in state, there’s nothing that legally requires it to be so.

That’s one of the facts that you’ll learn in the one-day executive steward course he designed for their ultra-popular consumer education school offshoot, Stave and Thief. Demand for the course is so high that they’ve had to expand rapidly—a story that’s being replicated across the country, as more people get seriously into spirits.

There’s never been a better time to take a spirits education class, whether you’re a total novice, a passionate amateur or would-be distiller. The rising tide of interest in all-things-spirits means that—from courses geared toward recreational drinkers to hardcore workshops that help you with your distillery-opening business plan—there’s something out there for you.

Here are some of our picks:
Louisville, Kentucky’s Moonshine University originally offered bourbon certification classes geared toward hospitality professionals in the Stave and Thief program, but interest from passionate consumers soon took over; last year, they offered 25 one-day courses in four different cities. Do the online certification first to dip your toes in the water, then go whole hog with the all-day course, in which you will learn bourbon history, the distilling process, as well as take a sensory course with five to six flights of bourbon.

The curriculum is two-pronged: First, to make sure that every graduate can speak confidently and accurately about bourbon, and second, to make sure that the bourbon industry stays fun. For Blake, the director of education, that means no special tiers of accreditation.

“[The bourbon industry is inclusive and welcoming, and I didn’t want to see people breeding snobbery—what we see in the wine world,” Blake, says, of how he built the course.

On the menu in 2020: new spirits courses, including sessions on agave spirits and malt whiskey.

And if you find yourself super hooked, come back for the week-long professional level distilling courses at Moonshine University. Blake estimates that they’ve helped launch over 170 distilleries world- wide.

The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) is one of the most respected certification programs for wine professionals hoping to become sommeliers, ]

but the organization also has a spirits branch (as well as sake, if that’s more your speed). Level One will have you learning about the different styles of spirits, how to best serve them, as well as how to describe what you’re tasting. Level Two, which takes 14 hours of coursework, goes over production methods in more depth and further hones your tasting skills. Level Three, the top tier, will introduce you to a wider range of spirits and drill down on the factors that can affect how a spirit tastes. A two-and-a-half-hour exam at the end that covers theory and tasting will earn you a certificate, a lapel pin—and bragging rights (and could probably land you a job at a bar, if that’s your goal). Courses are offered around the world in various locations. Check the website to find a place and time that works for you.

For a course that doesn’t skimp on edu- cation—or luxury—consider heading to Cork, Ireland for a two-day Enthusiast course, which will give you an overview of the whole brewing process, as you follow the raw materials through brewing, distillation, aging, blending and bottling. You’ll also have a chance to taste a number of whiskeys and take home your own special bottle. Five-star accommodations and hosted meals in Cork’s top restaurants cushion the learning experience. If you’ve only got one day to spare, the Discover package will pack it all in quickly, or book a tour at the distillery for a quick drop in.

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