How to Become a Whiskey Sommelier

When I first meet someone the conversation usually goes like this:

“Hi, I’m Zac.”

“Nice to meet you. What do you do?”

“I’m a Whiskey Sommelier.”

“What’s that?”

At this point, I’ll explain what I wrote you in this article. Once I’m done laying out what a whiskey sommelier is, the next words out of their mouth are, “So how do you become a whiskey sommelier?”

The answer is simple, really. Go to whiskymarketing.org and sign up for a level one class. If you live in Austin, Texas, all you’ll need are two days, four thousand dollars, and duct tape. (The duct tape is for wrapping around your head because your mind will be blown.) If you live anywhere else in the world, then you’ll still need the four thousand dollars and duct tape. Just add two more days for travel. That’s it!

Now, I realize that four thousand dollars isn’t exactly spare change. You’d probably like a preview from someone who’s been, right? Right. So here’s whiskey school from my perspective.

First, let me tell you about rooming and food. The student mansion is nestled on the side of a rocky hill. There’s a stone tiled courtyard that has more chairs and tables than the number of people who can stay there. There’ll always be a seat for you to sit in and enjoy the cool Texas night air. With tan stucco and stone, your room feels like a Spanish mission complimented with old world style wooden furniture. It’s like walking into the pages of Don Quixote.

Breakfast is help yourself from a fully stocked kitchen. Lunch and dinner are catered and I always look forward to the food. Now, just so we’re clear, this isn’t feed five hundred people mac-n-cheese kind of catering. No, no. This is stick to your ribs, better than home-cookin’, give you the food sweats kind of catering. Which is perfect for soaking up all the whiskey you’ll be drinking.

Speaking of whiskey, you’ll try at least thirty-six because that’s how many whiskeys are part of the curriculum. Twelve trio tastings spread out over two days. Honestly, though, if you don’t try more than that, then you’re not doing it right. I mean, there’s a whiskey vault with over seven hundred whiskeys!

During class, you’ll learn whiskey history, law, and classification because you need to know that stuff. But if all you got at whiskey somm school was head knowledge, then they’d be letting you down. That’s why you’ll also be instructed by masters of public speaking, writing, and presentation. You’ll learn how to take all that knowledge and use it in a way that’ll delight and mesmerize your audiences. Knowledge plus practical training equals magic.

What are the instructors like? They’re unlike any teachers you’ve ever had. You’ll learn more in two days from them than in a year anywhere else. Does that mean they’re taskmasters driving the class hard like a twenty mule team? Not even close. If you’d like to get a taste of their personalities, check out Daniel’s YouTube channel here. Daniel is the Vice Chancellor of the school.

Is whiskey sommelier school something you have to study for before you arrive? Nope. Each of the five levels is a beginning, not a destination. That means graduation is not your arrival as an expert, but rather the start of a new path. You’ll leave with all the tools you need to continue learning and growing.

There are some other tricks they have hidden up their sleeve, but I won’t ruin the surprise.

— Zac Smith

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