The Wine & Spirit Education Trust is on a drive to increase the trade’s knowledge of the burgeoning spirits category by overhauling its courses and trying to boost student numbers. 

It has been running wine courses since 1969 but standalone spirits courses only began in 2002, so are relatively late to the party. 

Spirits accounted for 4% of the 72,000 courses the WSET ran in the 2015-16 academic year, 17,000 of which were in the UK. 

Graham Cox, UK business development director at the WSET, told DRN: “The spirits industry has evolved in a very creative and exciting way and we are now starting to reflect that in our courses. 

“The creativity around drinks and cocktails has really struck a chord with consumers, so there are increased knowledge and skill levels in the industry.

“We have relaunched the Level 1 with a really colourful and well laid out study guide and, from August, we will be relaunching the materials for Level 2.”

Up until the 2002-03 academic year, spirits formed a small part of the overall WSET courses, which went into much greater detail on wine. 

The organisation realised spirits was a very different proposition to understanding the complexity of wine and launched the standalone courses, but now it is really ramping up the focus as the craze for cocktails and mixology shows no signs of abating.

Previously the Level 2 spirits textbook doubled up as the spirits section of the WSET Level 4 Diploma, so the WSET has put together a new textbook that is entirely fit for purpose. 

Cox said: “We are trying to lay some key foundations to allow us to build [the number of spirits students] over the next few years. 

“There are some fabulous spirits brands out there but getting them to the end user in a way that adds value requires investment and training. We have got both our Level 1 and 2 textbooks up to date and big spirits companies have looked at our materials and given some very good feedback.

“The new academic year starts in August and we are supporting the industry by offering a compelling argument where everyone gets more value out of the whole proposition.”

Cox added: “There are already people [educating the trade] on an informal basis. 

“Big companies have brand ambassadors educating customers and consumers about their brands, and that is an important part of a wider palette of learning that goes on. 

“What the WSET gives people and has been doing in wine for nearly 50 years is a recognised qualification over a number of levels that gives the capability to interact with confidence when selling products to customers. 

“The qualifications are regarded as worldwide benchmarks in wine and spirits. Around the world there is a wide recognition that if you hold a WSET qualification it is an indication of your level of expertise.

“Every course we put together is structured to modern educational objectives.”