Imbibe reviews WSET's Level 2 Award in Spirits

Kate Malczewski

Kate Malczewski

19 June 2019

Having a base knowledge of distillation methods and spirits categories is crucial for both bartenders and sommeliers. Kate Malczewski gets a taste of WSET’s Level 2 Award in Spirits course

Even if you work with spirits every day crafting cocktails or recommending after-dinner pours, you might not know the distillation techniques behind the liquids on your back bar or the raw materials that make them taste the way they do. This knowledge can be instrumental in choosing the right tequila to use in your serve or the ideal whisky to upsell to that high-rolling table – so isn’t it time you sat down for some formal spirits training?

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has just the course. Its Level 2 Award in Spirits covers the production methods of a range of spirits and liqueurs, walking you through tastings so you can understand how production impacts flavour.

Win a spot on WSET's Level 2 Award in Spirits course

In celebration of the launch of its much-anticipated Level 3 Award in Spirits, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is giving away two places on a Level 2 Award in Spirits course at its WSET School London, in a competition open exclusively to readers of Imbibe. Find the full details on how to enter here.

I took the course over three consecutive days earlier this year, along with a group of students that included bar owners, drinks writers, drinks trade professionals and a few thirsty consumers. We had the privilege of being taught by Hannah Lanfear, former bartender extraordinaire and now one of the WSET’s spirits educators (not to mention Imbibe’s Educator of the Year 2019).

Getting schooled

Lanfear kicked off our intensive spirits session by explaining WSET’s systematic approach to tasting, which equipped us with the language to talk about the aromas and flavours of the liquids we were about to taste. Next, we got a foundation in the key steps of distillation. By the time we delved into specific spirits categories, we’d already established a solid base knowledge of the variety of production methods used to make them.

There is no better way to understand the differences between rye and bourbon or tequila añejo and reposado than to try them side by side

Chapter by chapter, discussion by discussion, we made our way through fruit spirits, whisky, tequila, rum, vodka and more. At the end of each section, we nosed and tasted various styles of the spirit in question – there really is no better way to understand the differences between rye and bourbon or tequila añejo and reposado than to try them side by side.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the course was Lanfear’s lesson on cocktails. Her explanation of classic cocktail families was rich with anecdotes of the drinks’ origins, giving them context and bringing them to life. And that was before she shook up a few drinks for the class...

It’s a date

Keen to further your spirits education? Find your local course provider and book a Level 2 Award in Spirits course near you at, and check out all of WSET’s upcoming courses at

But even for members of the drinks trade who already know their cocktail history, WSET’s Level 2 Award in Spirits course is an excellent resource. It offers the opportunity to fill in any gaps in your expertise and practice your tasting technique in an educational environment.

The Level 2 Award culminated in a multiple-choice exam that put our knowledge to the test – WSET is saving the blind-tasting exam for the Level 3 Award in Spirits course, coming this autumn. Looks like we’ll be back in the classroom soon enough.

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