The Truth About Whisky Marketing School
It’s come to my attention that an internet uproar is in motion regarding the Whisky Marketing School, its value, and its credibility. Since the author of the original article didn’t contact us or any of our students to check the veracity of his information, I felt it was time to respond officially.
Who said you were allowed to train whiskey sommeliers?
The US Government and Wizard Academy are the accrediting bodies behind Whisky Marketing School. The Wizard Academy is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit and has been teaching business and marketing for almost two decades. CEO’s of some of the world’s largest companies, bestselling authors, and even a Nobel Prize Laureate have graced the halls of our school and made it their home and community.
We didn’t look to the existing industry for support or credibility because we wanted to build something they weren’t currently doing. In our experience, design by committee usually ends up creating camels instead of racehorses. However, we have a lot of respect for them and continue to use their books, teachings, and resources to help train our students. As often as possible, the money for those books and materials go straight to the authors instead of 3rd party retailers.
We started the Whisky Marketing School when we noticed a gap in the education and teaching direction of the existing industry certifications. Our school is just one piece of a well-rounded education for someone looking for a career in the whiskey industry.
Why are you so expensive?
Our prices reflect our background in business education versus our attempt to price match the typical service industry certification.
Most beverage and food certifications are priced fairly low. For $1,000 you can have your pick of some of the best whiskey training in the service industry.
In the service industry, we are expensive. In the business world we are not.
But we’re doing far more than a basic whiskey certification. Our graduates walk out the door with knowledge of food pairing science, marketing, event hosting, and business design. The price also includes a stay on campus for 3 nights surrounding class, having every single meal catered for the two days, and all whiskey expenses for the 36 whiskeys that are sampled during the official class hours and access to our 2200 bottle Whiskey Vault.
Why use the term Sommelier?
When we founded the school we spent a significant amount of time deciding what we wanted to call it. After much discussion and a look at the industry overall, we decided on the term “whiskey sommelier”.
The term sommelier originally began as French slang for “butler in charge of the wine cellar”, and eventually grew into wine expert. Because the English language is a fluid, living thing, it’s now commonly used as a term denoting expertise in a food or beverage category – which is why it isn’t a trademarked word.
We treat “sommelier” as a term for a knowledgeable drink steward. We specifically attach the word “whiskey” so as not to confuse our accreditation with the Master Court of Sommeliers that began certifying wine sommeliers in the 70’s in Europe and the 90’s in the US.
Beyond that, the worst marketing strategy is to invent a term that you have to explain. “Sommelier” is relatively understood to mean beverage expert, and that’s what we’re creating in the field of whiskey.
Who teaches the classes?
I do, for one. Other than my music and business background, I spent a cumulative 5+ years as a bartender. I’ve been obsessively studying whiskey for 20 years. I started the wine sommelier program and stopped when I realized I didn’t love wine as much as everyone else in the program did. It’s still an amazing program, and I learned from it my love of their deductive tasting methodology and understanding of sensory involvement. I am a founding member and current board member of the Texas Whiskey Association and am an owner of a Texas distillery called the Crowded Barrel Whiskey Co.
Kate Van Name spent several years in the professional education, certification, and testing industry and was the head of one of the world’s foremost certification companies. She has over 12 years of management and consulting experience in curriculum process and test development as well as credentialing in over 300 industry professions such as Healthcare, IT, Engineering, and Finance. Kate helped us format our classes, exams, and records in a way that was designed to meet the requirements of a world recognized certification program. Kate also ran consulting for vineyards and wineries in MD for several years. Her industry involvement included being in the Maryland Vineyard Association, Maryland Wine Association, and the VP of the Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws lobbying group.
Kate and her husband Joe both obtained Diplomas in Single Malt Scotch from the Edinburgh Whisky Academy, are avid investors in barrel projects and start-up distilleries, and own a company that provides guided tastings and food pairings for restaurants, private tasting events, and whiskey blending experiences as well as travel consulting and planning to distilleries in Scotland and Ireland.
Steve Rae has decades of experience in business development, marketing, radio, and communications. He was invited to become a member of our faculty because of his love of whiskey and his ability to communicate that category specific knowledge and business acumen to the students. He’s also an amazing teacher of public speaking and event planning.
Philip and Susan Prichard are of the “Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey” family and help teach the courses focused entirely on bourbon. They have spent years distilling and decades representing whiskey brands in the industry. Susan is a Stave and Thief Certified Bourbon Steward. They also own Whiskey Church Productions.
Chrissy Martin has been an influential and knowledgeable blogger, podcaster, and bourbon expert for years. She has a decade plus of experience in guided tastings, whiskey reviews, whiskey recipes, and industry training. Chrissy Martin is a Stave and Thief Executive Bourbon Steward. Chrissy also owns Lil Dab of Bourbon and hosts the podcast The Drinking Darlings.
Anthony Dina is currently a manager at Dell, but his heart’s focus and years of training are in the culinary world working with some of the world’s top chefs. He teaches the science of food, whiskey pairing, and the history of taste through the millennia.
Chris Maddock is an award-winning and world-renowned ad writer. He focuses on teaching marketing and ad writing to our students during our sessions. Ask his opinion of a particular whiskey, and he’ll likely say he needs to investigate further.
We haven’t designed the cocktail programs yet, but we already have several nationally recognized bartenders and mixologists waiting for us to add them into the higher level courses.
Who are our students?
In our current alumni list we have at least 6 distilleries represented, and over 70% of our graduates are employed at least part time in the whiskey industry. We hope to grow that number dramatically as the reach of the school increases.
We are currently three years old and have graduated almost 100 sommeliers.
Is this a two day turn and burn event?
You can take the first class without a decade of whiskey experience, but you may not pass. A general understanding of whiskey, the history, the categories, and the flavors will have you ready to go. We view the level one course as an education in the fundamentals of the whiskey category.
After level one, we have industry and experience requirements that have to be met before you can register and attend plus a minimum of six months between courses. As of right now, we are still building the level four and five certifications. If we are able to graduate any level fives by 2021 at the earliest, it will have taken them almost six years to complete the entire course. More likely closer to eight.
If anyone fails our written tests, they are allowed to return and retake it the next time we hold that course.
We believe you can have all the whiskey knowledge in the world, but if you can’t communicate it effectively – your expertise will never be fully understood or appreciated.
Yes, whiskey knowledge and tasting skills are cornerstones of our training, but the Whisky Marketing School is focused on more than that. By capturing attention, sharing relevant stories, and guiding people through an expertly crafted tasting, you’re providing an experience that commands respect and compensation.
What does your certification mean?
There are only two reasons to get a certification of any kind. Community and knowledge. If you already have both, you may not need it.
Our goal is that the majority (if not all) of our students can make a living in the whiskey industry if that is their desire. We don’t hand them a title and shove them out the door. We connect them with companies, industry resources, and other students to build their careers. We offer ongoing instruction and support during the time between classes.
If you’re looking for furthering education and a community of gracious and generous whiskey people, this is a great fit for you.
Who is it for?
Our class is for whiskey industry people and those who wish to be in the industry. it is designed specifically to help you build a business and a livelihood. There are plenty of other programs that are amazing and valuable. Many of our students have also graduated from those programs as they built their career.
If you’re looking for a more affordable but incredibly valuable education in the fundamentals, check out the Stave and Thief Bourbon Steward Program, Edinburgh Whisky Academy, or one of the many amazing programs put on by ADI and others.
Almost weekly I send people to these programs and recommend them over ours. It depends entirely upon what you’re trying to accomplish.
If nothing else, we live in a beautiful era where access to information is better than ever before. Read blogs, books, meet with others, check out events, and find a job in the industry. You don’t need a certification in the industry to be a badass in life.
So why the uproar?
Because people are human beings with human concerns and frailties.
And that’s an important thing to remember. All the people involved in this discussion are deserving of respect and consideration. We might disagree, but we’re not enemies.
Either way, we’ll be here for our people helping to create a more open and magnificent whiskey community. And our people will continue to make their companies more money, bring more people into the whiskey industry, and contribute to a gracious and open whiskey culture.
If you have any more questions, feel free to email me. My email is on our website where it’s been the whole time.