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1. How did you get into the spirits industry?
I got a job in a bar while I was at university in Wales. I had a lot of fun there, so decided to stay working in hospitality after studying. I later moved to Bristol and worked in a restaurant and then a cocktail bar. That’s when I really discovered spirits, as I didn’t drink much before then. Suddenly this whole world of cocktails opened up and I became interested in the history of spirits. From there, I wanted to learn more, but it was when I started working at East London Liquor Company that I discovered WSET. My manager at the time was taking the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines and I asked if I could do a course too. I liked the idea of getting a certificate! My boss told me to go for it.
2. Do you have a favourite spirit?
That’s a hard question! My go-to spirits are gin and whisky, because they’re easy to get hold of and work with at home. I love making martinis.
I’m also really interested in Asian spirits and Baijiu in particular, as I don’t like it yet. I Iove showing it to students because the way it’s produced is so different, as well as the flavours that come from it. What is seen as good in Baijiu is completely different from what westerners generally see as good. I like spirits that are a bit different.
3. Why do you think it’s important for people to learn more about spirits?
Everyone knows what they are putting in their bodies nowadays, but they don’t know about spirits. I was shocked at a recent rum tasting to learn that many guests didn’t know rum is made from sugar. If consumers that are interested in rum don’t know this, then what about barbacks and younger bartenders who are just making drinks and not being given any guidance on what’s in them? Knowledge is power, so I think it’s good when bars encourage their teams to do WSET courses.
4. What do you enjoy most about teaching at WSET School London?
I enjoy talking about spirits. It’s great to have students who are interested in spirits so we can geek out and have nerdy conversations.
5. What are your favourite topics to teach?
I love guiding blind tastings. A lot of students have assumptions that certain well-known spirits are not good quality, but during a blind tasting will say they’re outstanding. I love that moment when students realise that their preconceptions might be wrong about some brands.
6. Do you have any advice for people wishing to enter the drinks industry?
Network. Go and make your face seen at events.
Also, learn as much as you can. That’s the great thing about WSET – you don’t have to be in the industry to do it. Once you’ve got the qualification, you’ve got the knowledge in your pocket, you can put it on your CV and demonstrate to employers that you have put effort into learning about spirits.
7. What are your top tip(s) for passing WSET exams?
If only I had the perfect tip to help all my students pass the Level 3! The biggest thing I tell people who are struggling is that explaining a topic to someone else is the best way to learn. You can put sticky notes everywhere or rewrite the textbook, but I don’t think that massively helps. What does help is explaining the topics to someone else. That will show you where you’ve got gaps in your knowledge.
8. In your opinion, what is the future of the spirits industry?
The industry is going to have to become more environmentally sustainable. I think we will see the rise of non-barrel-aged spirits. The process is romantic, lovely, makes great spirits – and there’s no substitute for all the reactions that happen in the barrel to produce certain flavours. However, we’re going to have to adapt and change, and that includes the categories of spirits we currently recognise. One day there won’t be enough trees or water, we won’t have the right temperatures, or there will be too many fires. We’re seeing some of this already.
9. What is your dream job?
Teaching spirits. But I’d also like to have a bookshop… that has a bar… and a coffee shop… and a space to teach.
10. What is your proudest achievement?
Passing the WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits. I was privileged to be invited to do the pilot course, and put so much time and work into it. I spent six months reading the textbook and studying. When I passed, I was really proud to get distinction. I loved getting the certificate too!