With a passion for spirits and the science behind mixology, Sheniz Onen, Senior Account Executive at FSC, embarked on a WSET Level 2 Award in Spirits to learn more about the burgeoning category and wider cocktail culture.
My passion for the drinks sector meant I had a good amount of knowledge under my belt, mainly gained from working in the drinks industry for a number of years, learning from others plus my love for exploring London’s thriving bar scene. However, I was keen to discover more and explore the production process further from grain to glass. And there were some things which surprised me along the way.
Premiumisation – setting the standard
One of the questions asked on the course was ‘how do you set apart the good from the great?’. People define premiumisation in many ways. When tasting and determining different characteristics, flavours and aromas behind each spirit, I understood that sometimes this can be simply down to the individuals taste and palate.
It might be that when we shop in the supermarket we measure premiumisation on price point, branding or appearance, but the more complex the taste profile or characterful the amora, usually indicates this is a great bottle. A good example of this was when the group was getting to grips with grappa, an Italian grape-based pomace brandy which I was not so familiar with. Not a tipple of choice for everyone due to its distinctive profile and deep complexity, although it can most certainly be deemed ‘outstanding’ when tasting – due to its intense and dry, yet subtle sweet and floral notes.
Stills – all different shapes and sizes
There are stills of all different shapes and sizes; from pot stills to column stills all with the same aim, to select and concentrate alcohols and congeners – which hold the flavour. While filtering a liquid through a tall column still usually delivers a neutral spirit of a high ABV, using a pot still with a swan neck, typically used when distilling cognac, delivers a light and clean spirit. Who knew every curve and even the material had such an impact on the final flavour of the liquid? Distilling is such an intricate and complex process, after exploring it in more detail, it’s given me a different level of appreciation.
Colouring – tasting with our eyes
It’s true what they say, we taste with our eyes, however this is also the case with what we drink too. We can judge a spirit from the bottle it’s contained in, but also the colour too. One of my favourite spirits, rum, starts as a clear spirit – typically used as light rum. However, rum’s darker side is coloured with caramel (not the flavour) not only to enhance shelf appeal but also used as a marketing tool. Darker spirits are usually associated with being aged for a longer time, therefore giving it a more ‘premium’ look and feel.
The wonder of Armagnac
We tasted many spirits from vodka to rum to pisco, but one of the spirits I was most surprised by was Armagnac. A fuller-bodied, perhaps more rustic style of brandy when compared to Cognac – it is often aged for many years and makes an excellent digestif. This is due to the distillation process, Cognac goes through two rounds of distillation in pot stills, while Armagnac only goes through one in a column still – the more you distil a liquid, the more you strip it of its ‘characterful’ flavours.
Served on its own with ice or used as a base to a cracking cocktail such as an Old Fashioned with a twist or even with soda and lime, I think it is an underestimated spirit and one which should perhaps be celebrated and savoured more.
While the WSET Level 2 was a challenging course, I’m pleased to say I passed with flying colours and it has further broadened my understanding of this complex category.