My cousin is a certified wine sommelier and I often wondered if there was such a thing for bourbon. Turns out there is, and Moonshine University which has a curriculum for craft distillers founded the Stave and Thief Society for certifying bourbon stewards, the English word for Sommelier.
So, I checked out the website and opted for the basic certification. I wanted to see if after a few years of study and distillery tours I could pass the test. They sent me a study guide with a code to take an online test. The materials didn’t have much I hadn’t read elsewhere but it is a pretty neat book with a lot of technical information about bourbon, how it is different from other whiskies, the various legal requirements for bourbon and other whiskies, how bourbon is made and what elements have an effect on the flavor profile. At the end of the book you have to create your own flight of three bourbons, describe all three in great detail, and provide tasting notes on nose, palate, mouthfeel and finish.
Once you do all that, you take an online exam of 25 multiple choice questions, some of which I have to admit were kind of tough because they had to do with other whiskies that were covered in the material; specifically there was an eclectic question solely related to Irish whiskey and one on Canadian. I knew the Irish whiskey question before I studied the material because of my research I did for my Tullamore DEW post. But the Canadian one, if I hadn’t really studied everything in the workbook I would have missed this because Canadian is not my thing.
The exam concludes with two essays about the virtual flight of three bourbons you created in the workbook. The first essay is describing the bourbons with tasting notes. So, someone is going to subjectively grade you on whether you know what you are talking about when you taste a bourbon. The last essay is to describe what this flight would show someone you were trying to educate about bourbon. The unifying theme of your flight. What could someone learn about bourbon from tasting these three whiskies. Because being a bourbon steward is what the name implies. Bourbon servant, not pompous expert. Bourbon apostle, not bourbon snob. Do you have the ability to share the joy of bourbon with others in a knowledgeable and approachable way.
I am a lawyer with two university degrees and a tested certification in a specialized area of law. I can study and pass tests. But I was really worried about the essays. An industry expert was going to read what I wrote and decide subjectively whether I should be certified as not only a bourbon expert but an educator. Now, friends and family have said I am good at this, and I got rave reviews for a scotch tasting I put together last year for some friends. But now I was going to be graded by a professional who does this stuff for a living. The first question is whether your palate is worthy. The second is whether you can teach others about bourbon.
Well, I passed. 100%.
I just wanted to see if I could do it. I’m not going to quit practicing law and get involved in the drinks industry. But it feels good to know maybe I could do that.
So, I am now a Certified Bourbon Steward of the Stave and Thief Society.