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Back to school … to know your whisky!

There are many ways to increase your knowledge about our favorite drink. One of them is reading books. Others are visiting whisky festivals, becoming a member of a whisky club, attending whisky tastings — or doing all of the above.

However, if you want to take it to a more in-depth level, you can ponder taking a full course at the Edinburgh Whisky Academy (EWA). Kirsty McKerrow founded it in 2015. She worked at the core of the whisky industry and, over time, acquired extensive knowledge about brand-neutral education. It wasn’t long before her brother Ian joined the firm.

Witness noblesse oblige — they are descendants of one of the pioneering whisky companies of the 19th century; the company even supplied Mackinlay Scotch Whisky for the epic Shackleton Expedition to the South Pole in the early 20th century (a story in itself, to be put on ice, ahem, for another whisky episode in the Mercury).

Kirsty and her team set out to create professional and independent courses. Their modules treat not only the appreciation of Scotch but also focus on history and production. Currently the EWA offers two courses at Arniston House: a Diploma in Single Malt Whisky, a two-day class; and a Diploma in the Art of Tasting Whisky, a one-day class.

Arniston House is a Palladian-style mansion situated south of Edinburgh, in rural Gorebridge. It was designed in 1726 by William Adam for the Dundas family who have been the owner of the estate since 1571. The current owner is Althea Dundas-Bekker who inherited the estate from her aunt May Dundas in 1970. Althea has done tremendous work in restoring the stately home with its grounds and is now assisted by her daughter, Henrietta. What better place than its country of origin to delve into the depths of Scotch whisky making, its history and how to taste it. Notwithstanding that Scotch exports are astronomical and annually add billions to the British Exchequer. Brexit or not, the world will continue to drink whisky.

If a trip to Edinburgh currently does not fit your budget or time-schedule, nae worries. The EWA also offers an online Introduction to Whisky Certificate that allows you to “attend” at your leisure and pace. Upon successful completion, you will earn a certificate. At the EWA’s request, your very own Whisky Couple assessed this course. We can heartily recommend it: It’s fun and entertaining at the same time. For this online course you don’t need in-depth knowledge of the subject … although obtaining a copy of the Field Guide to Whisky beforehand might help prime you for the task.

The material is presented in eight different modules — Historical Development, Business of Whisky, Raw Materials, Production Process, Batch Distillation, Maturation, Bottling and Grain Distillation and Blending. After each module one is offered the possibility to check what is learned by answering four questions – “earning” a little cask for each correct answer. The course material consists of written text, images, interactive segments and short video clips presented by Vic Cameron — one of the godfathers of whisky training, with whom we have the pleasure to lecture at the International Whisky School in Groningen. His Scottish lilt adds a special flavor to the presentation.

There are more whisky education courses out there, some also online. However, the EWA has distinguished itself from most by committing to an annual assessment by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). This means every year an external verification of the quality of all courses and lecturers is obtained. The EWA is the only center of whisky education fully accredited by the SQA.

And if whisky is not your tipple, no problem. The EWA also offers a one-day comprehensive course on gin, held at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh and taught by Geraldine Coates, the “First Lady of Gin” and author of various books on the subject.

In short: Liquor up your knowledge!

Want to know more? Check out:

Slainte Mhath,

The Whisky Couple

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