Is there a vocational or intellectual discipline which you very much desire to show your superior knowledge and mastery of? Do you agree that a title beside one’s name absolutely ensures one’s thorough aptitude of said subject? Does the idea of paying a significant sum of money to be afforded the privilege of studying and sitting for a test appeal to you? Are you intensely desirous of owning an expensive piece of flimsy paper that you will promptly file in the same dusty portable safe that also houses your birth certificate and high school diploma? Would you prefer to follow another person’s syllabus as opposed to learning through direct, immersive experience? If your answer to the preceding questions is a resounding “yes” then a pursuing a certification may be the right fit for you!
For those less literate in smart-assery, I am NOT a proponent of whiskey certifications. Especially those costing upwards of 4 figures – Whisky Marking School I’m looking at you! The best, most valuable education is gained through sampling a diverse range of whiskies (be open minded!), talking to your whiskey-enthusiast peers, and reading educational whiskey resources (although always with a heavy grain of salt). Saying all this I will admit that I have previously invested what I felt to be a nominal amount of time and money in order to obtain the “Bourbon Steward Certification”. While I do not consider it to be essential whiskey education, I have been asked quite a few times what my overall thoughts were on the program. The following sections are my attempt to provide an honest, unbiased overview on the course material and certification itself.
A little over a year ago I was introduced to the existence of “Moonshine University” and the “Bourbon Steward Certification”. Soon afterwards I found myself perusing through the course catalog of Moonshine University. Per their website, they offer a “Executive Bourbon Steward” course which runs the length of one day at the university, which is located in Louisville, and costs the participant $500 along with additional travel costs for out-of-towners. I quickly dismissed this option and settled on the study-at-your-own-pace program titled “Bourbon Steward Certification” (same title except sans the word ’Executive’). The Bourbon Steward course is part of the Stave and Thief Society program and allows you to order the handbook for study, and then take a corresponding test online.
The Stave and Thief Society created by the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, which is “an artisan distillery and education center purpose-built to support the distilling and spirits industry through hands-on training and education. Their faculty consists of over 50 industry experts, from master distillers of the world’s most successful brands to the owners and operators of the leading craft distilleries.” The Bourbon Steward certification was developed with the goal of standardizing bourbon education. Additionally, the Kentucky Distiller’s Association (KDA) recently adopted the Bourbon Steward Certification as their “official bourbon certification course”.
Ordering the Book
The Bourbon Steward handbook is purchased through the Stave and Thief website and cost me $60 plus shipping (the shipping was around $15). The 2nd edition, which was the most up-to-date version at the time I ordered it, is a paperback booklet consisting of 47 pages. On the inside of the back cover is a unique code that you will need in order to take the test online once you are ready.
The information is laid out in a concise, easy to read, matter of fact manner (save for one low-key snarky paragraph that cracked me up). Throughout the book you will find several infographics, charts and templates. At the end of each chapter is a small review page that lays out key terms from the chapter. You will, of course, also find a few review questions in this section.
The beginning of the book provides a high level summary of the different classifications of whiskey, not just bourbon. In this section you will also learn about the critical rules and regulations governing bourbon production and classification. Throughout the rest of the chapters you will learn about (or be reintroduced to) the process of producing bourbon, maturation and blending of barrels, a timeline and summary of key events in bourbon history, how to arrange a bourbon flight, the distillers and brands of Kentucky bourbon, and several other things I am likely overlooking.
At the time I took the test it consisted of 27 questions, 25 of which were multiple choice. The remaining 2 questions were free response writing prompts pertaining to the bourbon flight you arranged. While it keeps track of the amount of time it takes you to complete the test, there is not a time limit. Additionally, you only have 2 attempts to pass the test. I’m assuming that if you fail twice you would need to order a new handbook that has a new unique code to retake the test. Once you pass the test you receive a pin in the mail that you can wear around town and brag to people about.
Overall, I think this self-study program would be acceptable for individuals who are:
1) People new to bourbon that want an easy to follow introduction to bourbon.
2) People in the hospitality business that want a foundational knowledge of bourbon and to be able to share that knowledge and enthusiasm with their customers.
Because this is a remote course, you obviously will not be able to go into depth on nosing and tasting bourbon. However, this handbook provides some guidance on trying to identify flavor and aroma components in bourbon.
My feelings on this self-study certification are fairly neutral. It provides a concise, easily-digestible, structured education on bourbon basics at a cost that is not exorbitant. But for those well-versed in the world of bourbon, it is unlikely to provide much information you don’t already know or had learned at one time.