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Looking for a new educational activity from the comfort of your own home? Take advantage of the increasing number of tools that are becoming available in the liquor space.
If you want to learn more about spirits, several platforms provide comprehensive instruction and courses. Your deep dive will consist of everything from cocktail basics to bartending essentials, giving you more confidence in your techniques and serving skills.
Whether you're looking for professional development or just want to learn more about the spirits industry, online classes will give you the chance to learn from top-tier instructors, bar mentors, and drink aficionados. Regardless of your goals, you will likely need to take a variety of exams to earn the certification of your choosing.
Best Online Spirits Classes of 2023
- Best Overall: BarSmarts
- Best International: Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
- Best Mentorship: JERRY
- Best Prestige: Society of Wine Educators - Certified Specialist of Spirits
- Best for Whiskey Lovers: The Council of Whiskey Certified Specialist Programs
Best Overall : BarSmarts
Created by world-renowned liquor empire Pernod Ricard, BarSmarts provides cocktail enthusiasts with essential bartending training and knowledge, which they can study and complete at their own pace.
An industry standard, offering in-depth history and knowledge about cocktails
Flexible, go-at-own-pace approach
Can be time-consuming
Program may be challenging for those preferring hands-on learning
BarSmarts is one of the go-to spirits education platforms for bartenders and is designed to provide its students with a comprehensive foundation for any and all gigs. This resource was originally created for Pernod Ricard, but it has since become an industry standard.
The company offers two options to choose from, BarSmarts Basic, an introductory course, and a more in-depth option, BarSmarts Professional. The introductory course discusses the basics of spirits and liqueurs (and how they are produced) along with service and bartending essentials. BarSmarts offers training involving tasting methods, spirits production and history, cocktail fundamentals from the 1800s to the present day, and management techniques.
A third concept, Staff Certified, allows establishments—whether they are currently open or not—to provide both BarSmarts programs to their staff members and track participants’ progress throughout. These programs consist of videos, a written workbook, and various exams.
Upon registration, you’ll be able to take the course at your own pace. BarSmarts courses are around $29 each.
Best International : Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
WSET is an internationally recognized, rigorous program designed for wine, spirit, and sake enthusiasts and professionals, with participation locations around the world and online for convenient learning.
Detailed online dashboard with interactive forums, lessons, and quizzes
Student-driven completion timeline within the course dates
Access to educator for feedback during course
Advanced course exams must be taken in person
Beverage samples are not included in course fee
Since 1969, Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has become a household acronym for professionals in the industry across over 70 countries. With a Wine & Spirit Education Trust accreditation, students have the advantage of a trusted name to back up their knowledge and skill set.
Now, with an amped-up online learning experience, WSET is offering its various wine, spirits, and sake classes through more than 800 providers in multiple languages. Depending on your location, you will need to find which third-party teaching and examination centers near you offer instruction.
For spirits, WSET offers three award levels, most of which are available online. Level 1 is a hands-on crash course for beginners and covers primary spirit categories from an all-around sensory perspective, while the more intermediate Level 2 ventures into spirit production methods, along with serving and cocktail fundamentals and technique.
Both levels include a patented tasting approach and a final exam, and the time commitment ranges from six to 84 hours. Graduates receive a certificate of completion and a lapel pin.
Costs vary based on the provider you choose.
Best Mentorship : JERRY
Inspired by famed 19th-century American bartender Jerry Thomas, JERRY offers programs for professional bar and restaurant individuals, including courses on hospitality and beverage management, building client rapport, and responsible alcohol serving practices.
Tests can be retaken until participant passes
Participants must be self-starters
Choosing between a monthly subscription or bundle may be confusing
Named for one of the liquor world’s original icons, Jerry Thomas, JERRY acts as a digital bar mentor, giving service professionals a modern and accessible means of learning on their computer, tablet, or phone at their own pace.
With the help of world-renowned industry talent, this program focuses on important subjects like hospitality, beverage, prep, sustainability, responsible service, ethics, management, and more. JERRY's educational offering is a holistic approach broken down into 15 to 40-minute courses, featuring reading materials and videos. Plus, each JERRY course features a guided activity to help you apply what you have learned to the workplace.
When you have completed certain courses, certificates will be available to you.
You can either purchase a JERRY subscription, which costs $149 per year, and provides unlimited access to a library of courses across its core topics; a bundle; or you can purchase each course separately for around $20 each.
Best Prestige : Society of Wine Educators - Certified Specialist of Spirits
For those spirit aficionados who are looking to advance their credentials by passing the prestigious Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS), a Society of Wine Educators membership and resource account may be a match.
Access to networking events and free webinars
Variety of study resources
Exam can be taken at home and scheduled with proctor
CSS study guide purchased separately
Program and study materials are expensive
By joining the Society of Wine Educators (SWE), beverage pros and enthusiasts have access to a large selection of perks, including prep materials for exams like the Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS).
The one-hour CSS exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions. There are no prerequisites required to take it. Achieving a score of 75% or better allows you to use the CSS post-nominal as part of your professional signature. Once you have passed, you will receive a certificate to frame and a CSS lapel pin.
For approximately $135 a year, the Professional level membership is more cost-efficient than one introductory WSET course—a worthy investment, considering the return of the program and the prestige attached to the SWE name. Still, the exam itself comes at an additional cost, as do the study materials. There is no cost for an actual course, however.
While study material costs are the same for members and non-members, members pay about $525 for the CSS exam, while non-members pay approximately $850 (those savings alone means the annual membership cost pays for itself).
As a member of the SWE, you’ll also be privy to its online Wine and Spirits Academies, both of which are free to members at the Professional level (as long as you hold a current exam attendance credit). These platforms provide certificate students with plenty of literature around their chosen subject, plus graded quizzes, exercises, and more.
Best for Whiskey Lovers : The Council of Whiskey Certified Specialist Programs
Designed for whiskey experts around the globe, receiving one of the Whiskey Certified Specialist Program accreditations or reaching for a Master program is considered top of the field.
Exams can be done via proctor at home
Designed specifically for whiskey
Costly and extra fees for retesting
Master level class exams are in-person
The Council of Whiskey Masters is dedicated to bringing remote education to whiskey lovers everywhere. Become a certified expert online through the organization’s Certified Scotch, Bourbon, and Whiskey Specialist programs.
There are no prerequisites for the Scotch or Bourbon courses, but a student must pass either the Certified Scotch or Bourbon Professional exam in order to enroll in the Certified Whiskey Specialist program.
The Scotch and Bourbon programs (Level I) cover history, production methods, tasting, regions, distilleries, and more. The Whiskey Specialist exam (Level II) spans both subjects while delving into other categories and regions including North America, Ireland, and Japan.
The cost for the Scotch and Bourbon programs start around $395 each, and the Whiskey course is about $495. Note: There are additional fees if you do not pass on your first try.
The Council of Whiskey Masters also offers online exams for Certified Scotch Professional, Certified Bourbon Professional, and Certified Whiskey Specialist courses. These exams are remotely proctored and do not allow any study material to be present in your space when conducting the exam.
Completion of the Certified Whiskey Specialist program is required for participation in the Master of Scotch course, which must be completed in order to enroll in the Master of Whiskey program. The Master-level exams are completed in person in either Kentucky or Scotland.
The exam panels of the two Masters programs will be overseen by Keepers and Masters of the Quaich for the first two years of the program, and as the first 10 Masters of Scotch are named, they will assume these roles and oversee subsequent exams.
If you’re looking to become an accredited whiskey expert at one of the highest levels available, aim for the Master levels.
Whether you are dipping your toe in the water and want to learn some basic cocktail crafting at home or if you are a mixologist and want to hone your craft, finding an online spirits class can improve your knowledge and skills. Taking a course in the comfort of your home can be appealing to those who are searching for education in spirits. And, depending on what exactly you're interested in, there are myriad platforms to choose from. Receiving accolades and having well-known accreditation from BarSmarts, all while going at your own pace at home, may feel like the right fit. WSET, on the other hand, has beginner classes with access to personalized instructional help.
What Is an Online Spirits Class?
An online spirits course is a virtual classroom dedicated to teaching you all there is to know about certain spirit categories. You can take classes that focus on one specific style, such as The Council of Whiskey Masters’ Certified Specialist Programs in scotch, bourbon, and the broad whiskey category, or you can go for a more holistic approach like the Wine & Spirits Education Trust’s various certification levels, which cover a ton of ground. Online spirits classes are an excellent learning option for active bartenders and aficionados alike.
Can I Get a Certification Through an Online Spirits Class?
Yes, there are many online spirits classes that offer a certificate upon successful completion — for example, the Society of Wine Educators and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust both offer certificates that hold considerable weight in the industry.
What’s the Difference Between an Online Spirits Class and an Online Bartending Class?
A spirits class, whether online or in-person, focuses specifically on one or more spirit(s) and covers everything from history and the distillation process to styles and tasting. Online bartending classes mainly concentrate on teaching students how to make a great drink, along with service standards and tips and tricks to use behind the bar. Online spirits classes, especially those that offer certification, often cost more than online bartending classes.
In a world that’s constantly adapting to digital capabilities, there are plenty of online learning resources, though not all are as widely known, revered, or accessible as others. The offerings on this list were chosen because they ticked one box or the other (or a combination thereof) in order to cater to all experience levels, budgets, backgrounds, and objectives. We also wanted to target fans of specific spirits, so we included top courses that would appeal to whiskey and wine lovers.