Anyone have an opinion on pursuing the WSET 3 Award for Spirits or the SWE Certified Specialist of Spirits?

Anyone have an opinion on pursuing the WSET 3 Award for Spirits or the SWE Certified Specialist of Spirits? Which path might be better and why?

  • Evan,

    The SWE CSS is awesome - so many tools, many free like the quiz app and the online study class with Miss Jane Nickles is included in the cost of the exam - new minimal cost study tools in digital formats check out all the details on the website  It’s a great course & credential- highly recommended!!

    Meg Hansen CSW, CSS

  • Gotta agree with Margaret here - and while the WSET course and educational process is pretty great in its own right, the CSS is aggressive nerding - the kind most of us on this site like - only overkill for some. Every other point Miss Hansen makes is on-point!


  • What's your general trajectory? Just want additional courses or is it for something else down the line like Advanced Sommelier?

  • Definitely moving forward with pursuing the Advanced.

  • Awesome! Thank you for the insight.

  • Right on! I have a background in bartending and mixology, and always loved learning about spirits.

  • Then WSET. Most people I know who have passed the Advanced well have or are working on the Diploma.

  • re: Miquel

    CSS is certainly Advanced+ knowledge of spirits, whereas WSET4 Diploma is excellent prep on the wine side.  I'd highly recommend both if you have the time, bandwidth, and budget.

  • Both WSET3 Spirits and SWE CSS are great if interested in the overall Spirits category.

    But if interest is focused on Whisk(e)y, check out The Council of Whiskey Masters,

    Certifications via a Scotch and Bourbon track (CSP and CBP), then an advanced level for global whiskeys (CWS), and then a master level (SM, or WM).

    The program is fairly new, and backed by some 20+ respected members of the whiskey industry.

  • I just passed the WSET 3 spirits course November in Las Vegas and highly recommend this path if you are interested in the science behind production and understanding the chemistry taking place within different still types. I have studied the CSS book for years and also like the information presented but there is not as deep of a dive into the chemical processes and still variances that lead to flavor, texture and aromas. Rob McCaughey is an excellent teacher and the course was an incredible learning experience.

  • I didn't do WSET 3 Spirits, though I was just in the last batch of Diploma graduates with a Spirits unit. I also did SWE certs including CSS and found that MUCH more in-depth than the Diploma spirits unit, for what it's worth. Plus, SWE offers an even higher Spirits certification, the CSE, Certified Spirits Educator. And as people have mentioned, their online materials are FANTASTIC; quizzes, Miss Jane's classes, flashcards, the works. Personally, I found the SWE support system much richer and deeper vs. WSET too. But there is no tasting portion to the CSS exam, although they encourage practical study. I suppose either would help you with advanced, but I'm partial to SWE!

  • HI Evan 

    As a disclaimer I work at WSET and was heavily involved with the production of Level 3 Spirits course. 

    There have been a few people talking about Diploma Unit 4 (Spirits) which was removed in August 2019, this unit 4 is not the equivalent to the Level 3 Spirits. The Level 3 spirits is a much higher level course. The focus at Level 3 is not just the acquisition of knowledge, but also the application of that knowledge. So yes while there will be questions asking you to recall knowledge, the most difficult and challenging part will be the Short Written Answers which ask learners to display knowledge, comprehension and explanation / application. 

    WSET does not specialise in one spirit category, rather we provide a global perspective and put all the categories into perspective. So you will learn about the Asian spirits in particular. 

    The main difference is that at Level 3 Spirits you will be asked to explain and apply your knowledge not just regurgitate facts. There is also an additional tasting component where the focus is not so much the identification of the spirit (though you do have to do that), but a description of the spirit (using a Systematic Approach to Tasting- the WSET 'grid') and an assessment of quality. So long as you are a reasonably good taster, the description is fine, where students struggle is articulating the quality level of the spirit. Quality arguments are integral into all WSET courses, and so learners are tested on this. 

    The best place to find out about the course is on the wsetglobal website and reading the specification which covers everything that you will learn and be tested on. 



  • Thank you, Jorn! This has piqued my interest! 

  • Thanks so much for the info, Chris!

    I recently sat for the WSET 3 Award in Wine, and though I am ultimately pursuing a path with the Court, this is another interest/passion of mine which I want to develop. I will look into it!