Q&A: PREPPING FOR UNIT 4 SPIRITS & UNIT 1 COURSEWORK ASSIGNMENT

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Q: Hi Rachel, I'd love to hear your suggestions on how to tackle forming a study plan for Unit 4 and the Unit 1 essay assignment.

I'd also like to hear your recommendations for how much reading you did beyond the WSET provided materials for Unit 4, and how much you felt that reading (or lack thereof) contributed to your pass with distinction?

A: Thanks for your questions! Here are my thoughts on studying for Unit 4 and prepping for the Unit 1 coursework/essay assignment.

Coursework Assignment

I found the research for the coursework assignment was so much fun (more than writing or editing the essay), so I spent about a week doing lots of reading. The most important part is tracking your sources as you research. That way you don't have to muddle through later trying to remember where you got what info for your quotes and citations. 

I added the extension Tab-Snap to my browser, so that I could open lots of windows at once, then email myself the list of links when I was done for the day. It makes it so much easier for when you need to assemble your source list. I would add my own subtitles to the emailed list and keep all my sources in a Unit1Sources.doc:

For example, my email to myself would look like this for each source link:

(date last accessed - source material description - link): Oct 31, 2017 - historic gin recipe with earliest known gin bottling - link.example.link

For older book sources online, google books was great, just be sure to list the page numbers, author, title etc you reference when keeping track. WSET likes to see a broad range of sources - magazines, books, news articles, you can even look up and request an MW thesis if you find one on your topic. I also did an in person interview with a subject matter expert and recorded it, then used a quote from him in my paper. 

Unit 4 Spirits

Unit 4 reading that I found particularly useful beyond WSET provided info (these three are the books that I found most contributed to passing with distinction):

~Dave Broom Rum - it’s an older book, but fun pictures and descriptions of the different islands’ rums which really brought the subject to life for me

~Dave Broom World Atlas of Whisky - you don’t need to read all the write-ups of the distilleries, but I loved how he explained the distilling process and different styles and regions here

~I was lucky that my coursework assignment was on Gin, which has a fascinating history, so I read lots of books. The one I found most useful for studying was the Gin: the Manual, again by Dave Broom. The first 50 pages in particular give a concise summary of this spirit. (Maybe I should buy stock in Dave Broom!)

~For the Spirits unit, I found video particularly helpful in studying. Many of the distillation techniques and processes sound very academic and sometimes confusing on paper, but watching them on video helped me recall the details during the exam and when studying. If you visit my youtube page, I’ve made playlists of videos for each of the spirits. The ones on whisky are particularly good! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKUKyUZYTBY9Horl27LSTGg

~If you have a distillery nearby, especially with nice distillation equipment, I’d recommend arranging a tour, as seeing it in person really helps.

~Tasting: I did buy all the spirits on the WSET list. Luckily the flavours in spirits are so distinct, it makes the tasting portion of the exam easier. Especially if you have your theory down pat, it can make describing quality and identifying the spirit easier.

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

WSET DIPLOMA DIARY: PHILIP GOODBAND, SPIRITS & GLOBAL BUSINESS

 I'm becoming rather fond of this peach pouf

I'm becoming rather fond of this peach pouf

April passed in a blur of rainshowers followed by glorious Vancouver sunshine. Birds are chirping on those sunny mornings, and the lilacs are in bloom.

I was in Vegas earlier this month, followed by a two day session in Calgary on the global business of wine led by Master of Wine Philip Goodband. The class is prepping for both the Global Business as well as the Spirits units of the WSET Diploma, the last exams we’ll need to take before the big final comes up in January.

To prep for the Spirits unit, I visited the biggest liquor store in the city armed with quite a list of spirits and liqueurs to buy.  These will be used for blind tastings to help me prepare for the exam. I now have the best equipped bar on the block, but a bit of a shame because most of it will be used for practice and not for enjoying in a cocktail.

Tasting spirits, I must admit, is not quite as pleasurable as tasting wine! You know when you’ve got a rum and coke, and towards the end it may be a little hot out, and the drink is now mainly rum and water… well that’s a little like tasting watered down rum. We pour it into our ISO glass, check out the color, then water it down about 50% before smelling and tasting, so that we don’t burn out our nose and palate. The water can help bring out some of the aromatics too (before we spit it out). Mmmmm, watered down vodka and gin! The plus side is that studying the spirits is fascinating, lots for history buffs to love.

The big news for the month was that I was honored with a scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier towards my wine studies. What a thrill to toast the news with a glass of wine among such incredible women.

A fun event to dress up for, the BC Wine Appreciation Society (BCWAS) held a gala to celebrate their 10th year. I recently posted some incredible BC wines and wineries to look out for after tasting them at this event. If you’re a Vancouverite, this is the wine society to join. They are active with holding tastings and events, and a very friendly, jovial group.

My weekly WSET tasting group has been meeting on Mondays to taste a series of wine, totally blind. Often we have no idea where in the world the wines are from – is this white a Riesling from Germany or Oregon? Is this a Rioja or a Rhone Syrah? It makes for some interesting conversation! Do we have the courage of our convictions to stand up and declare what the wine is? Check out my instagram for pictures from these tastings, and my picks of the best wines from each group.

Cheers,

Rachel

DRINKING COCKTAILS IN VANCOUVER'S GASTOWN

In the oldest quarter of the City of Glass, a cocktail revival is underway. Follow the rush along rainy brick streets to Gastown, where young men with serious moustache street cred and women channeling Dorothy Parker, are concocting some of the most exciting drinks in the Pacific Northwest, all within stumbling distance of each other.

Pourhouse

162 Water Street, Open Daily

Seat yourself at the long bar to get the full gold rush revival experience, and to see close up all the work that goes into handcrafting each unique drink, such as slapping mint leaves and selecting bitters. Bartenders are happy to custom mix based on your preferences. Order the Don’t Give Up The Ship, with trendy acquired taste Fernet Branca tempered with gin and curaçao, or go for a classic Sidecar. Mixologist Rhett Williams has recently been experimenting with shrubs, a vinegar-based fruit syrup that can be spiced up with liquor. Make sure to watch out for his weekly roster of shrubs featuring finds like watermelon, bourbon, and wine vinegar, or the appealing dark cherry, balsamic, and peaty scotch.

The Diamond

2nd Floor, 6 Powell Street, Open Tues-Sun

Head upstairs to the second floor, where you’re greeted by fantastic stag’s head crystal chandeliers and a view of Gastown’s main square from the many tall antique windows. There’s a small bar stacked to the gills with all kinds of potions and bottles that fills up fast. Try the New Orleans Sour, a concoction of bourbon, cognac, egg white, bitters, and absinthe, or a Penicillin, a blend of scotch, ginger, lemon, and honey. The cocktail menu is generously populated with vermouths, hard to find Creme de Violette and maraschino, and members of the bitter liqueur society such as Amaro and Cynar.

Clough Club

212 Abbott Street, Open Daily

With its red-lit chesterfield banquettes, worn pressed-tin walls, and glowing wall sconces, you’ll have no trouble imagining yourself in prohibition era New York. Order the popular Apiary, a bourbon and honey cocktail spiced with walnut bitters and topped with egg white foam. Cocktails here are dark-spirit heavy, so rye, bourbon and whisky enthusiasts take note. They’re experimenting with in-house barrel aging, if this appeals try their house Negroni (Beefeater gin, Campari, sweet vermouth). Live music wednesday to sunday.

DRINKING RAKI IN ISTANBUL

In the winding backstreets of Istanbul’s ancient Sultanahmet district, my husband and I once happened upon a tiny restaurant. Drawn by my nose, we peered in to see a smattering of candlelit tables, laughing families, and dozens of coloured lanterns hanging from gold chains in the ceiling. We had a lovely meal of home styled delights, grilled fish, roasted eggplant, and bean puree, with honeyed baklava to finish.

What remains vivid is the end of the meal. The owner, who smiled broadly as he brought our bill, first set down two narrow glasses one-third full of a clear liquid and a carafe of icy water for us. “Raki”, he said, “enjoy, it is very good for you. We call it the lion’s milk”.

I took a salubrious sip, and a pungent yet precise anise roar filled my mouth. Glancing up, my husband had that look, of not wanting any more than the first swallow. The owner, witnessing our hesitation, took the carafe of water and poured a small amount into each of our glasses. Miraculously, magically, the Raki changed before our eyes into an opaque milky white.

Further travel through Turkey allowed us to become healthily familiar with the small glasses of powerful spirit. Generous proprietors would often carry out a bottle for their customers at the end of a meal, or set out a complimentary glass with mezes.

Like its licorice flavoured cousins Absinthe, Ouzo and Pastis, Raki will louche when water is added. This alchemy happens when its aromatic oils, previously happy in their alcohol solution, react to the shock of cold water by forming tiny droplets.

A potent grape spirit infused with aniseed that can be somewhat hard to find, look for two popular brands Yeni Raki or Tekirdag Raki.

Remember to sip slowly, toast your companion’s health, and enjoy the magical louching effect.