WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits Study Note – Q&A

WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits Study Note – Q&A

Attached my study note for WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits. I have also included a mini Q&A that posted answers to questions that I have raised while studying the course material. The material presented in Q&A might not be relevant to the examination and at times might not be included in the course material. The main study note starts here.

The table of comparison for Whiskey, Cognac, Vodka is here.

The table of comparison for Caribbean Rum, Tequila, Aromatized Wines is here.

The table of comparison for Flavored Spirits is here.

Questions and Answers:

  1. For whiskey distillation, what’s the highest strength whiskey we can obtain with pot still?
    • Distilling whiskey in a pot still usually produces a spirit in the range of 60-80% alcohol by volume (ABV). However, the final ABV of the whiskey can be highly dependent on multiple factors including the size and shape of the still, the speed of distillation, and the cut points made during distillation.
    • The highest ABV that can be achieved with a pot still typically doesn’t exceed 80-85% ABV (160-170 proof) because, beyond this point, the alcohol becomes azeotropic with water, which means that they boil together and cannot be further separated by distillation alone.
  2. What’s the highest strength whiskey that can be made with column still?
    • A column still, also known as a patent still or a Coffey still, is capable of distilling spirits to a higher alcohol content than a pot still. This is because column stills function with continuous distillation, where the wash is constantly added to the still and alcohol is continuously collected. It is more efficient and can produce a higher proof spirit than the batch distillation done in pot stills.
    • Column stills can technically produce spirits up to 96% alcohol by volume (ABV), which is essentially pure alcohol.
  3. Why each each countries uses different ingredients for fermentation?
    • Types of ingredient used largely depends on the stable corps in these regions. USA is big on producing corn, hence bourbon is the main ingredient. Caribbean is big on sugar cane production, hence sugar cane is the main ingredient. Barley has been a stable corp in Scotland and hence it is the main ingredient for Scottish Whiskey. Japanese mimics Scottish Whiskey production and hence it uses malted barley as the main ingredient. 
  4. Are there different expression of RUM?
    • Here are a few examples of different rum styles that have emerged in the Caribbean region due to historical and cultural influences:
      • English-Style Rum: This style of rum is associated with the former British colonies in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Guyana. English-style rums are known for their full-bodied and robust flavors, often characterized by rich molasses notes, tropical fruitiness, and hints of spice.
      • Spanish-Style Rum: Spanish-style rum, also known as Ron, is prevalent in countries with a Spanish colonial history, such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. These rums are often smoother and lighter in style, with a focus on balance and subtle flavors. Spanish-style rums are frequently aged using the solera system, which involves fractional blending across different aged barrels.
      • French-Style Rum (Rhum Agricole): As mentioned earlier, French-style rum, or Rhum Agricole, is primarily produced in French-speaking Caribbean islands like Martinique and Guadeloupe. Rhum Agricole is made from freshly pressed sugarcane juice rather than molasses, resulting in a more vegetal and grassy flavor profile. It is often characterized by herbal and earthy notes, with a pronounced terroir influence.
      • Navy-Style Rum: Navy rum refers to the style of rum historically supplied to the British Royal Navy. It is associated with rich, dark, and full-bodied rums with flavors of molasses, caramel, and spices. Navy-style rums often have a higher proof and were traditionally used as a ration for sailors.
      • Spiced Rum: Spiced rum is a broad category that includes various styles and origins. Spices and flavorings, such as vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, or tropical fruits, are added to the rum to enhance its taste. Spiced rums can be found throughout the Caribbean and are popular for their added complexity and versatility in cocktails.
      • These are just a few examples of the diverse rum styles found in the Caribbean. Each style has its own distinct characteristics, influenced by historical, cultural, and regional factors, making the Caribbean a rich and fascinating region for rum production.
  5. What resulted the vanilla flavor and sweetness notes in Whiskey?
    • Whiskey aged in oak barrels can develop vanilla aromas and flavors. During the aging process, compounds called vanillin and other flavor compounds are extracted from the oak and impart characteristics to the whiskey. Vanillin is responsible for the distinct vanilla aroma and flavor that is often associated with oak-aged spirits like whiskey.
    • The toasting or charring of the oak barrels also plays a role in the development of these flavors. The heat applied to the barrel during the coopering process can release caramelized sugars and compounds that contribute to the sweetness and vanilla notes.
    • While vanilla is a common flavor note found in many aged whiskies, it’s important to note that the specific aromas and flavors in a whiskey can vary depending on factors such as the type of oak used, the level of charring or toasting, the length of aging, and the individual characteristics of the whiskey itself. The vanilla character may range from subtle hints to more pronounced notes, depending on these variables.
  6. Where can Tequila be produced?
    • Tequila can only be legally produced in specific regions of Mexico. The Appellation of Origin for Tequila designates that tequila must be made in the following Mexican states:
      • Jalisco: Jalisco is the main and most prominent state for tequila production. It includes the town of Tequila and the surrounding region, known as the Tequila region or the “Tequila Triangle.” This area is widely recognized as the heartland of tequila production.
      • Guanajuato: Some areas of Guanajuato, particularly the municipality of San Felipe, are also included in the designated region for tequila production.
      • Michoacán: Certain areas of Michoacán, particularly the municipality of Tepalcatepec, are part of the region where tequila can be produced.
      • Nayarit: Specific areas in the state of Nayarit, particularly the municipality of Ahuacatlán, are also included in the designated region for tequila production.
    • The production of tequila is regulated by the Mexican government, and the Appellation of Origin ensures that tequila is made following specific guidelines and using specific varieties of the blue agave plant, known as Agave tequilana Weber, which is required for tequila production.
    • It’s important to note that while mezcal is another agave-based spirit produced in Mexico, it has its own designated regions and production methods separate from tequila.
    • Guadalajara, the capital city of the state of Jalisco in Mexico, is not specifically designated as a region for tequila production. However, Guadalajara is located in close proximity to the Tequila region, which is the heartland of tequila production.
      • The Tequila region, including the town of Tequila, is located northwest of Guadalajara. Many tequila distilleries, agave fields, and other tequila-related activities can be found in and around the Tequila region. Due to its proximity, Guadalajara serves as a major hub and transportation center for the tequila industry.
      • While Guadalajara itself is not an official tequila-producing region, it often serves as a starting point for visitors and tourists who wish to explore the Tequila region and learn more about tequila production through distillery tours and tastings.
  7. What are the differences between Reposado and Anejo?
    • Reposado and añejo are both types of tequila that have distinct characteristics resulting from differences in aging.
      • Reposado: Reposado means “rested” in Spanish, and it refers to tequila that has been aged in oak barrels for a specific period, typically between 2 months and 1 year. The aging process gives reposado tequila a balance between the flavors of the agave and the influences of the oak. It often exhibits a light to medium amber color and can have a smoother and more rounded flavor profile compared to blanco (unaged) tequila. Reposado tequila may have notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and subtle spice.
      • Añejo: Añejo means “aged” in Spanish. Añejo tequila is aged for a longer duration than reposado, usually between 1 and 3 years, in oak barrels. The extended aging period allows the flavors of the tequila to further develop and intensify. Añejo tequila typically has a darker amber color and a rich, complex flavor profile. It can exhibit pronounced notes of caramel, vanilla, chocolate, roasted agave, and spices. The aging process also imparts a smoother and more refined character to the tequila.
    • It’s important to note that the specific aging requirements for reposado and añejo tequila can vary slightly according to the regulations set by the Mexican government. However, the general distinctions described above are widely recognized and followed by tequila producers. Both reposado and añejo tequilas offer unique experiences and are enjoyed by tequila enthusiasts for their distinct flavor profiles resulting from the aging process.
    • The natural color of distilled tequila, immediately after the distillation process and before any aging, is clear or transparent. This unaged tequila is commonly referred to as “blanco” or “silver” tequila. It has a transparent appearance similar to vodka or other unaged spirits.
    • The clear color of blanco tequila is a result of the distillation process, which separates the alcohol from impurities and other compounds. During distillation, the agave juice is heated and vaporized, and then condensed to create the distilled spirit. This process removes colorants, sediments, and other impurities, resulting in a clear, colorless tequila.
    • After distillation, if the tequila is to be aged, it is transferred to oak barrels for a specific duration. The aging process in these barrels imparts color and flavor to the tequila. The wood interacts with the spirit, extracting compounds and contributing to the development of an amber or golden hue. The longer the tequila is aged, the deeper and richer the color becomes.
    • It’s important to note that the aging process can vary between different types of tequila (such as reposado and añejo) and among different producers. Each tequila brand may have its own unique color spectrum, ranging from pale straw to deep amber, influenced by factors such as the type of oak barrels used, the duration of aging, and other variables.
  8. Can Bourbon be blended?
    • Yes, bourbon can be blended, but it’s important to understand the distinction between blended bourbon and blended Scotch whisky.
    • Blended bourbon refers to a product that combines multiple bourbons from different distilleries or barrels. The blending process allows producers to achieve a specific flavor profile or consistency by combining bourbons with different characteristics. Blending can involve mixing bourbons of varying ages, mash bills, or barrel types to create a desired flavor profile.
    • However, it’s worth noting that the majority of bourbon on the market is not labeled as “blended.” Instead, most bourbon is labeled as “straight bourbon,” which means it is produced from a single distillery and meets specific aging and production requirements.
    • On the other hand, the term “blended” is more commonly associated with Scotch whisky. Blended Scotch whisky combines single malt whiskies from different distilleries with grain whiskies. Blended Scotch whiskies are created by expert blenders who aim to achieve a consistent and harmonious flavor profile.
    • So, while blended bourbon does exist, it is not as prevalent or commonly labeled as “blended” compared to blended Scotch whisky. Straight bourbon is the more common form of bourbon available, and the blending of different bourbons is often done by individual distilleries to create their own unique expressions or limited edition releases.
  9. What do we mean when we say a spirit is dry?
    • In the context of alcoholic beverages, “dry” typically refers to a lack of sweetness. A dry spirit has had the majority or all of its sugars fermented into alcohol, resulting in a beverage that is not sweet to the taste.
    • This term is often used to describe wines, where it refers to a lack of residual sugar after fermentation. However, it can also be used to describe other types of alcohol. For instance, a “dry” martini is one made with dry, not sweet, vermouth. In the context of gin, “dry” does not necessarily refer to the sweetness of the gin, but rather the method of production. London Dry Gin, for example, must meet certain production standards and cannot contain any added sweeteners or flavorings after distillation.
    • It’s important to note that “dry” can also be a subjective term, and perceptions of dryness can vary from person to person, depending on individual palates and what one is accustomed to drinking.
  10. What are the differences in soda, club soda and tonics?
    • Soda water“, “club soda“, and “tonic water” are all types of carbonated beverages, but they each have different characteristics:
    • Soda Water: Also known as sparkling water or seltzer, soda water is simply water that has been carbonated. It does not contain any added minerals or flavors, making it a neutral mixer in cocktails and other beverages.
    • Club Soda: Like soda water, club soda is carbonated water. However, certain minerals like potassium sulfate, sodium chloride, or sodium bicarbonate have been added to it. These minerals can slightly enhance the flavor of the drink. Club soda is also a common cocktail mixer and can be enjoyed on its own.
    • Tonic Water: Tonic water is carbonated water that has been flavored with quinine, a bitter compound derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. It also usually contains sweeteners and other flavors, often citrus. Tonic water is well known as the classic mixer for a gin and tonic, but can also be used in other cocktails or enjoyed on its own.
    • Remember that because of the flavorings in tonic water, it will have a distinctly different taste from either soda water or club soda, and will also usually contain calories, while the others are typically calorie-free unless they have additional flavorings.

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