Back To School — Cocktail Style

It’s back-to-school time again! What are you planning to learn this year?

When I teach “how to break into wine & spirits writing” classes, one point I always try to drum into students’ heads is that wine and spirits writing requires a very specific — but accessible and acquire-able — knowledge set compared to food writing.

So where can you go to learn? Here are 10 suggestions to simultaneously improve your mind and destroy your liver:


1.  Ask your favorite bartender or sommelier to teach you. (In NY, I recommend Ethan Kelley at the Brandy Library.)

2. Get a job at a local restaurant, bar, wine bar, or brewery.

3. Get a job at a wine or liquor store (but consider the relative merits of a small, intimate store vs. a larger one with more brands and resources. remember how you agonized over big university vs. tiny liberal-arts college?)

4.  Invest in a good wine or spirits guide.

5. Read — no, devour articles and expert blogs. (My favorites include NYT’s The Pour blog and Robert Hess’s videos on


6. Sign up for an avocational wine or spirits tasting class. If you’re in the New York metro area, you’ve got a slew at your disposal at Astor Center (my class included!), ICE, FCI, NYU, the CIA, etc. etc.

7. If if nothing in the aforementiomed alphabet soup appeals, go to and pick something that speaks to you, whether that means a series of seminars or a one-night Scotch-and-socializing event.

Big Bucks:

8.  Look to vocational programs such as the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, American Sommelier Association, or BAR

9. Try on a private program in a rustic setting at Gary Regan’s Cocktails in the Country.

10. And if you’ve got the time and the budget, earn a degree at UC Davis, aka “the Harvard of Oenology & Viticulture.”

Now, if only I could tell you what to pack in that scholarly backpack you’ll need for class. Notebook? check. Pencils? check? Corkscrew? Cocktail shaker? Swizzle sticks? check, check, and check!


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