Before we even start, the word sommelier is roughly pronounced sah◦mall◦yay. I want to get that out of the way upfront because you’re going to see that word a lot in this article. Ok, moving on… Whisk(e)y Sommelier is a newer term. So when I introduce myself as a whiskey sommelier, it’s understandable that most people then immediately ask, “What’s that?”
Because the term is in its infancy, the answer to the above question can change depending on who you ask. In the future, there will likely be a concrete definition. But for now, the term bends and adapts to the user. Since this is the case and I admire and respect my fellow sommeliers, the following definition is one I’ve adopted. I don’t claim to speak on behalf of all whiskey somms.
So, to me, what is a whiskey sommelier?
The term “sommelier” is a French word that means butler and/or steward. Let’s look at those two words to understand what I do. Remember, of course, that everything is in regard to whiskey.
A butler is someone who serves others. Likewise, I serve others whiskey. So does that mean I only pour people whiskey? No. If that’s all I did I’d be a horrible sommelier. The service I’m talking about involves putting a glass of whiskey in your hand AND making sure you have everything you need to enjoy yourself. That includes things like atmosphere, lighting, music, and food. I'm also there to guide you through your whiskey and answer questions. Or if you prefer, leave you alone to explore your whiskey. True service is tailoring the experience to your preferences.
A steward takes care of something. Yes, all sommeliers learn storage and handling, the physical care of whiskey. But something else, a priceless intangible, is also entrusted to their care. What is it? Knowledge. History, stories, facts, and figures. These are the things that make whiskey live. As a whiskey som. my responsibility is twofold. First, to learn about whiskey. Second, to then convey that knowledge in an educational and entertaining way. This makes me both a lifelong student and teacher of whiskey.
I’ve spent almost a decade in the hospitality industry. Why? Because it makes me happy to see people enjoy themselves. If being a whiskey sommelier sounds like something you’d like to do, then check out the Whisk(e)y Marketing School. There you’ll find a welcoming community of people who are ready to serve, learn, and teach.
— Zac Smith