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Certified Spirits Educator

The Certified Spirits Educator (CSE) Exam is a unique certification that tests a candidate’s knowledge of Spirits, as well as his or her tasting acumen and teaching ability. Specific topics included in the exam knowledge base include: fermentation and distillation, the aging of spirits, vodka, neutral spirits, gin, flavored spirits, whisky, rum, sugarcane-based spirits, tequila, agave-based spirits, liqueurs, spirit amari, vermouth and other aromatized wines, the basics of mixology, the sensory evaluation of spirits, service procedures, and the responsible handling of beverage alcohol.

This intense undertaking comprises a theory exam, two tasting exams and a presentation skills demonstration, along with requiring candidates to provide evidence of Responsible Beverage Alcohol Service certification. Detailed information on each component of the CSE Exam is provided below.

All candidates pursuing the CSE certification must already possess the Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) certification. There are no exceptions to this rule regardless of a candidate’s background or credentials. All segments of the CSE, including the presentation skills demonstration, must be passed within a three year time frame.

Candidates who successfully pass all components of the CSE Exam are entitled to use the CSE post-nominal as part of their professional signature. They will also receive a certificate (suitable for framing) and a CSE lapel pin by mail.

While the CSE is basically considered to be a self-study program, SWE does host a CSE Aspirant Facebook group. Active members of SWE who already possess a CSS certification are welcome to request an invitation to the CSE Facebook group by emailing our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles.

The CSE Exam may be approached as a self-study educational program, and many candidates are successful in doing so. However, the Society has put together a set of educational resources to assist candidates in preparing for this challenging exam. Candidates are provided with a recommended reading list, please click here for the 2022 Recommended Reading list. Please click here for the 2023 Recommended Reading List. Candidates are also provided with an Iconic Spirits Study List. Exam topics will be based on the materials and products included on these lists, as well as the information included in the SWE Online Spirits Academy and the Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide.

Theory/Written Component

The theory portion of the CSE exam involves of a multiple-choice exam and a timed essay (essay test). The multiple-choice exam consists of 100 questions to be answered within one hour; the minimum passing score is 75. The essay test will require the candidate to answer one question (from a slate of three) within one hour. Essays are graded according to a detailed rubric and are designed to assess the candidate’s ability to format information coherently and concisely for a target audience. The minimum passing score for the essay is 65 (out of a possible 100 points). For a copy of the current essay rubric, click hereClick here for a selection of practice essay questions. 

The Spirits Tasting Rationale Exam

For this portion of the exam, candidates will write tasting notes for two different spirits. The spirits will be chosen from SWE’s Iconic Spirits Study List. The spirits will not be tasted blind – the two spirits will be identified, however, the candidate will not know the selection of spirits ahead of time. Candidates will be required to write a detailed tasting note, based on the SWE Spirits Tasting Rationale, and form a conclusion as to how and why each spirit is representative of its category. To pass this section, candidates must pass both sections of the exam with a minimum grade of 21/30 per section. Click here for a sample of the answer sheet for the Spirits Tasting Rationale Exam. In addition to our scheduled, in-person exams, virtual spirits tasting exams—via Zoom or a similar web conferencing platform—are available to candidates who have passed the theory portions of the CSE Exam. Please contact our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, for more information on scheduling a virtual tasting exam.

The Comparative Spirits Tasting Exam

For this portion of the exam, 3 spirits will be poured for the candidate. The 3 spirits will be of the same family, or related in some other way. For instance, the exam may offer Cognac, Calvados, and Armagnac (3 different types of brandy). The names of each spirit (along with one distractor) will be given to the candidate; candidates will attempt to identify each spirit as part of the exam.  Spirits will once again be taken from the Iconic Spirit Study List. To complete the exam, the candidate will need to write a tasting note for each spirit based on the SWE Spirits Tasting Rationale, and, based on their knowledge of the production and aging processes, identify and explain the similarities and differences in the flavor profiles of each spirit. To pass this section, a candidate must earn a minimum passing grade of 76/100 (each item’s description is worth 25 possible points; proper identification of each spirit is worth 1 point each, and the conclusion (based on comparison/contrasts) is worth another 22 points. Please click here for a sample of the answer sheet used for the Comparative Spirits Tasting Exam. In addition to our scheduled, in-person exams, virtual spirits tasting exams—via Zoom or a similar web conferencing platform—are available to candidates who have passed the theory portions of the CSE Exam. Please contact our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, for more information on scheduling a virtual tasting exam.

Presentation Skills Demonstration

Candidates must successfully demonstrate their ability to present on a spirits-related topic, selected from the approved list of themes, in front of a live audience. Candidates must pass all written and tasting portions of the exam prior to giving this presentation. The presentation may be scheduled in conjunction with the Society’s annual conference or, alternately, the candidate may choose to submit a video recording of their presentation. For more information on the Presentation Skills Demonstration Requirement, click here. For the current list of approved presentation themes, click here. For a copy of the current presentation skills rubric, click here. Candidates must score a minimum of 65 out of 100 points to successfully pass the Presentation component. For the required format of the Presentation Skills Demonstration Outline, click here

Responsible Beverage Alcohol Service Certification

Candidates must submit evidence of current certification with either their state’s responsible beverage alcohol service program, the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation’s ServSafe Alcohol® or TiPS® (Training for Intervention ProcedureS).

There are currently several available options for the delivery of the CSE exam. These include Pearson VUE Testing Centers and at-home, online proctoring for the theory exams as well as virtual options for the tasting exams. In addition, all parts of the CSE exam will continue to be offered “in person” at specific locations and times as noted on the SWE website, Exam & Seminars. Please contact the SWE home office for more information on testing options.

The Society of Wine Educators owns the copyright in all exam materials and supplements referenced herein.  Any redistribution or reproduction of part of all of the content is prohibited except as permitted by copyright law.  You may not, except with the express permission of the Society of Wine Educators, distribute or commercially exploit the content.  Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

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