Blog September 2020: Anne's WSET diploma


How I Became a Spirits Specialist (and am still learning)

Last year we made the move from Scotland to live in SW France and, à propos, set up a craft gin company, Saint Amans Gin. Suddenly we got a mass of delightful friends, family and business acquaintances following my daft blethers on FB/Twitter/Insta. Not complaining at all – this is HUGE fun! but also a ton of hard work. I do take my spirits seriously. Honestly.

Which is why I undertook a qualification earlier this year, to gain a Level 2 Spirits Award Diploma from the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust). Gained with distinction. Such a swot 😊. Why am I doing this? Well the honest answer is I love to learn, try out new things, make mistakes and keep learning. With Saint Amans Gin I tried to translate what was always a keen interest for me – understanding food and drink and creating recipes – into a business idea. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with fruit-based spirits. Whisky was never really my thing. There I’ve said it. For a Scot, preferring Cognac over whisky was always a bold move. Scotland’s expertise in whisky and in crops such as barley is legendary and I feel very proud of that, even though the final product is not my spirit of choice! French spirits have similar expertise- but much more in fruit based spirits. Calvados made from apples in Northern France, and Cognac and Armagnac from grapes. Which is what led us to creating a grape based gin.

Why gin? Mainly because it is so supple as a spirit and so creative; Just take a look at the wealth of botanical ingredients that are used to create some very exciting spirits. That is what I loved about creating our own Saint Amans recipe. Why Saint Amans? Easy – this is the hamlet we live in, with a garden full of different fruits flowers and herbs, a particularly fertile and biodiverse part of France. Naming our spirit after this hamlet was the natural thing to do. Creating the gin felt a bit like creating a brand-new food recipe from scratch. Like my coq au vin with local wines and garden herbs. Or my pressed fruit juice with apples from the garden and a touch of ginger and goji. Gin was the natural extension of this creative juice.

So is this hard work? Damn right. So much to think about when starting a new business and getting our product known in such an internationally competitive industry. Even in the midst of the ongoing health pandemic, life and work goes on. Is it still fun? Most definitely. I have learnt a massive amount in our first year of trading, but I realise now I have so much more to discover. A recent trip to Armagnac – just 2 hours’ drive from Saint Amans – was fantastic learning. More on that another time. Cognac and Calvados regions are next on the list!