The 2017 CSW is now available for pre-order!


The 2017 CSW Exam and Study Guide is now available for pre-order!

The latest edition of the CSW Study Guide and Workbook will be available for shipping in the early part of January of 2017 (it sounds like it is a way off, but that is just a month away)!

The CSW Exam 2017 (which includes a copy of the 2017 CSW Study Guide in the price) is now available for pre-order, and the books will be shipped as soon as they are published in January. The 2017 CSW Workbook is also available for pre-order.

The 2017 CSW Exam will be available at Pearson Vue Learning Centers on January 3rd, however, candidates that Candidates that pre-order will have through March 1, 2018 to take the exam.

If you are currently studying for the CSW exam using the 2015 Study Guide, have no fear! Your exam authorization code specifies that you be given the 2015 version of the exam, which will remain available until February of 2018 (for those that already have the 2015 authorization code).

The 2017 version of the CSW Study Guide includes the latest updates to the world of wine—new rules and regulations as well as new AVAs, AOCs, and DOCGs—as well as additional new material on the wines of Asia, Corsica, Bulgaria, and Slovenia—to name a few!

Note: The CSW Study Guide 2017 will be available as an ebook in early 2017. The specific date of publication will be announced as soon as it is confirmed.

For more information, see the Catalog and Store page on the SWE Website.

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles:

Guest Post: Aged Syrah: a Treasure, a Tasting, a Tribute


Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we know by the name Candi, CSW. In this essay, Candi tells us a touching story of family, friends, remembrances, and how the appreciation of wine can bring us all together! We thought this was perfect to share at the beginning of the holiday season!  

During a recent vacation, my husband and I stayed at the home of a dear relative. Our gracious host opened his wine collection to us. My job as the family geek: to select wines to enjoy in the evenings during the visit. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has to do it.

His “cellar”, so to speak, is a cool basement with quite adequate storage for wine. So within an hour of our arrival, one of us is clearly ready to check out the vino. All three of us go downstairs.

A bit of background here. Our relative is a young widower. About five years ago, his wife passed away before her time. I remember how pleased she was when the family geek enjoyed wines that she had selected.

So there I am, sitting on the carpeted floor of the basement, carefully going through all of the bottles while the men folk are standing behind the bar, out of my way during an important mission. There are 30 to 40 bottles total; almost all of these are relatively sweet wines, including some dessert wines and some wines that blend other fruits with grapes. That is consistent with our host’s palate; he prefers sweeter vino.


Most usually, I am described as an introvert who avoids being the center of attention. But as I pull out two bottles that are clearly outliers in this particular collection, I can’t help it. I either exclaim joyfully or squeal. Take your pick. Of course, the men folk are both surprised and greatly amused at this point.

There are two, ahem, well-aged Syrahs in the collection. One is a 2003 California wine from a major, well-known producer. Another is a 2005 Australian Shiraz from a vintner that is on my list to try. Since I know my host quite well, I am well aware that it is unlikely that he chose these wines. But I remember who was quite the fan of Syrah.

Up come the two bottles. And, as I suspected, our host confirms that these are wines selected by his deceased wife, probably within a year of her death. One even has the original price tag with the wine shop listed.

I apparently have a very good relationship with our host. He made perfectly clear that he had no intention of drinking the wine, as it was not to his taste. He truly wanted us to enjoy them, however. My husband and I do like Syrah. In the past, we have enjoyed 6- to 8-year old versions. It’s also a fact that compared to most of the other wines in the collection, these were the best matches for my husband and me.

So be it. We would have aged Syrah. I found what I consider to be the equivalent of buried treasure. Except it’s even better – it’s wine! I stood the two bottles upright in anticipation of future evenings on the trip.


After a full day of sightseeing, we got takeout food for a relaxed evening in. Syrah- friendly menu, of course. First up: the 2003 California Syrah. The rather dry cork comes out with some difficulty, in two big pieces. This requires two different types of corkscrews and two operators, but we were determined.

The wine is, as expected, a bit brownish. Distinct legs. Aromas are faint, muted, but there. And the wine is clearly past its prime. Like so many reds made with decent fruit, however, it is still drinkable. Not fresh, not juicy, but drinkable. Over two evenings, we enjoy our tasting experience with a 13 year-old Syrah. And, we reminisce about the young woman who purchased the wine. And we share other family memories.

We depart for the rest of our trip with the 2005 Aussie Shiraz. It has a screw top for ease of opening during the trip, our host insists, I can’t turn it down. On the last night of our trip, we stay at a hotel convenient to the airport for the next day’s departure. Complete with a refrigerator and microwave. One of our favorite restaurants near the airport features bison. Shiraz and bison seemed a perfect pairing.

Takeout, again. Have to relax and enjoy our last night….


Two different bison entrees chosen and hauled back to the room. I anticipate another wine past its prime, but drinkable, if we are lucky.

We were fortunate; I was wrong. The wine was not past its prime. It was excellent. Fruit- forward, long finish, an excellent dinner pairing. At 11 years old, the wine was the oldest under screw cap I have ever experienced. The wine was so delicious that I will most definitely buy a few future vintages. Just for confirmation purposes, of course.

Tragically, our relative lost a wife. All of us lost a friend and a kind soul. With respect to wine, I lost a kindred spirit with a similar palate. Somehow, I think she is okay with my husband and I enjoying her last two bottles, and I will always remember those wines, with full appreciation of their significance.

Here’s to good memories. Cheers!

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Bucket List Travel: The d’Arenberg Cube

Photo of Chester Osborne and the Cube via:

Photo of Chester Osborne and the Cube via:

Just when you think you’ve been everywhere and seen everything, someone comes up with something new! In case you are looking to travel to the newest (and some might say weirdest, or to use a kinder term, most unique) tasting room in the wine world, book your tickets to South Australia and stop by the d’Arenberg Winery in McLaren Vale.

At the winery, you’ll find a plethora of creative wines, ranging from “Lucky Lizard Chardonnay,” the “Feral Fox Pinot Noir” and their range of “Stump Jump” wines, named after a plow that can plow through tree stumps.

If your visit is timed right (sometime in early part of 2017), you’ll also be able to visit their new tasting room—or, as they might prefer we call it, their new tasting cube. What’s a tasting cube, you ask? Well, at d’Arenberg it is a five-story, glass-encased steel and concrete structure inspired by the Rubik’s Cube.

Rendition of the completed Cube via:

Rendition of the completed Cube via:

The d’Arenberg Cube is the brainchild of Chester Osborn, the chief winemaker for d’Arenberg and the great-great grandson of founder Joseph Osborn. Chester describes the new cube/tasting room as “an architectural puzzle four modules wide, four high and four deep, is already soaring above the Mourvèdre vineyards in the heart of McLaren Vale.”  In addition of offering wines sales and tasting, the cube will host curated art exhibits as a permanent art installation room designed to give the impression of being inside a wine fermenter and featuring the work of Australian artist Jane Skeer to include hundreds of dangling VHS video tapes combined with projections of people treading grapes.

The cube will also feature a restaurant and a rooftop balcony. However, the most interesting feature just might the glass-surrounded “wine fog room,” set to feature a series of large aroma-filled containers attached to bicycle horns designed to “beep” the aromas of wine out to the room.

Some people are referring to the new construction as “Chester’s folly,” and Osborne himself admits that he has given d’Arry, his father, more than a few sleepless nights. But in my humble opinion, he’s going to have folks lining up for a look, a sniff, and a taste of the new d’Arenberg tasting room.

References/for more information:

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New Zealand Wine Regions: It’s (almost) Official!



If you are a fan of crisp, clean, cool-climate wines, you no doubt adore New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. You might even be able to tell the story of Cloudy Bay Vineyards, founded as recently as 1985, as one of a small group of wineries to venture into Marlborough and quickly establish one of the leading wine-producing areas in the New World while practically “inventing”  a new style of Sauvignon Blanc along the way.

As a true New Zealand wine aficionado, you can probably tell the story of the establishment of vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawke’s Bay, where the combination of the soil, the geography, and the climate create one of the few areas in this small, maritime nation where thick-skinned, heat-loving red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah can ripen consistently.

If you are really into New Zealand wine, you can probably tell the story of “sunny” Nelson (located on the western side of the Southern Alps), Gisborne (the “Chardonnay capitol of New Zealand”), and Central Otago Pinot Noir, produced in the southernmost commercial wine-producing region in the world.

But did you know…all of the wine regions of New Zealand are “unofficial”? Winemakers certainly use them, and serious students of wine study them, and in 2006 the New Zealand Parliament, via the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act of 2006, created a registration system and scheme for wine and spirit geographical indications. However, the act was never brought into force and the geographical indications remained “unofficial.”



That began to change last night—November 16, 2016—when the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Amendment Act was passed by the New Zealand Parliament. This new law will enter into force during 2017, allowing for the registration of a set of internationally recognized and protected geographical indications in New Zealand.

According to Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, “the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act will be a significant advance for the New Zealand wine industry. Our Geographical Indications—the names and places where our wines come from— are at the very heart of the New Zealand wine story and this new law provides an additional level of protection for them.”

New Zealand wine regions—it’s almost official!

For more information, see the website of the New Zealand Winegrowers

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

Alternative Grains in American Whiskey

Today we have a guest post from Lisa Graziano CSW, CSE. Lisa tells us about a new trend—using alternative grains in American Whiskeys!

Triticale in the fields

Triticale in the fields

Whiskey can be made from any kind of grain.  Most whiskeys use a majority of malted barley—but it does not have to be this way! The All-American favorite, Bourbon, is required to consist of a minimum 51% corn; generally, the remainder of the mash bill will be wheat, rye and/or barley.

Happily, the craft spirits movement in the U.S. is booming and as a result there is a lot of experimentation going on throughout American whiskey culture.

Enter exotic grains to the mix.  Quinoa, touted lately as power grain for its health benefits, also makes a fine whiskey.  Triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid developed in Scotland and Sweden in the late 1800s, is also being distilled with excellent results.  Oats are being distilled along with the less-common red and blue corn varieties.

How do these different grains affect the flavor of the whiskies made from them?

Let’s start with quinoa.  Feisty Spirits in Colorado makes a 100% quinoa-based whiskey which delivers a nose that is grainy with hints of chili peppers.  The flavor is actually somewhat gin like with some chili pepper and rich grain aspects on the finish.  This whiskey is aged ever-so-briefly in oak barrels—it’s actually called a “barrel rinse,” to be specific.

Quinoa fields in Ecuador

Quinoa fields in Ecuador

Feisty Spirits, located about 65 miles north of Denver, specializes in exotic grain whiskies making everything from quinoa, triticale, and cocoa-ginger whiskeys to a red, white, and blue corn whiskey that is limited production and distributed around the fourth of July.  Dry Fly Distilling out of Washington State and Corsair Distillery located in Tennessee and Kentucky also make exotic grain whiskies.

Triticale whiskey gives aromas of golden raisins on the nose and when aged in neutral barrels conveys flavors of caramel, honey and raisins with a smooth sweet finish.  It is more like an Irish whiskey, and both Feisty Spirits and Dry Fly Distilling make triticale whiskies.

If you like oatmeal, you need to try an oat whiskey.  These spirits exude a nutty oatmeal quality and a rich creaminess that is delightful.  Koval Distillery out of Chicago and High West Distillery in Utah both make nice examples of oat whiskies.

photo via:

photo via:

For different corn whiskies turn to Colorado and Texas.  Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas makes a Baby Blue Corn Whiskey and Feisty Spirits makes an assortment of red, white, and blue corn whiskies.  Blue corn gives flavors of sweet hazelnuts and is softer than the red and white varieties.  Red corn gives flavors of caramel corn and is drier on the finish than its counterparts.

Another trend in whiskey making is using hops.  It was bound to happen at some point—the craft beer movement has finally spilled over into whiskey!  Feisty Spirits makes a Hop Schnapps and Corsair Distillery makes Hop Monster Whiskey.  These spirits really mess with your nose—smells like beer, tastes like whiskey!  They have great aromatics and a dry finish with various flavors depending on what kind of hops are used and how they are brewed.

For an interesting read and an education in exotic grains in whiskey go to the book “Alt Whiskeys” by Darek Bell, owner of Corsair Distillery.  He gives a partial list of alternative grains that includes many of which I have never heard!  (E.g.:  Teff, Fonio, Job’s Tears and Emmer, to name a few.)  He also includes the recipes for many of his whiskies with the caveat that “Home distilling is illegal in the US. Period.”

With craft spirits hitting their stride now is the time to try some of these unique offerings made from grains you would never have expected to be made into whiskey.   Slainte!

Lisa Graziano has been in the wine and spirits business for the past 10 years.  Originally from Los Angeles, California she previously worked as a professional harpist and realtor.  She is one of the first to earn the CSE certification and having grown up in a European household has a nearly lifelong education in beer, wine and spirits!

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Welcome to the World, Appalachian High Country AVA!


On October 27, 2016, the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) of the United States government approved the country’s 239th American Viticultural Area (AVA): The Appalachian High Country AVA. The new AVA, which encompasses some segments of the famed Appalachian Trail, includes portions of northeastern Tennessee, northwestern North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia; encompassing eight counties across the corners of the three states. The AVA will be effective as of November 28, 2016.

The new AVA covers a 2,400-square-mile area and currently contains 71 acres of planted and producing vines, 21 commercial vineyards, and 10 wineries, including the New River Winery, Spencer Mountain Winery, and Watauga Lake Winery. The new AVA is not located within any established viticultural area, but it shares a portion of its eastern border with the Yadkin Valley AVA of North Carolina.

According to the petition, the Appalachian High Country AVA is a unique wine growing area based on the following characteristics:

map via:

map via:

Elevation: Elevation in the new area falls between 1,338 and 6,260 feet above sea level, with the majority of the planted areas in the 3,000–6,000 foot range, with an with an average vineyard elevation of 3,206 feet.

Climate and weather:  The area within the new AVA is significantly cooler; the average annual temperature of the proposed Appalachian High Country AVA is, on average, between 2 degrees and 8 degrees (F) cooler than the surrounding areas.  The proposed AVA is classified as a Winkler Climate Region I/II; the Yadkin Valley AVA to the west is classified as a Winkler Region III/IV.

Soil: There are 26 different soil types found within the new AVA; of these, two (Watauga-Clifton-Chandler and Clifton-Chester) are found only within the proposed viticultural area. In layman’s terms, these soils feature a deep, loamy, well-drained sub-soil over granite and gneiss bedrock.

Over 24 different grape varieties are currently grown in the area which include vinifera varieties (led by Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Viognier); and hybrids (led by Marquette, Marechal Foch, and Seyval Blanc).

Welcome to the World, Appalachian High Country AVA!

To read the original petition, as well as all amendments and comments regarding the establishment of the Appalachian High Country AVA, click here.

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

Guest Blogger: High Altitude Wines and Shangri-La

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit:

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit:

Today we have a post from JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS. JoAnn takes us on a trek to some high-altitude vineyards, and even to the legendary land of Shangri-La.

Mountain vineyards have numerous challenges. To get a feel for this, consider the typical challenges faced by all vineyards—such as like power supply, water, and environmental impact, erosion—and multiply them. Then, add in the fact that everyone is working on the side of a steep, difficult (and maybe dangerous) site, and that the complex climate conditions affecting a vineyard site are amplified in the mountains above the fog line. On the brighter side, high elevation sites do receive much more sun with lower heat accumulation and but higher diurnal temperature fluctuations. But then there’s this: pressure from insects, birds, rodents and wild animals is much more intense in remote mountain locations. Like I said—it’s a challenge.

The highest vineyards in the world are in Argentina in the Salta region located in the Altura Maxima vineyard at 9,849 feet (and some claim it is even higher). This “extreme” vineyard produces grapes with a very think skin, resulting in rich, tannic wines with complex flavors. The first vintage of Altura Maxima wine was released in 2012 by Bodega Colomé (part of the Hess Family Estates). That wine—Colomé Altura Maxima 2012—is 100% Malbec and priced at $125. It might sound like a lot—until you realize that only 165 cases (six barrels) were produced. Bodega Colomé also grows small amounts of Torrontés, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in their ultra-high altitude Altura Maxima vineyard.

The Winery at Bodega Colome - photo via

The Winery at Bodega Colome – photo via

Here in the U.S. we look to areas like Lake County AVA (with vineyards at 2,000 to 2,400 feet), Howell Mountain (1,600 to 2,400 feet), Spring Mountain (2,000 feet), Mount Veeder (400 to 2,600 feet), Atlas Peak (1,400 to 2,600 feet), Diamond Mountain (1,200 to 2,200 feet) and Sonoma Mountain (600 to 2,400 feet) as examples of high altitude viticulture. Howell Mountain was designated as Napa Valley’s first sub AVA, and is well-known for its high-altitude Cabernet Sauvignon. The region’s volcanic ash–red clay soil, delightfully infertile, produces intense wines from small berries. In the end, the altitude and rocky, dry soil conditions create complex, tannic and concentrated wines with firm structure, incredible varietal intensity, and excellent aging properties. Cabernet Sauvignon is King of the Mountain but Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay excel as well. Who is up on Howell Mountain? Charles Krug, Cade, Cakebread, Duckhorn, Robert Foley, La Jota, and Pine Ridge—to name a few.

The world of wine evolves and changes with each passing year with more regions discovering wine, both as consumers and producers. Each of these new areas brings a new dimension to the world of wine. One in particular caught the eye of Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible enough to make her declare that “the Book of Cabernet has just been rewritten.” The wine she is talking about is made in Shangri-La. Really. The wine is 2013 Ao Yun (Tibetan for Proud Cloud), produced in the Himalayas just 50 miles from the border of Burma. This area is within the Yunnan Province in the far southwest of China. The areas “Three Parallel Rivers” region (now a National Park) was made famous as the mythical Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. The Vineyard is at 8,500 feet, and the air is so thin that fermentation doesn’t quite work like it does as we may know it. Karen MacNeil described the wine like this: “Drinking it makes you feel like you’ve been pulled down into the dark body of the earth itself. There is a sense of delicious corruption to the wine.”

Ao Youn is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cab Franc, bottled at 15% alcohol by volume. It should be (or will soon be) available at Sherry Lehman’s in New York and Wally’s in Los Angeles.

We can never overestimate the contributions made by the pioneers, innovators and artists of the wine making world. So get out there and open that mountain wine—climb high, my friends.

JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS works as Brotherhood Winery, “America’s Oldest Winery.” In addition, she teaches wine appreciation classes at libraries all over the Hudson Valley as well as with Ned Towle at the Westchester Wine School. JoAnn’s writings may be found on Facebook on the “The Wine Lovers Journey through the World of Wine” page.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!


Meet the Board: Valerie Caruso, FWS, DWS, CWE

Valerie Caruso, FWS, CWE

Valerie Caruso, FWS, CWE

Last August, at our annual conference, SWE welcomed its new Executive Committee and Board of Directors.  While many of our board members have served for quite a few years, there are also some new faces in the group as well.  Today we’d like to introduce you to one of our new board members, Valerie Caruso, FWS, DWS, CWE…and thank her for her service to the Society!

Valerie retired after 25 years in the Air Force and moved to Italy a few months later to study wine at an international hospitality school. It started as a personal travel and learning adventure for a wine lover, but turned into much more. She was only back in the states 90 days before returning to Italy to study advanced Italian, speak on a collaborative book project about Tuscan wines, and then proceeded to another international culinary academy in France.

In 2010 Valerie began doing private tastings for friends and military spouse groups, and the following year started a business doing in-home tastings and while working with direct-to-consumer sales for a Napa winery. It was in 2012 when she discovered the Society of Wine Educators and the CSW program, and also when she started teaching wine tasting classes in Colorado Springs. She credits her first CSW preview that year as the moment that learning bug would formally establish itself as the desire to not only further her own education, but to bring others along for the exciting wine education ride.

Val has since established her own wine education company, Vino With Val, LLC, where she provides customized tastings for private and corporate clients and even organizations and tour groups. In 2015, she launched the Wine Two Five podcast with fellow CWE Stephanie Davis. Together they built a strong wine media presence and brand as well as a worldwide community of engaged listeners who want to be entertained, educated, and empowered as consumers. Val’s time is now largely consumed nearly full-time as executive producer, content writer, and host for the weekly show which can be found on iTunes, IHeartRadio and many other destinations.

After attending the 2014 conference and the CWE preview, Val knew she’d found her wine education home. She has since contributed to SWE’s popular SWEbinar and Certification Summit program as a presenter. Many of the SWE’s own professionals have found their voices warmly welcomed on the Wine Two Five podcast by the listener base to help spread the word as well, and affectionately refers to the friends she’s made at SWE as her “tribe” and believes strongly in the mission and spirit of the organization.

In her time on the board, Val would like to continue to proudly carry (some would say shamelessly promote) the torch of SWE to those who seek quality wine education and community, especially online for those who don’t live in the most restaurant-and study-group-rich locations.  Just as she has for those who have reached out to her for mentoring—particularly veterans who find her online—she is  determined to be instrumental in expanding the study resources for wine learning and contribute to the excellence in the SWE’s educational endeavors.

Welcome, Valerie!


Meet the Board: Marc DeMarchena CWE, CSS, CHE

Marc DeMarchena CWE, CSS, CHE - a newly-elected member of the SWE Board of Directors.

Marc DeMarchena CWE, CSS, CHE – a newly-elected member of the SWE Board of Directors.

Last August, at our annual conference, SWE welcomed its new Executive Committee and Board of Directors.  While many of our board members have served for quite a few years, there are also some new faces in the group as well.  Today we’d like to introduce you to one of our new board members, Marc DeMarchena…and thank him for his service to the Society!

Marc DeMarchena CWE, CSS, CHE is a newly-elected member of the SWE Board of Directors. Mark is currently an Associate Professor of Beverage and Dining Services with the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. During his 18 years as an instructor, Marc has taught a variety of classes, including Foundations of Wine and Spirits, Principles of Beverage Service, Dining Room Supervision, Contract Food Service Management, and Old World Wines.

Many of our members have met Marc throughout his 18 years of involvement with SWE, including our conference speakers who have found Marc to be a true life-saver in his frequent role as our Conference Audio-Visual Liaison.

Marc was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Bordeaux last summer as part of this third re-accreditation as a Bordeaux Wine Tutor. He describes this journey through Bordeaux, hosted by the L’ École du Vin de Bordeaux, as a “dash between all the subregions visiting and tasting the deliciousness along the way.” He goes on to say that “this captures what I love about wine education.  The connection to the culture—seeing, feeling and tasting how it transcends into our subject matter—is simply fabulous.”

When asked how he sees his role on SWE’s Board of Directors, Marc replied, “My 18-year relationship with the Society has given me so much opportunity to connect to the world of wine. I would like to share that community with future members and help them see the value of our organization’s ability to light their beverage passion. It is pretty amazing to have witnessed the past decade of growth and educational programing that the Society offers. I believe my years managing in the food and beverage business and my time teaching at the university level can bring a combination of skills that will be useful to the Society as we face new opportunities and challenges.”

Welcome, Marc!


Guest Post: Moonshine Goes Modern!

Today we have a guest post from Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE. Harriet tells us the story of how she came to deliver a lecture of Moonshine for this year’s 40th Annual SWE Conference, and tells us how it went!



Why Moonshine?

I was recently invited to judge Moonshines for The Fifty Best, an on-line Wine and spirits ratings magazine, whose website gets over 1 million monthly page views. Through the process, I learned that Moonshines are diverse, varied, and so interesting, and I wanted to share this info. Publisher and Founder William Rosenberg was kind enough to give me the contact info for the Gold and Double-Gold medal winning Moonshines, so that I could create this presentation with the best of the examples.

“Moonshine” is a catchall name for un-aged white whiskies, usually distilled from corn. As I learned from going through the 14 that we tasted at the Conference, contrary to that casual definition, some Moonshine happens to be aged, and others aren’t even made with corn!


According to David Fleming, Executive Editor of Market Watch, Impact and Shanken News Daily, demand for Moonshine leveled off in 2014 after an initial rise in 2012. While the big spirits brands may be leveling off, there is no drop in enthusiasm from the top players, and also the smaller producers. Many are going upscale, playing to sophisticated tastes, and trying to lose the “hokey” character. Many are craft distillers. Others still package in jars and jugs.

Distilling moonshine is a simple process, requiring only 4 main ingredients: corn, sugar, yeast and water. Barley, rye, or fruits may be used, and even hogfeed is not unheard of. Simple pot stills do the job. Further, there is little emphasis on aging or maturation. Some future Bourbon producers are making Moonshine to tide them over, while waiting for their Bourbon to finish aging.

From George Washington, who built a grist mill in 1770, and returned to Mt. Vernon, VA (where he planted Indian corn and rye) in 1797 after his Presidency; through the Whiskey Rebellion (which occurred after Alexander Hamilton showed Congress that it could use its power to tax [repealed in 1801]); through Prohibition (1920 -1933); and to today – when distilling is now legal, distillers’ taxes are collected, and distillation is done in daylight, and not “by the silvery moon” – Moonshine has been part of Americana.


If you want to learn how to distill nowadays, and your grandfather is no longer around to teach you, there is Moonshine University in KY, where a 5-day Distiller Course will set you back $5,000-$6,000. Students say it is definitely worth it. Colin Blake, its Creative Director, warns that any illegitimate distilling flirts with breaking more than 100 state and federal laws. Small wonder that students gladly pay their tuition!

In order to get an official definition of Moonshine, I turned to the ‘Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits and Amendment’ (Code of Federal Regulations – Chapter 4: Class and Type Designations), and – surprise – there is no regulation for Moonshine! I saw an ‘Amendment’ from February 2013, and I thought a definition would be there, but it turned out to be for Caçhaca, a type of rum, and a distinctive product of Brazil.

So there is no legal definition for Moonshine, and I believe that’s how everyone wants it! The taxman is very happy that he can collect taxes without being threatened!



For our SWE Moonshine tasting, Bill Lembeck reduced all the proofs by 50% with high-quality bottled water. We ditched the crackers, and served organic, unsalted popcorn. In addition, Bill created the artwork, with a bottle shot superimposed on its home state for each moonshine. Click here to download a pdf of our guided Moonshine tasting, including tasting notes for the 14 different products tasting during: harriet-lembecks-moonshine-tasting-notes-august-2016

One final note: Attendees were loved this session, and were impressed with the uniqueness of the topic, and the range of products tasted!

HarrietHarriet Lembeck is a CWE (Certified Wine Educator) and a CSE (Certified Spirits Educator – a new designation). She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She can be reached at h.lembeck@

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!