21 Aug 2018
Bar schools & booze courses – here’s where you can learn

Keen on learning how to mix a killer cocktail, talk wine like a pro or make your own liquor? We’ve rounded up six schools around the land where you can get educated.  

EBS Cape Town

If you’re set on becoming a professional bartender, fast, then the immersion programme at the European Bartending School is the way to go. Since its inception in 1999, EBS has grown into a multinational franchise, with schools in some 25 destinations worldwide. Lucky for us, there’s one right here in Woodstock, Cape Town. Even better, it’s co-owned and run by the spectacular Cassandra Eichhoff, liquor lady extraordinaire. The other two owners are flair giants Tom Dyer and Jay du Toit, so as you can imagine flairing is all part of the fun here. Ruann Scholtz – a qualified World Flair Association Grader – focuses on these ‘refined pouring styles’, while our girl Cass specialises in bar training and spirits theory.  

Courses on offer: 

International Bartenders Course
Mixology Course
Working Flair Course
Advanced Flair Course

Cass’s tips for students: 

‘Bartending’s no longer perceived as just a part-time job to make some quick cash, but is becoming a recognised career path. It’s grown from simply slinging drinks behind the bar to offering opportunities for travel, global competitions and ambassador and education roles. NOW is the best time to learn the craft, and kick-start your journey in this timeless profession … and don’t forget, the most crucial element is to be passionate and to have fun!’

SIP Exclusive

SIP Exclusive is not only one of the best mobile bar companies around, but it offers bespoke training too … and that should come as a no surprise, since co-owner Owen O’Reilly has been in the training game since 2010, settling in thousands of newbies behind the stick from here to Mauritius. Owen’s partner David Sandler handles the business side of things, freeing up Owen to be the creative genius, running an assortment of fun courses ranging from spirits and product knowledge to cocktails/mixology and in-venue brand training. So yes, while they cater to private students looking to learn all things bar, they train corporate clients too, from liquor brands to hotels. While SIP HQ is in Cape Town, they train nationwide. 

Courses on offer:

On-premise Consult and Staff Training
SIP Bartending 101 
Four Steps to Cocktail Heaven
Private Themed Workshops
Mystery Box Challenge
Various short courses for staff (Bar Basics 1, Bar Basics 2, Spirit Categories, Advanced Cocktails, Pouring and Flair Training)

Owen’s tips for students: 

‘Try working a shift or two to see if it tickles your fancy before spending money on a course, then shop around and discuss your needs before booking anything. A course won’t make you a pro bartender, it takes experience and guts and hard work … a training room is a perfect scenario whereas a bar is chaos. Don’t expect to be hired with only a certificate, again, experience counts. And finally, the bar industry is ever evolving and you can never know it all, so keep studying.’

Shaker Bar School

Anil Sabharwal spent five years helping establish Shaker in London before setting up his own shops in Cape Town, Jozi and Durbs along with co-owner Nick Cursi. While Nick has a background on stage, Anil has always been behind the bar – albeit theatrically too, as a competitive bartender and flairer with several wins under his belt. Anil’s also an official Wine & Spirit Education Trust educator, meaning Shaker offers WSET courses, the holy grail of wine and spirits certifications. Shaker courses are aimed at the bar industry, but they also accommodate genpop who just want to learn for fun, as well as corporate clients within the liquor trade. The generally shorter courses make for perfect building blocks towards well-rounded edification. 

Courses on offer:

International Bartenders Course
Advanced Bartenders Course
Professional Barista Course
Cocktail Masterclass
Spirits Masterclasses 
WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits
WSET Level 2 Award in Spirits
Bar Flair & Skills Courses
Shaker Cocktail Teambuilding Events

Anil’s tips for students:

‘Simple: taste more. Your nose and mouth are your greatest assets in this industry, and you’ll only get better if you have more experiences to draw from.’ 

The International Wine Education Centre 

Food24 readers are probably familiar with the name Cathy Marston, resident wine guru. She’s eminently qualified to talk vino, as along with her husband, Kevin, she owns and runs the IWEC in Cape Town. Rather than a practical bar school where you’ll learn how to shake, muddle and roll, this is the home of internationally accredited wine and spirit theory courses – you guessed it, WSET, from the easy-ish level one through to the uber-advanced level four. But that doesn’t mean it’s all whiteboards and notebooks, you’ll get to sip your way through your fair share of libations, all in the name of research, of course. Cathy was named the international WSET Educator of the Year in 2015, but other notable lecturers include Elizma Myburgh Venter (DipWSET) and Debi van Flymen (CWM), so rest assured you’ll be in the hands of professionals here – whether you plan on going pro or are simply wine curious.  

Courses on offer:

WSET Level 1 Award in Wines
WSET Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits
WSET Level 3 Award in Wines
WSET Level 4 Wines & Spirits Diploma 
WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits
WSET Level 2 Award in Spirits

Cathy’s tips for students: 

‘The more you drink, the more you know … but the less you remember, too, unless you write it down! Try take notes on anything that grabs you; it doesn’t need to be long, but if something strikes you as great/interesting/unusual then make a note on your phone or notebook so you can remember it later on.’

KZN School of Wine

Laurie Smorthwaite, the owner and lecturer of this school, has a CV that reads like a wish list for lesser mortals: WSET Diploma graduate, Associate Institute of Wines and Spirits member, Codorniu Raventos scholarship recipient, Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy distinction graduate and International Wine & Spirits Competition, Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and SAA wine selection judge. Oh, and she’s also the winemaker at Abingdon Wine Estate in the KZN Midlands, from where she runs a variety of informative, fun and individually tailored wine courses pitched at all levels of knowledge – from wine enthusiasts to industry professionals. Phew! 

Courses on offer:

Front of House Staff Training
WSET Level 1 Award in Wines
WSET Level 2 Award in Wines & Spirits
WSET Level 3 Award in Wines
SA Wine Appreciation Course
Corporate Tastings & Private Events
Friday Evening Tastings

Laurie’s tips for students: 

‘The world of wine is bigger than you can imagine – start exploring now! Get out of your comfort zone and try as many different wines as possible. You never know when you’ll find a hidden gem or surprise yourself with an unexpected wine style you fall in love with!’ 


Founded in 2009 by Gert Bosman, an engineer by trade, Distillique is your go-to if you want to roll up your sleeves and actually start making your own spirits. That’s right, there’s nothing stopping you from not only picking up a new hobby, but from potentially launching your own liquor brand. Headed up by Hendre’ Barnard, the training programme (available in Cape Town and Centurion) is a mix of distillation theory and practice, but it covers all things business too, from South African liquor laws through marketing and branding. The company also offers ongoing support for home and craft distillers, and sells distillation equipment and consumables. 

Courses on offer:

Practical Workshops (distilling, infusing, fermenting, blending etc)
Theory Courses (introductory and comprehensive distillation, bio ethanol production and engine conversion)
Business Courses (business planning, legal compliance, marketing and branding)
Yeast Courses (fermentation and cultivation)
Essential Oil Courses

Hendre’s tips for students:

‘Keep records of everything you do, nothing’s worse than making something exceptional and not being able to repeat it. Keep it legal – you’ll regret it if you don’t. Don’t be afraid to try something new, but dare to be different. And have fun!’ 

This post first appeared on Food24 on 21 August 2018.

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