Career Terms In The Drinks Industry

Commonly Misused/Misunderstood

In the age of social media, it’s easy to be misled by the fancy jargons thrown around frivolously. However, falling prey to this pandemic are drinks professionals who have a credible career with qualification and experience built over the years with hard work and dedication whose influence extends beyond the purview of number of followers, subscribers, likes and comments on social media.

It’s kind of a paradox that forces you to take a pause and ponder. If everyone is teaching, then who’s learning? If everyone is selling, then who is buying? If everyone is influencing, then who is getting influenced?

This article is an attempt to offer some clarity on these attractive career options in the drinks industry, which require credibility, and authenticity. If not to help maintain equilibrium in the industry ecosystem, then at least to stop people from using these jargons that misleads brands, marketing agencies and consumers.

Let’s take a look at some of the most misused and misunderstood career terms in the drinks business highlighted by some of the industry experts.

Sommelier – By definition, it is a wine professional with formal training in all aspects of wine service, wine and food pairings, and wine storage. While anyone working directly with wine in a restaurant can be called a sommelier, a certified sommelier would require formal educational qualification from institutes such as Court Of Master Sommeliers or if not into wine services, then at least having a WSET Level 3 from (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) qualifies one to be considered at the same level as a sommelier.

India’s first and only Master Of Wine, Sonal Holland comments, “It’s important to differentiate between a qualification and a job role. A qualified sommelier, certified educator, MS, MW are qualification titles, but what one does as a profession like being a writer, entrepreneur, consultant etc. is  job roles. There should be some understanding of these at least among the trade. I am often referred to as India’s top sommelier and I have to correct them accordingly. 

Professionals do tend to use terms that are convenient to them and nobody seems to call out. I’m just glad the MW is copyrighted and cannot be used fleetingly.”

Wine & Spirits Writer – Any one can be a writer, however, a professional drinks writer is someone who is engaged in either a freelancing or full-time writing job. Which also means the person either earns a living from this position or at least gets paid to write. However, an article contributed to a publication or website as a part of the image building campaign designed by your PR agency and pitched on your behalf to a publication or an online platform doesn’t count. 

Mixologist / Bartender – By definition a bartender is a person who serves drinks at a bar. And, a mixologist is a person who is skilled at making cocktails and other drinks. But if you have never worked a day behind a bar or mixed a drink in a professional capacity then adding the title to your profile is just misleading. Yangdup Lama, one of the most reputed and award-winning Mixologists and a Bar Owner agrees that the term has been misused. “Ideally, it is a designation given to people who spend much of their time behind the stick.” 

Elaborating on the matter of rampant misuse of these terms across social media platforms, Kishore Thapar, Partner of the bartending institute Cocktails & Dreams, Mumbai says, “Bartending is a craft which can be enhanced with accurate knowledge and training. Some are able to reflect their work on social media while many talented bartenders lack social media skills. However, it’s important to give  credit to the ones who have earned this.”

According to Shatbhi Basu, a prominent figure in the Indian bartending community, “This pandemic, amongst other things, has created an army of homegrown professionals. It’s not a bad thing on its own, But when it impinges upon the professional realm and professes to be a part of it that’s when it gets annoying. We see bartenders and mixologists who have never spent a day in a bar, chefs who’ve never seen the inside of a commercial kitchen. Neither have they spent years studying intensely and faced the ire or joy of a paying customer. Let them enjoy being enthusiasts and respect the professionals. There’s room for both!”   

Drinks Educator  & Trainer– An educator is someone who has a formal certification to teach students or the members in the hospitality trade or someone who has the required qualification and experience to teach in a classroom or on premises. While an educator can educate you about a particular subject, a trainer is someone offering brand training or specific product knowledge. They may or may not be associated with or hired by a particular brand or company. These are professionals with qualification or experience or both and earn a living by teaching or conducting training. 

Drinks Industry Influencer – This is probably one of the most misused terms in any industry currently. How do brands or their agencies decide who is a real influencer? Elisha Saigal Founder & CEO, El Sol Strategic Consultants has the answer.  “As a Brand & Business Consultant, we are very clear with our clients from the start on being true to who they are. With regards to selecting an influencer or content creator, we first ensure they are true to what they project in their personal life through their platforms, does that match our brand ethos. If it does, we then gauge their engagement and their ability to drive ROI for a brand via data analytics. Another important factor while making this selection is, how close are their followers to our clients’ customer personas. A list is carefully and scientifically curated post this. And we are happy to work with a Nano or Micro influencer as long as they are certified in the subject and are true to what our brand stands for. The digital arena is flooded with influencers, but as a voice for our brands, it is our responsibility to ensure the person projecting our brand is the right voice.” 

Consultant– There are two aspects of this job role- a consultant and a beverage consultant. Someone who’s actively involved in brand promotions, strategy building or providing any other services to a product or bar or any other areas of the trade could be considered as a consultant. However, a beverage consultant is someone who is hired to take care of all the subtle nuances required to run a bar efficiently in the most cost-effective way. Adding the word to one’s profile without real experience or qualifications described earlier just misleads brands and consumers.

Competitions Judge / Juror– A person who is actively participating in the judging process on any of the well renowned and established wine, beer or spirits competitions held around the world on a regular basis. Subhash Arora, Founder of the Indian Wine Academy and a reputed judge at several international wine competitions says, “I meet many of the fellow jury members at competitions and a lot of them are into the craft. Occasionally, there are rookies who eventually get absorbed into the system.

But I firmly believe that experience and qualification (a formal education or certification from any institute specializing on the subject) are definitely the most important prerequisites to be selected as a judge.”

Disclaimer: This article isn’t aimed towards discouraging anyone from choosing a career in the drinks industry. But a wake up call for brands, marketing and PR agencies, and aspiring individuals who are latching on to these jargons without verifying the authenticity of the claims made by some individuals.

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