Spirits Academy: offering you an exceptional learning experience

Jan 21, 2022
Bartenders Corner I

Would any of your staff know that our modern word ‘whisky’ comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha or water of life? Can they tell you how important cask selection is to the creation of The Macallan, the best-selling premium single malt scotch+ in Australia? Or why a Margarita without Cointreau is not worth its salt?

+IRI Australia Liquor Weighted MAT 14 Feb 2021

If they could, your business could take advantage of one of the most influential trends in the liquor business today – premiumisation. As alcohol consumption is falling, alcohol spending per capita is growing*, and Australian consumers have a growing passion for premium whiskies, gins, and other sophisticated spirits, as well a thirst for the stories behind them. The Spirits Platform portfolio contains an extensive range of premium spirits from over 36 brands – but that’s not all we have to offer. We also have Spirits Academy, a special team of Ambassadors whose mission is to help your staff understand these products, what makes them special, and how they can use these products to create exceptional experiences for customers.

Each of the brands in the Spirits Platform portfolio has its own captivating story that the Spirits Academy team can share. These are stories like that of The Botanist, the only gin made on the famed Scotch Whisky Isle of Islay with 22 hand-foraged Islay botanicals. Or whiskies like the exceptional Bruichladdich, crafted without computers, using old Victorian equipment dating back to 1881. Or liqueurs like the bartender’s secret weapon, Chartreuse – only two Carthusian Monks know the identity of the 130 secret botanicals in every bottle, and how to blend and distil them. The Australian market is thirsty for these stories, and refreshing experiences when exploring new alcoholic beverages. Spirits Academy helps your staff tell these stories to the customer – and helps you profit by selling more premium products and exciting cocktails. Spirits Academy has programs that benefit everyone from alcohol retailers to bars to other licensed premises and venues.

Spirits Academy is the brainchild of Mark Hickey – Scotch Whisky Brand Ambassador of the Year, and World Whisky Brand Ambassador of the Year at the Icons of Whisky Australia awards 2018/2019. According to Mark, it’s vital to know the differences between products to make the best use of their unique flavour characteristics in cocktails and create exceptional flavour experiences. “Customers are constantly looking for a unique experience, so it’s the bartender’s job to create that experience and sell it based on its merits,” says Mark.

Spirits Academy not only helps your staff tell the stories but also works with venue managers and bartenders to help craft the drinks that keep customers coming back.



A prime example of the Spirits Academy approach is the newly developed Spirits Academy Whisky 101 Series, covering the ‘what, why, and how’ of all things whisky. As Mark explains, the first level of the Whisky 101 Series begins with the basics.

“We start with identifying the types of whisky ‘what is a blended whisky, what is a blended malt, what is a single malt, what is a single grain’, and educate your staff so that they know how to identify, recommend and upsell that style of whisky to the customer.”

The second level is a bit more of a history lesson that looks at why there is such a wide range of whisky styles that exist today – “We talk about Irish whiskey, why corn came to be used in America for bourbon, and the transition to the single malt category that we know today.”

The third level, or Grain to Glass, is a basic primer on the mysterious alchemy of the whisky-making process.

“Whatever their level of knowledge,” says Mark, “Spirits Academy is here to support their customers and their development within the Hospitality industry. We make education fun and engaging for all involved.”

Hospitality or retail staff who love what they learned from the first three modules can put their hands up for The Whisky Project.


The Whisky Project is Spirits Academy’s most intense, signature training, consisting of four highly detailed modules including Barley, Peat, Production, and Casks. It is designed for professional bartenders who desire more profound knowledge of whisky distillers, production, and categorisation.

“You get some gifts and some amazing drams to sample before you become a whisky geek,” says Mark. “It’s a true geek scenario.”

Staff who attend The Whisky Project might learn about The Macallan, ‘The Rolls Royce of Single Malts’, distilled in The Macallan’s Curiously Small Stills giving the spirit maximum contact with the copper. Or Highland Park, made since 1798 in the Orkney Isles. Or the Octomore series, the most heavily peated single malt scotch whiskies in the world.

With The Whisky Project under their belt, your staff can recommend the perfect dram for any customer – or mix a truly exceptional whisky-based cocktail.

“If you’ve got a whisky bar, you want your staff to be attending all of these modules,” says Mark.


To help venues drive traffic and build their profile, Spirits Academy Ambassadors often host consumer Whisky Experiences.

These Whisky Experiences can include Peat & Meat (with a customized selection of whiskeys to pair with dishes from the venue’s menu), Grain to Glass (a masterclass on how whisky is made), or World of Whisky (where whisky of many different styles and regions are sampled).

Not surprisingly, these events tend to fill up fast.

“Whisky nights have been a huge success for us…same with the gin nights as well,” says Damien Connor of The Dispensary. An upmarket bar/restaurant in Mackay, QLD, The Dispensary boasts the region’s most extensive wine cellar, as well as the biggest whiskey and gin collection.

“Spirits Academy provides the knowledge and the product, and we provide the food, and it’s just a great event. Every time they host an evening, we sell out. Straight away!”

“We hosted an amazing event recently for LOUIS XIII Cognac, which, as you know, is a premium product. We sold six bottles on the night, which is quite spectacular and profitable for our business,” says Damien from The Dispensary.

The Dispensary is a great example of the many venues that have benefited from Spirits Academy training for its bartenders and other hospitality staff.

“They’ve helped us with staff training, educating our staff on their products, but also on spirits as a whole, whether it be whisky or gin or whatever. The education it installs into our staff makes them confident to sell to our customers. They understand the product and its history, so they can pass that on to the customer. Which then makes the customer go ‘hang on a second, I want to give that product a go’,” says Damien.


The Spirits Academy team believes some of the best bartending talents to be found and recognised are located regionally. “That’s what’s different about us is how we go about our business,” says Mark. “We don’t always jump on a plane and fly over the top. We drive through every State and Territory. We’re definitely more engaged as a team. For example, we drive from Brisbane to Cairns three to four times a year educating bartenders along the way.”

Today, customers want to know the stories behind the products they consume. By imparting knowledge at a genuinely expert level, Spirits Academy turns staff into exceptional assets for their venues.

“There is nothing more compelling than to share a story that you know and believe,” says Mark.

The Spirits Academy Ambassadors have a true passion for what they do. If you’re a bar, venue, or retail outlet venue wanting to ignite the passion of your staff, Spirits Academy Ambassadors are ready to help you offer unique, memorable, and delicious beverage and cocktail experiences to your customers.

If you’re interested in Spirits Academy education and training for your business, get in touch with the Spirits Academy National Program Manager Mark Hickey on 0420 941 853.


The Spirits Academy Team comprises of 4 Spirits Platform’s highly skilled and talented brand ambassadors with varying backgrounds and experience. As a team, they complement each other in many ways.

Mark Hickey – National Academy Program Manager & Ambassador for QLD, NT and National

Mark was awarded the 2018/19 Icons of Whisky Scotch whisky ambassador of the year, made the top 4 of the world whiskey awards in 2020.

The son of a chef, Mark was born and bred in the hospitality trade – working his way up to venue manager, then joining alcohol wholesaler companies like Suntory where he worked for a decade before joining Spirits Platform. His current role focuses on developing the skills and knowledge of bartenders, bar managers, and venue managers whilst also delivering masterclasses to consumers at whisky tastings & events.

Josh O’Brien – Ambassador for NSW, ACT, SA

Josh comes from a bartending background, bringing his immense knowledge of cocktails and astronomical creativity to the task. He’s won several state, national and international cocktail competitions, including the Australian and Asia-Pacific titles of the famous Cointreau La Maison global cocktail competition, and been runner-up Irish Whiskey Ambassador of the year.

Josh can explain how to make the perfect margarita – and why you should only ever use Cointreau!

Andy Buntine – Brand Ambassador for VIC, TAS, WA, Chartreuse Chevalier

Andy’s passion for Chartreuse & brands comes in handy when you take care of key markets such as Melbourne & Tasmania. With over 10 years of managerial & cocktail experience, Andy was able to take out the highly prestigious 2012 Chartreuse Chevalier competition. With his passion for Chartreuse, whisky & Spirits Platform brands, Andy is well respected within the industry and trade.

Danilo Migliorini – Ambassador for Disaronno, Tia Maria and The Busker

Milan-born Danny Migliorini began his career in Italy and migrated to Australia 7 years ago. He’s worked for prestigious venues such as EAU DE VIE in Sydney, and is currently Brand Ambassador for Tia Maria, Disaronno, and The Busker in Australia and New Zealand.

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