For anyone taking a higher level of qualifications through WSET, you will run up against the need to write short answer questions if you are to be successful in passing. The approach to gaining the most points when answering these questions is often a little illusive for American students, as the British have a fairly specific way they like to ask, and then have answered, exam questions. Really what it means is understanding how to break down the question, and answer it correctly. Often students will read a question but not focus on the keywords in the question that should guide your answering. Words like State, Identify Explain, Describe and List all considered command verbs, and these verbs are the link to how you should approach your answer formation.
When I write an answer, the first thing I am doing is circling the command verbs and any other key words in the question that will get me the most concise answer. Many students read a question, think they know what is being asked, and then download a lot of info on the topic. This is usually not a good approach. It can waste time in the exam. It also may not touch on the key points that the examiners are looking for to award points.
Below is an example of the type of question that may appear on a Level 3 Spirits exam, along with a written answer. See if you can figure out how this answer would score (available 10 points), and if it is a successfully written answer or where there are mistakes. I will post next week with the answer to how successful this answer was and the points awarded.
Describe how the two types of condenser used in malt whisky distilleries in Scotland work and explain how the type and/or design of the condenser can affect the style of malt whisky that is produced. (10 marks)
In Scotch malt whisky production, there are two types of condensers used to cool vapors back into liquid form: Shell and Tube condensers, and Worm Tube condensers.
In a typical still set-up, each of these condensers are located at the end of the Lyne Arm and take in heated vapors from the pot still at the top of their units, while a coolant, usually cold water, is input at the bottom of the unit and taken out at the top. As the vapor comes into contact with the coolant it condenses back to liquid form and flows down the unit eventually being collected via an output at the bottom. The coolant gains heat from the vapors and is collected from the top of the condenser unit.
The difference between a Shell and Tube and a Worm Tube condenser is how the vapor and the coolant each move through the unit.
In a shell and tube style condenser, the coolant is kept in a series of tubes that circulate through the cavity of the condenser, which is also known as the shell. The vapor is pushed into the cavity and comes into contact with the cool tubes, which are often made of copper. This model is generally preferred as it allows for a high level of surface contact of the vapor / distillate to come into contact with the copper tubes. This creates a more efficient system while also allow for removal of more sulfur compounds, thus producing a lighter, cleaner style whisky. While the worm tube version has a tube (worm) that the vapors are contained within, and this tube is coiled within the body of the condenser. The coolant circulates around the worm and pulls the heat from the distillate. Because there is less contact with cooper in this version, the whisky produced here is often richer and bolder in style.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.