A ground-breaking Michelin-style scheme for pubs and hotels - based on their staff's knowledge of whisky - has been approved by ILA Scotland, the Scottish Government scheme that helps pay towards the cost of training.
The Whisky Ambassador Programme, the UK's only BIIAB accredited whisky training scheme and administered by People Solutions, leading experts in training within the licensed trade, has been attracting keen interest from some of the country's best known businesses since its launch earlier this year.
It aims to provide a boost for tourism and the whisky and hospitality industries by developing expertise among bar staff about Scotland's national drink.
The ILA accreditation means hospitality workers interested in gaining new skills can qualify for assistance with the unique training project if they have an income of £22,000 a year or less, or receive benefits.
Training under the scheme, which is also backed by VisitScotland, the national tourism agency, will be offered at a series of events planned across Scotland. They include Glasgow (18 April), Inverness (3 May), Ayrshire (8 May), Edinburgh (15 May), Aberdeen (22 May), Perth (12 June), Dundee (19 June) and Oban (26 June).
Organisers believe the initiative will help ensure excellent service in the hospitality sector.The growing network of whisky ambassadors can instantly explain to customers not only the difference between a peaty Islay and a sweet Speyside but also recount stories of the origins of whisky, why it has become an internationally-renowned tipple and tell tourists where to find the nearest distilleries.
The scheme also aims to give staff confidence to upsell, persuading customers to upgrade and "Drink Less Drink Better"
Jo Graham, a spokesman for Whisky Ambassador, said: "There are some excellent whisky bars but so many people even in high end bars and hotels know very little about our national drink.
"That's seriously bad for the trade. Bar staff should be able to talk about what whisky is, the colour, the age, the peatiness, the sweetness, and how it has come to find its way into bars all over the world.
"They should be able to tell customers where a particular whisky is extinct because it isn't being produced any longer and be knowledgeable and confident enough to up-sell, encouraging people to try a malt even if it costs a couple of pounds more than a blend."
Whisky tourism is booming with more than 210,000 people passing through the doors of Diageo's 12 visitor centres in 2010, a 20% rise on the figure for 2008.
So far the programme, used by leading establishments including Principal Hayley's Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow and Radisson Blu - has boosted sales of premium whiskies.
Lorna Jackson, HR Manager from Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow said "As a luxury venue in a major tourist destination, it is vital to us that we maintain extremely high levels of customer service. The Whisky Ambassador programme gives our staff confidence to talk to customers about our national drink and make recommendations. It has also motivated them to go away and learn more. Customers get a better experience which relates directly to profitability . It has been a win-win all round."
The training programme takes place over a day and costs £200. More details and availability around Scotland can be obtained by contacting email@example.com or ringing Sue Beatt on 07766 422376