Start-up brewery: judging beers 2

Previously I noted that the gift of feedback regarding my home-brew was something unexpected when I first started entering beers into competition.  And the feedback was so valuable, I decided to become a BJCP beer judge myself, to possibly help others brew better beers.

As I quickly learned, the purpose of the BJCP is threefold (as taken directly from the BJCP site:

•Encourage knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the world’s diverse beer, mead, and cider styles;

•Promote, recognize, and advance beer, mead, and cider tasting, evaluation, and communication skills; and

•Develop standardized tools, methods, and processes for the structured evaluation, ranking and feedback of beer, mead, and cider.

When I first started, I thought it was going to be easy.  And when I told friends and family that I was going to study to be a judge, I was usually met with a smile and a laugh—but always with a comment about how easy it would be.

And I’d like to go on record that being a BJCP was very difficult.  Everyone in the BJCP takes their responsibly very seriously—and the exams reflect that.  It’s impossible to pass without serious study.  Here is a quick outline of what needs to be done:

1.  Pass an online exam of 200 questions in an hour.  That’s one answer every (if my math is correct) 20 seconds.  but it’s not just yes/no questions, folks.  There are multiple choice, single answer, multiple answer and true/false questions about every type of beer listed in the style guide.  They can also be questions on technique and ingredients.  not for the faint of heart.

2.  Take a course to learn about the BJCP.  I chose to take a 10 week course that was put on by one of the local home-brew clubs.  I met every Wednesday for 3 hours after work to talk techniques, ingredients and chemistry.  We would also evaluate 3 beers each nite, some of which were doctored to bring out a flaw to two.  And our evaluations would be graded by the proctors.

3.  Go to an “off flavor” session.  This 3 hour session on a Saturday helped us to understand what off-flavors really tasted like.  The proctors doctored a beer to really show what oxidation (or any of the other 15 flaws) tastes like.

4.  Sit for the tasting exam.  This is an intense closed-book exam where  it was imperative to know all the different styles by memory.  The tastings were graded by three different Master judges and compared against the tastings of at least 3 BJCP judges who were also tasting the same beers.  Your score is judged by completion, descriptive ability, feedback and accuracy.  But your score is also compared to the scores of the 3 judges!  Differ from their score by more than 6 points and you’re deducted points.  Oh—and remember—you aren’t allowed to have any notes and you only have 12 minutes per beer.

5.  Volunteer to Judge and Steward.  Just getting your score isn’t enough.  The BJCP requires for you to be involved with the community and require for you to give back.  Points are awarded for judging and stewarding.  You need to earn at least 5 points before you’re granted the rank you’ve scored.  One point for each volunteer day you judge.  In my case, I’ll be “Recognized” for a bit until I get my points, whereupon I’ll move to “Certified.”

And that’s just to be at my level.  Judges that are ranked National or Master have to score at least an 80 on the tasting exam, get more volunteer points and take an intense written exam that includes creating an accurate recipe on the fly.