The long-awaited updates for the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines have recently been released. The last update was 2008, and the new updates reflect the many changes in the beer world since then. There are now separate documents for Beer, Mead and Cider styles, which allows them to be updated in the future on different schedules. The BJCP expects that by the end of 2015, all competitions will use the 2015 guidelines.
WHAT IS THE BJCP?
The purpose of the BJCP is to: 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. The BJCP certifies and ranks beer judges through an examination and monitoring process, sanctions competitions, and provides educational resources for current and future judges.
The BJCP was founded in 1985 and it has administered the Beer Judge Examination to 8,576 individuals worldwide. 5,077 are currently active judges in the program, with 767 holding the rank of National or higher. Since the BJCP started keeping detailed records, its members have judged more than 1 million beers and it has sanctioned roughly 6,500 competitions.
In the May/June 2015 issue of Zymurgy magazine, editor-in-chief Jill Redding interviewed BJCP president Gordon Strong. Here are a few excerpts:
Redding: What were the main goals in updating the BJCP style guidelines?
Strong: The biggest goal was to expand the guidelines with modern, popular styles, to include historical styles of interest to homebrewers, and to better reflect world beer styles …
Redding: What’s the main purpose of the BJCP guidelines?
Strong: … to provide a reference for brewers and judges in homebrew competitions. However, we acknowledge that the guidelines are used for far more than that. Since the guidelines are so detailed, and are offered free for educational use, we have seen a widespread adoption of our terminology and classification system.
Redding: What are some of the most significant changes for 2015?
Strong: Every word has been reviewed … we have added many new styles, and completely reorganized the groupings. A new Historical category contains many examples that are being rediscovered by craft brewers, such as Gose and Sahti. We’ve added a number of Czech lagers, and introduced an American Wild category … and styles that have been developed or are in more demand, like English Golden Ale, Australian Sparkling Ale, and Wheatwine. The IPA category has been greatly expanded by introducing a range of Specialty IPAs.
*Read more about Gordon Strong at the bottom of this post.
WHY CATEGORIZE BEERS INTO STYLES?
Driven by curiosity and a desire to better understand our surroundings, it is human nature to categorize just about everything. It helps us to better understand things, it creates order, and it develops a common-ground language. When it comes to beer, styles are important. Brewers need styles so they know what they’re brewing – whether they strictly adhere to traditions and classic styles or push a style to its extreme. You can’t innovate on styles — or invent new ones — without having a solid understanding of the baseline. Consumers need styles so they know what they’re buying. Judges need styles so that they know what they’re judging, and to ensure fair competitions.
THE BREWERS ASSOCIATION’S STYLE GUIDELINES
The Brewers Association (BA) has its own set of Style Guidelines that it uses for the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup competitions. Since 1979, the BA has provided beer style descriptions as a reference for brewers and beer competition organizers. Much of the early work was based on the assistance and contributions of beer journalist Michael Jackson. The task of creating a realistic set of guidelines is always complex. The beer style guidelines developed by the BA use sources from the commercial brewing industry, beer analyses, and consultations with beer industry experts and knowledgeable beer enthusiasts as resources for information. The Brewers Association’s beer style guidelines reflect, as much as possible, historical significance, authenticity or a high profile in the current commercial beer market. Often, the historical significance is not clear, or a new beer in a current market may be only a passing fad, and thus, quickly forgotten. For these reasons, the addition of a style or the modification of an existing one is not taken lightly and is the product of research, consultation and consideration of market actualities, and may take place over a period of time.
INTERESTED IN BECOMING A BEER JUDGE?
If you’re interested in becoming a BJCP judge, a good place to start is the BJCP Exam Center. It has study guides and tips, and it has all the information about what exams you will need to take.
Locally, in the Bellingham area, Justin Bajema has an exam scheduled for March of next year, and he will likely do a class prior to that. “People can also volunteer to judge at local competitions to gain experience,” Bajema says. “In addition to the Best of the Bay (a local competition put on by the Bellingham Homebrewers Guild), people can find out about area competitions at wahomebrewers.org.” For local information, contact Bajema at justinbajema(at)gmail.com.
Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, published a great article on craftbeer.com titled, “So you want to be a beer judge?” In it, she writes:
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is a global, volunteer-run program (how amazing is that?) that exists to further beer judging and tasting and the evaluation skills of homebrewed beer. The BJCP Style Guidelines break beer into 23 main categories with multiple sub-categories in each style.
To become a BJCP-certified judge, you’ll take an on-line exam and an in-person tasting exam. From there, you can further test to evolve from BJCP recognized status to certified and beyond.
ABOUT GORDON STRONG
Gordon Strong is the only three-time winner of the coveted National Homebrew Competition Ninkasi Award. He is president of and the highest ranking judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), and principal author of the BJCP Style Guidelines. Strong is a technical editor and commercial calibration panelist for Zymurgy magazine and a frequent contributor to other brewing and beer publications. Strong also authored “Brewing Better Beer: Master lessons for advanced homebrewers.” This spring, he has a new book coming out titled, “Modern Homebrew Recipes: Exploring styles and contemporary techniques.”