You might have realized or not, but you do judge the beer every time you drink it without knowing. The evaluation of beer is an art, and there lies science behind it.
So, this art is something that can be learned by acknowledging its description and terminology.
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is the National Homebrew Judging association. They sanction a lot of homebrew competitions all over the country, and one can certainly turn out to be a judge through their testing. There has been beer since forever, and so has beer evaluation and tasting. In this scenario, scientifically evaluating the beer with our sharp senses has become a lot more advanced.
Now, more than ever before, homebrewers and beer fanatics are getting into in the aroma, appearance, taste, and surprisingly the history behind the beers as well. Beer lovers like to try out new things – a reason craft beer’s getting more popular than ever.
What do Homebrewers Need to Keep in Mind?
It seems to be too obvious to make beer and to keep improving the features of beer with every attempt to the homebrewers. So, they would love to know the art and science behind the evaluation of beer.
You might be doing great at refining the processes or ingredients for improving the flavor, mouthfeel, aroma, or whatever of the beer you brewed. Before you get into this, you must be able to describe a beer at its best.
Go ahead and check out all the describing words used to evaluate a beer because of its terminology. These beer descriptors will help you to describe the appearance, tactile impressions, flavors, and every other characteristic of beer like a pro. Here’s our cheat sheet for reference.
What kind of a beer lover are you?
There are beer lovers who take delight in drinking and beer judges who take delight in sniffing. These judges are so dedicated that they work very hard to evaluate and provide authentic feedback to both the homebrewers and professional brewers.
The beer judges keep studying a lot more obscure style guides and stay committed in their entire journey to become the best judge ever. They keep on learning to gain great experiences that teach and refine them with every attempt.
If you want to be the best beer judge, you must constantly keep training your senses to recognize aromas and flavors better. The more beery exercise you do, the more confidence you get. It’ll also develop your beer career apart from keeping you aware of beer flavors.
The pro tip to become a beer judge with amazing beer skills is— read the beer style guidelines intently.
Beer Style Guidelines: What You Should Know
The beer style guidelines initially focus on the appearance of beer, followed by the aroma, flavor, and other attributes of beer. The judges use these versions of guidelines. These are updated every year, as a resource to match against when the beers enter the competition.
Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is a world-wide, volunteer-run program (sounds cool?). It happens to champion the beer judging and evaluation skills of homebrewed beer. Their style guidelines (93 page pdf) classify each style into different main and sub-categories.
The BJCP guidelines offer a common set of standards for judges so that every entrant gets an even chance. Now, both the judges and entrants will have the same knowledge acquired. This is to avoid subjective opinion as much as possible enter match the given beer with commercial ones.
You’ll have to take an online exam and an in-person tasting exam to become a BJCP-certified judge. Then, you can keep evolving from a BJCP recognized status to a certified one and beyond.
It’s better to have a copy of the style guidelines so that it can come in handy for quick references. The BJCP provides some outstanding beer judge apps for Android and Apple and few other mobile options to acknowledge you with flavor descriptors, beer color, and common off-flavor descriptions and sources.
Let’s Get Started
Practice Judging Beer
Getting a lot of samples and practicing a wide range of beer styles helps you get familiar with their features. Take a beer and don’t get to know any information about its brand, packaging, or anything before you taste it. Just do a blind test and discuss the characteristics.
Try Identifying Off-Flavor
When you are figuring out why a beer tastes bad, we should be more specific. You should know what all are the off-flavors that are accepted and what are not.
Widen Your Vocabulary
Get your home brewing friends gathered, get samples of different beer styles, and judge them one by one while discussing among yourselves. Make separate score sheets and openly compare your comments so that you can enhance your describing words. The more you describe, the better your vocabulary gets.
Steward a Competition and Volunteer
Steward serves the samples to the judges in the competition and also sort entries in score sheets. They play a good role in making sure that each beer competition executed carefully and professionally. So, stewarding is an incredible way to train yourself into a judge.
For all the newbies out there, Beer Mastery Course is a perfect place for you all to start. It’s an hour-long course by Marty Nachel that outlines the beer history, ingredients, and processes, styles tasting, glassware, pairing beer and food. This is the best course to get an overview and foundation of the vocabulary and language of craft beer.
BJCP Exam Center
To become a beer judge, keep advancing your rank and palate, the BJCP Exam Center is one of the top resources to wind up at.
The beer schools section here gives listings for the online and physical schools as well. It includes links to this super-popular Cicerone Certification Program and more.
There are heaps of imperative books for endeavoring judges. The Brewers Publications is a good-to-start place and these style-specific books are so much needed.
How To Become a Beer Judge
You would keep sniffing to evaluate various beers which might include something that smells like butyric acid too (yuck, vomit!). You would be seated with many other judges on the panel, having a steward fetching beer bottles. You’d sniff every few ounces, you’d sniff, you’d sniff again to provide some unknown brewer with feedback and tell how to brew it better.
So, when is this all gonna happen to be excelled by you? How are your senses gonna be sharpened to become a pro in judging the beer you love? It’s no sooner than you read through the following.
Online Entrance Test
Take up a Course to Get Trained
It would be great if you could take in-person classes with local BJCP master judges organized by local homebrew clubs now and then. The key to staying in the loop regarding any upcoming training and judging opportunities is the involvement with the local homebrew club. Obviously this has its challenges in todays world, which helped to create the Beer Mastery Course. Your best resource at this stage.
Be a Steward in Beer Judging Competitions
Do reach out to any local homebrew competition organizers and try stewarding any homebrew competitions. It includes drinking beer to the judges, ensuring the score sheets are filled, checking scores.
This way, you can make good contacts with the local judging community and experience how it’s to be a beer judge (not really, a tableside view to be precise).
Craft a Beer at Home
I do presume you are already into homebrewing. If you want to be a beer judge, homebrewing is the foundation. You’ve to brew it and taste by yourself as the practical application of knowledge matters a lot after all technical feedback is impossible without knowing how the beer got those particular flavors and aromas into it.
Take the Entrance Exam and Sign-up for the Tasting Exam
It would cost $10 to take an entrance exam, and if you fail, you can attempt again within 24 hours as many times as you want to (but it costs you as it’s $10 for each attempt but not for all the attempts).
This entrance exam consists of 200 questions that are to be answered in 60 minutes. The question format is true or false and multiple-choice with no long essays short answers to be written ( Nah, not a sigh of relief). This brainy exam can catch out if you’re really a beer savvy or just aspiring to be one. So, don’t think this exam is easy enough to get through but study up.
Once you pass the online BJCP entrance exam initially, look into the mirror and you’ll see a “provisional judge” looking back at you. This upgraded version of you should have to wait for a year to break a leg in the tasting exam.
Don’t get bummed on hearing to wait for a year. Here’s a tip, reach out to the organizers of the tests in your area that are sanctioned by the BJCP, let them know you’ve passed the online entrance, and stay in touch. They would like to have you as a judge for sure once you’ve passed. Ain’t it a better way to learn from an experienced judge to top the BJCP tasting exam?
Keep practicing loads of score sheets and judging everything (not every breathing-thing but brewed-thing). Though the commercial beers are good for judging, try judging more of homebrew as they are likely to be evaluated at competitions in general. So yeah, make many a homebrewing friend to get showered with vivid types of beer. No, you can’t say “friends with benefits” because you’d certainly judge and give precious feedback to improve them.
This way, you can actively do stewarding, test organizing, and judging so that you’d have extra polished skills when you got to be the beer judge. You can get very familiar with the score sheets, how it should be filled out in time. You can also strop your skills and scoring accuracy by judging with others.
Rock the Exam and Be a Connoisseur
To crush the exam as this is not something you can get along without studying or if you just have average knowledge of beer, do create all stupid stories and link them up to remember stuff. Sing acronyms in a tune to remember all the ingredients, flavors, and other characteristics.
To give genuine and detailed feedback to the brewers who put in a lot of effort, time, and money to craft the beers, these steps mentioned above help you to improve brewing.
BJCP Beer Tasting Exam
Well, now that you’re a Provisional Judge in the BJCP, I mean if you do follow all the steps mentioned above then yes, you’re a provisional judge, keep going. If not, make yourself comfortable with all the sources and techniques stated to proceed with the next level.
Technically, a Provisional Judge is regarded as a beer judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program. If you want to go great guns in the beer evaluation then just don’t stop learning yet. Don’t let your head close the gateway for guidelines and keep exploring. Now, you need them more than ever because getting better always craves for extra efforts.
How to Pass the BJCP Tasting Exam
If you have really good senses and got through the entrance exam then stay even more dedicated, spend more time and money than the previous step.
Are you up for it? Ah, perfect! Let’s dive down deeper.
The BJCP Tasting Exam will be held in-person at a particular location. This exam comprises 6 various beers to judge and evaluate over 90 minutes. As steward brings out each beer, the style you will judge it against will be disclosed. For every 15 minutes, a new beer will be brought out, and it continues till all the six beers have been dispensed. So, you will be left with 15 minutes to fill out each judging sheet to the fullest.
This tasting exam costs you $40, and you might probably need to travel to the other cities to attend the exam. Take a beer and make it a fun trip, that way, you can practice for one last time before the exam too. Here you go with some tips to have a go at the BJCP tasting exam.
When you sign up for this exam, try to be as advanced as possible, be it a month or a year. These tasting exams have so limited capacity that they fill soon. If you can’t attempt an exam as it’s full, try contacting the test organizers so that you’ll have your name on the waiting list. If you got on the waiting list, you might be informed at the last minute with an opening. So, don’t make plans for that day.
Well, never sign up for more than one exam at a time and drop it in the last time for your benefit. You don’t want to trouble the organizers, do you?
Be Nice to the Brewers
Walloping the beer on the floor because you found it yucky wouldn’t be a great idea, right? So, try to be nice to the brewers.
It’s essential for a beer judge to provide productive criticism so that it helps the brewers to brush themselves up. All they need is encouraging feedback from an effective judge. The judging or homebrew community doesn’t want that guy who blows out some homebrewer’s flame but help them. So, just do practice in a way your feedback consists of helpful information to lend a hand.
Provide an Encouraging Feedback
Everyone can point out mistakes in art but only an artist knows how to correct them. So yeah, prepare yourself not just for writing down the faults but fixing them. (Again, nicely!) Also, be mindful of some common off-flavors that are acceptable to be contained in some styles.
So, keep exploring the style guidelines, grind more vague styles, and taste as many beers as you can get yourself cozy with the description.
Boost Your Vocabulary
Try getting well-versed with plenty of words to describe the beer. Keep yourself updated with a great deal of new vocabulary every day and pen them down to memorize.
If you realize the taste of popcorn butter in a beer which is termed to be diacetyl, make sure you can suggest the brewer as in how to avoid it in a sentence as precisely as possible.
The Beer Tasting Mastery Course is your best resource for help at this stage of the journey.
I know you all can write, of course, but I don’t think you do write with a pencil for an unbroken hour and a half often. Yes, you’ll have to constantly right for an hour and a half in the competition. Make sure you have a knack for writing before you take up the exam. You don’t want your hand to feel a twinge while filling the score sheet in.
Take up a mock exam at home
Ask one of your homebrewing friends to get you some beer samples. Ask him to serve you beer samples every 15 minutes until you are done with six. This mock exam at home will help you gain an idea and experience as in how it would be to taste 6 beer samples in 90 minutes while beer judging in the competition.
Keep Your Nose Clean
Make sure that you keep your nose clean so that you can breathe easily and trace the characteristics of beer in cruise control. You don’t want to catch a cold, or any kind of sinus congestion as your nose might fail in sniffing well.
So, don’t drink anything cold or eat an ice-cream but take care when the competition is round the corner. A night before the competition with the air conditioner blowing on your head the whole night might give you doomed outcomes too.
There’s something cool about this exam, and it’s that you get to discuss your thoughts as soon as you take the test just like you discuss in a class. This way you will get a good idea of how well you performed based on the discussion. The actual results don’t come until months along the line. Your judge status depends on the score you gained in the tasting exam and also your experience.
The Practice is the Key to Perfection
You will get as better as you keep judging a lot of beers. This profession can be such a cool hobby if you really love what you do. Never forget to have fun because it’s beer. Don’t get disheartened looking at the style guidelines because everyone starts with nothing, and maybe you’ll end up being a great beer judge in the Great American Beer Festival.
Someday, you might become a Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, but your extensive experience should still consider yourself a beer beginner on a ceaseless journey to learn more about craft beer.
As long as your preparation is done and dusted, and you made yourself well acquainted with the descriptors and the characteristics of beer, you will do great in the exam. The BJCP Mastery Course by Josh Weikert will train you on all the skills mention above and is the best resource on passing the online and tasting exams.
Ah, now that you have come along a very long path and hey, you are a beer judge now. Cheers to you fine sir! Now, go start signing up all the beer tests that are going to be organized around you and get those winning points into your bag.
Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.