That's how far away the BJCP exam is.
For some background, I've been wanting to become a certified beer judge for years now. Last January it was one of my New Years Resolutions to pass the exam; a group of us formed to study for it.
There is a huge demand for the BJCP and not enough resources, so the earliest we could schedule it was March 2013. In hindsight, I'm glad we've had over a year to study because it's a ton to learn and a whole lot of fun.
We've been fairly consistent about meeting every two weeks. The study sessions generally go like this:
- Choose a BJCP style category (the next one in line)
- Someone brings bottled examples of the style
- We read the guidelines, taste the beer, and fill out scoresheets
We haven't been too disciplined about formally judging beers because it's much more fun to just sit and talk about them, but that will now change as the exam is right around the corner.
A Change of Approach
In 2012 there were changes to the BJCP exam structure. You can read all of the details (pdf) if you wish, but to sum it up:
- The exam used to be a combination of a tasting exam and a written exam. They are now separate exams, and you must pass the tasting exam before becoming eligible for the written exam.
- There is now an online entrance exam which you must pass in order to take the tasting exam.
- The tasting exam consists of judging six beers (compared to the previous four) and comparing your scores against those of the exam proctor (a National or Master judge).
So the individual exams and their sequence is this: online entrance exam -> tasting exam -> written exam.
The exam we have in March is the tasting exam. To me, it is a relief that we're no longer doing the written exam. When we learned of the changes we altered our strategy. Since we no longer need to be as well versed on technical topics (brewing techniques, beer style attributes, etc), we could focus strictly on tasting, judging, and learning off-flavors.
Yes, you do need to know those technical topics and style guidelines for the online entrance exam, but it is nowhere near as in-depth as the written exam. I passed the online exam recently and it's not that difficult if you have a good base knowledge of beer styles and some brewing experience.
The Home Stretch
The strategy for these final weeks is judge, judge, judge. We've made it through all of the BJCP styles and are now just going to concentrate on filling out scoresheets.
No one is a “natural” at filling out scoresheets. Even if you have the best palate in the world, it doesn't mean you are good at giving feedback to homebrewers.
Filling out scoresheets with other judges is critical. You need to calibrate your judging and discover any blind spots you may have. If you score a beer at 40 and another judge gives it a 20, that's not good. In the tasting exam, the farther away your score is from the proctor's, the more points you lose.
I know I need work at judging. If I took the exam today I'd be in trouble. But I've made big strides in the past year and as long as I buckle down between now and exam time, I'm confident I'll do well.
Besides, it doesn't take much to convince me to drink more beer.