This weekend marked a pivotal moment for myself as a home brewer, a beer judge and as an all round beer dork. After many months of gearing up then putting off, revising then rescheduling, I finally sat down and spent a somewhat intense hour sitting my BJCP Beer Entrance Exam. And guess what? I passed first go. Phew. I think I may have over done the prep somewhat, much like when I took my driving test many years ago, afraid that a first time failure would discourage me from trying again for god knows how long. As it stands, yes it was hard, but having read the material and the online guides to passing I'm confident that someone choosing to pass the exam could pick up the BJCP 2015 guidelines, spend maybe a couple of hours a week with them for a month or so, get some actual experience stewarding at a BJCP Competition and be ready to attempt the exam six weeks from go. So I'm going to try and convince as many of you as possible to do just that!
These beers won't judge themselves
'What exactly is this BJCP then?' I hear you thinking. The BJCP website recently underwent a much needed upgrade, clarify and modernising the information on display.
"The Beer Judge Certification Program, Inc. (BJCP) is a world-wide certifying organisation for judges of beer and related fermented products. Founded in 1985, we now have a presence in over 40 countries and have more than 7000 active judges in the program. Judges are certified through an examination covering technical aspects of brewing, world beer styles, the purpose of the BJCP, and judging procedures, and by demonstrating practical judging skills. Judges are ranked based on their examination scores and accumulation of practical judging experience" www.bjcp.org
So basically the BJCP not only helps educate people to become beer judges but it provides a fixed structure and ranking system used across the globe, including of course here in the UK. Other beer judging methods are used by bodies such as SIBA for judging commercial beers but for home brew you won't find a better system than the BJCP, with more exhaustive resources available to help you. A good step is to join the bookface group too - Beer Judge Certification Program
Your first step should be to download the BJCP 2015 Style Guidelines app onto your phone. Updated a couple of years back (2015 to be precise) these guidelines were written primarily for home brew competitions. Grouping all beer styles into over 50 categories and sub categories, as well as covering mead, cider and perry. Having the app on your phone gives you instant access to information on any style of beer, useful when putting a recipe together, when analysing your own brews or even when trying out commercial brews you pick up from a local bottles hop or tap room. The guidelines break each style down into what should be expected from aroma, appearance, flavour and mouthfeel. It also gives an idea what the overall impression of the beer should be. These five criteria are important as they are what you will be marking on the official BJCP scoresheet. I'm going to try and post a separate blog post in the next few weeks deconstructing the new BJCP scoresheet and giving some pointers on how to correctly fill out a scoresheet, as I have been kindly instructed by the lovely folks at London Amateur Brewers over the past couple of years.
Beer Judging at last years Brew Con World Series I
So, after that quick introduction, lets talk about the ranks & the journey! This blog post will be the first in a series of posts entitled 'Mastering THE BJCP', which will chronicle my efforts to rise through the ranks and give tips, advice and information on how anyone can start their own journey including finding training material, courses and eventually exam sites. I had hoped to start writing about the BJCP in time for last years Brew Con World Series I, to introduce people to beer judging alongside a brand new large scale home brew competition but alas running the comp alongside Brew Con itself took up too much time. Luckily for us the next big UK competition (or should I say - the biggest) is just around the corner. The London & South East Craft Brewing Competition will be held from Friday 18th - Sunday 20th May and its a doozy of a comp. Entry has now closed with a phenomenal 530 paid entries on the system (including three of my own I hold very low hopes for). Stewarding at a large event like this is the perfect way to get started, and anyone can do it. So if you are keen to learn more and become a Beer Judge, and live close enough, your first port of call is the LSECBC Competition Steward Sign Up. Its great to have a date to work towards to actually give your preparation some structure.
How is the BJCP structured then? What are the ranks? How do you gain experience points to climb rank? What does it cost and how time consuming is it? Well I'm glad you asked, good buddy.
So first step before you begin judging is to pass your Beer Entrance Exam, ideally by doing a little stewarding as well. I kind of naughtily skipped this part. I'd had some sensory training, had volunteered at breweries part time and had worked in and around beer for over a decade so I actually judged before I'd ever stewarded. Luckily I was paired with a very competent judge (cheers James Thor) who helped me navigate through that first event. I wouldn't recommend following in my foot steps - read up, steward and pass the entrance exam first. The people entering their beers into these comps aren't just doing it for the chance to win but to receive some comprehensive feedback that will include analysis of faults and ways to improve the beer. They've paid for that feedback so be sure you can provide it.
At this point lets assume you have the app, have read through the styles, visited the BJCP website and browsed a few online articles. You stewarded an event and tried lots of beers, good & bad examples of styles. You should be able to take and passed the Entrance Exam - follow these tips on passing the exam below.
NEW BJCP website & OLD BJCP website (currently mid migration so info is a bit split)
Beer Judging & The BJCP Exam - Gordon Strong & Scott Bickman
BJCP Membership Guide (total in depth nerdfest, I love this page. Will probably do a blog on points at some point).
Beer Syndicate Guide to Entrance Exam (a more step by step guide to the actual exam - this is the page I used the most).
So let's say you passed - Hurray! You are now a Provisional Judge - you don't get a BJCP ID as you are not technically a BJCP Member until you pass the Judging Exam, but its the first step so well done! You do get a snazzy certificate however.
Cost - £10 exam
Time - 4-6 weeks prep
Requirements - 60% pass rate on exam
My Mum framed this and it's hanging next to my degree in the hall. One cost £20'000 one cost £10. One I will never use again in my life and one literally represents my current life goals #studentdebtbants
So I'm a bit gutted I don't get a proper BJCP ID yet. I was kind of hoping passing the online exam got me into the club but alas not yet. It allows you to sit the Beer Judging Exam however. Whoop Whoop. So that is the next step!
I did start writing about the other steps but my computer froze and I lost a few hundred words so I'm guessing thats a sign that this is enough for Step 1. In a months time I'll be looking at what the Beer Judging Exam entails, what the next ranks up the ladder are and how you can accumulate points, both judging and non judging!
Any questions please comment - and if you pass your Entrance Exam please post below!