Becoming a Beer Judge
As homebrewers, we are continually looking to improve our brewing skills. One of the most important things that we can do, is to learn how to critically evaluate the beer that we are tasting. Even if you have no intention of ever becoming a beer judge, taking the time study and train your palate (as well as learning the terminology describing what you are tasting), will only improve your skills as brewers.
It sounds silly to say that you have to learn to taste beer, but it is true. Although we taste beer every time we drink, we need to educate ourselves so that we know what to look for when drinking a particular style of beer. In addition, we need to learn to identify flaws that could be present in the beer. The good news is – it doesn’t involve any spitting like those crazy wine judges. Below are just some of the off flavors that a judge is looking for when evaluating a beer.
- Acetaldehyde – Green Apple
- Diacetyl – Butterscotch or Buttered Popcorn
- Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS) – Cooked Corn
- Estery – Fruity flavors like banana, pear, strawberry, citrus
- Light Struck – Skunky
- Oxidized – Stale Cardboard like
There is a lot of information to learn in order to be a judge, and the best place to start is with the people who created the program: The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). In 1985, the BJCP organization was created for the purpose of educating and testing those who are interested in becoming beer judges. They are also responsible for the beer style guidelines that are used in competitions as well as sanction beer competitions throughout the world. The BJCP maintains a website www.bjcp.org, that has all of the resources that you could possibly want when learning to evaluate beer including vocabulary lists, study guidelines, off flavor information, etc.
There is no substitute for experience, so it is vital that you also learn by tasting the different styles of beer. Many local Homebrew clubs have study groups in which you can get together with others and sample beer styles. When tasting, it is also a good idea to practice writing out score sheets as if you were truly judging the beers. This will help you learn to use much of the vocabulary that you have been studying.
For those of us with busy schedules, there are also online courses that you can take that will help you prepare for testing. These classes are run by a teacher via webinar in which you will be online with others across the country. The teachers will spend time going over all of the style guidelines for each category while you drink along from a suggested list of beers. Aside from being able to do this from the comfort of your home, the instructors are experienced judges who can answer questions and give you additional tips on taking the test. For additional info, check out www.betterbeerscores.com.
The first step in taking the BJCP exam is the web-based BJCP Beer Judge Entrance Exam. This is an online exam in which you will need to answer 200 questions within 60 minutes. The questions are a mixture of true and false, multiple choice and multiple answer. There is a $10 fee to take the exam and the test is pass/fail, no scoring will be provided. For those that do not pass the exam, they can retake the test after a one day waiting period, although they will be required to pay an additional $10 each time they take the test.
For those that pass the test, they are now considered a provisional judge. This is not a BJCP rank, but will allow them to move on to taking the tasting portion of the exam called the BJCP Beer Judging Exam. Provisional judges must take the Beer Judging Exam within one year or they will lose their provisional status and have to go back and take Entrance exam again.
The BJCP Judging Exam requires you to sample and judge six beers served in 15 minute intervals. The fee is $40 the first time you take the test. If you need to retake the test, it is only $15.00. The test is scored by comparing your judging score sheets to those of a proctor. The closer you are to judging the same as the proctor, the better your score. Then higher the score the better your rank.
- Less than 60% – Apprentice Judge
- 60-69% – Recognized Judge
- 70+ and five experience points – Certified Judge
Written Proficiency Exam
The BJCP Beer Judge Written Proficiency Exam is for those who are interested in advancing to a National rank or higher. In order to qualify to take this exam, the judge will need to have passed the BJCP Judging Exam with a score of 80% or higher and must have a minimum of 10 judging experience points. The exam consists of 20 true or false questions as well as five essay questions within 90 minutes. The fee for the test is $15.00
With the growth of homebrewing across the country, there is quite a bit of interest in becoming a beer judge. Because of this, there are long waiting lists that can take over two years to get a spot to take the BJCP Judging Exams. But do not be deterred, if this is something that you feel that you would like to do, than 2 years is not that long a wait.
Besides, you do not need to be a ranked judge in order to participate in judging a competition. It will provide you with great experience to judge as a non-ranked amateur, in which you will be paired up with a ranked judge. All of this experience will only help you to become a better brewer and a better judge when you get the opportunity to take the exam. For more information on becoming a Beer Judge, please visit www.bjcp.org.
The Brew Hut