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Studying for BJCP Beer Judging Examination

Hello QUAFFers,

Having just taken the tasting portion of the BJCP exam I thought I’d put down a few thoughts to help those in the future who want to study and advance within the BJCP world of judging.  After completing the new 200 Q’s/ 60 minutes online entry exam, you’ll want to sign up for the tasting exam right away.  Why?  Because the list is very long and the test is given infrequently. 

I believe it’s about once a year in San Diego.  Hopefully, when the graders have caught up, the exam size and frequency will increase.  You’ll also need 3 to 4 months to prepare for the exam.  Which sounds entirely crazy, but if you choose to do it once a week, it will take that long to get through all the styles. 

Our studying for this most recent exam was two fold: Travis ran a special weekly class to help us prepare for the exam.  Beer review, test mechanics (grading, focus etc…) and practice judging and a practice exam.  The other was 6 to 7  of us met weekly on Wednesdays to supplement Travis’ course with more focused study on beer subcategories.  We’d pick a main cat and attempt to find 2 classic examples of each sub-cat and taste them side-by-side. 

Notes from Jenny Durose:

– Although I practiced doing score sheets without guidelines ALOT, we rarely practiced with truly flawed beers and so I found that my timing during the exam was really off.  I would definitely suggest people get together in groups and practice judging a mixture of classic styles and flawed beers without guidelines so they can get the hang of how the test will really be. I probably spent a whole 15min on that nasty pilsner. You could have each person bring one beer so people didn’t know if they were going to be good beers or bad beers.

– I would also suggest the side-by-side tasting comparisons between different categories in addition to within a category. For example the side-by-side comparison of a wit beer, hefe, and american wheat beers was very informative for detecting different ester and phenol profiles. We also did Belgian Blond and Pale side-by-side, and Robust Porter/Dry Irish Stout.

When reading the BJCP style guidelines at the bottom you’ll find the Commercial Examples.  Like this:

Where Ayinger Maibock is the best classic example, and then as the beers drift in accuracy Smuttynose Maibock is still a classic example but not THE classic example.  We would attempt to find the top beer and one near the bottom to give us a range of flavor to understand what the beer should taste like.

The reason we chose once a week was to accommodate people’s schedules, the larger the group the more difficult it can be scheduling.  Another reason for once a week is to make sure you can find enough beer.  At times hunting will be involved to track down different obscure imports.  We held our classes at KnB Wine Cellars in Del Cerro, but it was always a bit too noisy and we also attempted to host classes at BottleCraft in little Italy.  I had asked the owner to reserve us table space and he refused “First Come, First Served”, which I thought was odd for a Wednesday, and with the noise, we soon found ourselves back at someone’s home.  Which in the end seemed to be the best environment.

A note on selecting beer: Not all of the beer from the Old World will have traveled well.  We found massive problems with oxidization, infection and being light struck.  Look for bottling dates, purchase green glass beer from the far back of the stack or if possible, within an entirely enclosed package and there’s not much you can do to avoid infection, which we found in Meantime beers and another.  Light Struck in the green bottles was a very big problem in many beers, be selective in your hunting.

Notes from Eric Holden:

One of the things I did for my class this year was have an actual practice exam.  Everything is exactly the same, 90 minutes, the same recommend  beer styles (Lager, Ale, Dark, Light, two off flavors, one classic example  that the BJCP recommends for the actual exam.  I think that really helped out and would be a good thing to do for future classes the week before the actual exam.

My last thought occurred to me as our Cat 8b Special/Best/Premium Bitter was the 1st beer served during the exam and a moment of terror went through me: when studying the categories, the 1st cats you should do which are the furthest from the exam date should be the beers the group feels most confident about.  The beers studied closest to the exam date should be the beers you’re most unfamiliar with so they will be fresh in your mind.  We had studied Cat 8 early on, and as it’s not a beer I consume often, I realized a mistake I had made in the order of category study.  Oops.

The exam can cover nearly any beer other than mead/cider.  The 10-20-2012 exam consided of these beers:

Notes from Brett Goldstock on the Exam Beers:

To add to this a bit, I also took the 10/20/2012 tasting exam and
though I’d comment on the beers served and my thoughts on them.

#1 Special/Best/Premium Bitter
Agree with EW. I’m not as familiar with English Pale Ales because
frankly there aren’t that many good examples available in the states.
Yes, we should have studied these closer to the exam (and this goes for
other styles that are less available). This example had some flaws. I
think I made good note of them, but this is a more subtle style.

#2 Munich Dunkel
This was a fairly decent Munich Dunkel, but the exam coordinator was
(as we found out after the exam) going for something just “good”. He
had mixed a homebrewed Munich Dunkel that was decent with a Mild. Looking
to lighten the body a bit, I think.

#3 German Pilsner
This was supposed to represent the homebrew gone wrong and the exam
coordinator definitely accomplished that. It was flat, a bit dark in
color, and had been dosed with the liquid from a can of corn and Pam
butter-flavored cooking spray. It was quite a mess. The takeaway from
this beer was that it took a lot more time to diagnose the problems in
this beer than it took to write up some of the other better examples.
Plan accordingly! The 90 minutes goes quick!

#4 Belgian Dubbel
This was supposed to be a good beer and I think that was accomplished.
It was a homebrewed example and ended up in the high “good” range.

#5 Robust Porter
This was apparently an award-winning Baltic Porter that actually did
quite well as a Robust. It was noted that it needed more roast
character and hops, both of which are typically lower in a Baltic.

#6 Strong Scotch Ale
There was quite a lot of contention with this one. It was a commercial
example which was quite good, but had a strong sherry note (oxidative)
that I had picked up and dinged it for, but only one of the proctor
judges also picked it up. The other two judges scored it much higher.
In the end, the proctor judges’ consensus score ended up being lower than
it might otherwise be, but I was ok with that since it matched my
score better.

EW Note: This was a homebrewed Strong Scotch Ale by PS.

FYI, the three proctor judges independently will judge each entry (at
the same time as the test-takers are scoring theirs) and then
afterwards agree on a consensus score. Both the individual scoresheets of the
proctor judges as well as the consensus score will be submitted to the
exam graders for use in score the scoresheets of all examinees.

Finally the BJCP website has a wealth of information.

Master Level Score Sheets
Horrible Level Score Sheets
Off Flavor Kits order this as Soon as you being studying as it can take awhile for the kits to arrive.  If your tasting group doesn’t have a current judge, post to the QUAFF mail list to have someone help you out with this.

Hopefully this is a bit of advice to help those preparing for the next exam.  Start early, attend Kim or Joe’s continuing ed classes as well as forming a study group.  Once you have taken the online entry exam, you’ll need to score a National ranking of 80% or higher to qualify for the written exam.  That’s a pretty high bar!  Best of Luck!

EW

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2 Responses to “Studying for BJCP Beer Judging Examination”

  1. To add to this a bit, I also took the 10/20/2012 tasting exam and though I’d comment on the beers served and my thoughts on them.

    #1 Special/Best/Premium Bitter
    Agree with EW. I’m not as familiar with English Pale Ales because frankly there aren’t that many good examples available in the states. Yes, we should have studied these closer to the exam (and this goes for other styles that are less available). This example had some flaws. I think I made good note of them, but this is a more subtle style.

    #2 Munich Dunkel
    This was a fairly decent Munich Dunkel, but the exam coordinator was (as we found out after the exam) going for something just “good”. He had mixed a homebrewed Munich Dunkel that was decent with a Mild. Looking to lighten the body a bit, I think.

    #3 German Pilsner
    This was supposed to represent the homebrew gone wrong and the exam coordinator definitely accomplished that. It was flat, a bit dark in color, and had been dosed with the liquid from a can of corn and Pam butter-flavored cooking spray. It was quite a mess. The takeaway from this beer was that it took a lot more time to diagnose the problems in this beer than it took to write up some of the other better examples. Plan accordingly! The 90 minutes goes quick!

    #4 Belgian Dubbel
    This was supposed to be a good beer and I think that was accomplished. It was a homebrewed example and ended up in the high “good” range.

    #5 Robust Porter
    This was apparently an award-winning Baltic Porter that actually did quite well as a Robust. It was noted that it needed more roast character and hops, both of which are typically lower in a Baltic.

    #6 Strong Scotch Ale
    There was quite a lot of contention with this one. It was a commercial example which was quite good, but had a strong sherry note (oxidative) that I had picked up and dinged it for, but only one of the proctor judges also picked it up. The other two judges scored it much higher. In the end, the proctor judges’ consensus score ended up being lower than it might otherwise be, but I was ok with that since it matched my score better.

    FYI, the three proctor judges independently will judge each entry (at the same time as the test-takers are scoring theirs) and then afterwards agree on a consensus score. Both the individual scoresheets of the proctor judges as well as the consensus score will be submitted to the exam graders for use in score the scoresheets of all examinees.

  2. […] a judge, you never know what catagory you may be assigned to.  Sure you’ve studied and taken the tasting and/or written exam, but none of us drinks from the entire style regularly […]


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