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Old 09-22-2013, 06:15 PM   #1
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Default BJCP Tasting Exam

I made a quick trip to Detroit this weekend to take the Beer Judge Certification Program's Tasting Exam. This is the second time I've taken the exam - I took the exam for the first time in July 2012 and received a score of 76 which, together with experience points, qualifies me for the rank of Certified Judge. I've been judging in competitions since January 2013 and thought that, with that practice, I might be able to add a few points to my score. We'll see.

Fred Bonjour organized the exam - thanks, Fred! The proctors (highly ranked judges who also took the exam) stayed afterwards to visit with us and go through their evaluations of the beers. For five of the six beers, I was within 2 points (on a 50 point scale) of them for the overall score, which I thought was very good. On the sixth beer, the proctors had a significant divergence on their scores and I was within one point of one them but 8 points away from the other.

Here's a rundown of the six beers we tasted and evaluated:

Scottish 70 Shilling - I gave this a 21, and it was a challenging beer to score. It had the clear beginnings of a sourness, early signs of an infection that was developing but had not completely taken over the beer yet. The infection had also thinned the beer's mouthfeel and diminished the malty character of the beer.

Octoberfest - I gave this a 35, it was a pleasant beer with no major flaws but lacked some of the complexity that marks the best examples of this style. It turns out that Fred had served us a commercial beer - Sam Adams Octoberfest.

Northern English Brown - Afterwards, Fred told us this was a blend of various Northern Browns from a competition. The result was a mediocre version of the style. I gave it a 27 (the proctors liked it a little better and gave it a 29). I also thought it had a touch of astringency, perhaps from sparging techniques or overuse of roasted grain.

Belgian Golden Strong - a thoroughly unenjoyable homebrewed example that missed the style in almost everyway possible except for the high alcohol. I gave it a 20. It was murky, flat, heavy/thick in the mouthfeel and cloyingly sweet. The hallmark of the style is its dryness and drinkability. In my comments, I was positive with the brewer, telling them (truthfully) that this style is remarkable challenging to make - combining a high gravity, high alcohol, dryness and drinkability. That's one challenge sometimes for judges - being respectful and helpful to the brewer when something has gone terribly wrong.

American IPA - A delightful beer that I scored a 40. Fred combined/blended competition beers for this, and it worked in part because the hop complexity was enjoyable. This beer had mango, citrus and tropical fruit aromas and flavors, backed by just enough malt.

English Barleywine - Another homebrewed, enjoyable beer that I gave a 40. Thick, malty, caramelly with a complex mix of dark and pit fruit flavors, derived from the yeast and dark malts. Afterwards, in talking with another exam taker who did not like the beer and gave it a much lower score, it was apparent that he was only familiar with the American style of Barleywine, which is different than the English version. The proctors agreed with me, thankfully.

The exam was not full, with nine of us out of a maximum of 12. Five of the examinees were from a class that Fred organized and were taking the test for the first time. The other four of us were repeat exam takers, looking to either pass or increase our score.

The exam organizer will send in our group's evaluation sheets with the proctors' sheets and another group of highly-ranked judges will grade them. The last time, I received pages and pages of very helpful comments - it was obvious the graders had spent a lot of time with the exam. Last time, it took six months to receive my score back.

About my score, I am hopeful that I did better this time, but would not say that I am optimistic and would not be surprised if I did not. There is an element of randomness in the entire process of judging beer and in the examination of that process. I'm comfortable with that. In any case, I benefited from the evaluation of my first exam, and am certain that I will be a better judge because of this experience. I know I already benefited from our post-exam conversations with the proctors.

I posted this on my blog. I'm also in conversation with the BJCP about organizing a tasting exam in Chicago, for our homebrew club (BOSS) and others, in early 2015.



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Old 09-22-2013, 07:23 PM   #2
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Excellent breakdown of the exam. Thanks for posting. I'm taking mine for the first time in mid October so this helps me get a better sense on what to expect.



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Old 09-22-2013, 09:17 PM   #3
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Nice write up of the exam. I'll be taking my second exam in November and after the two competitions I am judging at in October I'll have enough points to be Certified should I get higher than a 70. I got a 69 last time and got a ton of great feedback from the BJCP on my first exam. My biggest problem on the first exam was finding problems that weren't there just because I was expecting there to be off flavors. I need to work on approaching a new beer without preconceived notions.

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Old 09-22-2013, 10:28 PM   #4
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Sounds like you really nailed the exam, with being so close to the proctor's scores and with knowing the styles so well.

I'm just not ready to travel right now to test again to get to the National level, but maybe if you actually do this in 2015, I can sign up and visit you!

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Old 09-23-2013, 12:49 AM   #5
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I'm not at all confident that I increased my score, as I said. I'm hopeful, but that's all. If I got a lower score, it wouldn't surprise me. That's the downside of sharing this with all of you - when I get my 58 back, you'll all know

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Old 09-23-2013, 01:14 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pappers_ View Post
I'm not at all confident that I increased my score, as I said. I'm hopeful, but that's all. If I got a lower score, it wouldn't surprise me. That's the downside of sharing this with all of you - when I get my 58 back, you'll all know
It'll be good, I promise! You did very well on the initial tasting exam, and it sounds like you nailed it this time.

One thing interesting- when I took my tasting exam, it was all bad beers except for one that was "good". It was not fun- an aged RIS entered for a schwartzbier, for example. The highest score by the proctors was 34 for an oktoberfest- the rest were all 13-29ish.

You've had several excellent beers when testing I recall your first experience correctly along with this one.
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Old 09-23-2013, 01:15 AM   #7
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Good luck on the exam paps and i was wondering if you would be open to critiquing some homebrew

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Old 09-23-2013, 03:11 PM   #8
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Quote:
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. . . i was wondering if you would be open to critiquing some homebrew.
Sure, but it might make more sense to enter them in an upcoming competition, then the feedback you get will be from multiple judges and they won't have any idea whose beer it is, so its unbiased.

Here are two upcoming competitions in Chicago:

http://brixies.bobbo.net/brixtoberfest/
http://spooky.chibeer.org/

But if you want to drop off or send me some beer, I'd do that, too. The competitions are made for that though - to give brewers feedback on their beers.
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:40 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pappers_ View Post
Sure, but it might make more sense to enter them in an upcoming competition, then the feedback you get will be from multiple judges and they won't have any idea whose beer it is, so its unbiased.

Here are two upcoming competitions in Chicago:

http://brixies.bobbo.net/brixtoberfest/
http://spooky.chibeer.org/

But if you want to drop off or send me some beer, I'd do that, too. The competitions are made for that though - to give brewers feedback on their beers.
Not wanting to highjack this thread too much, but if this is something you guys are in to, here's a site that I built for our club for exactly this kind of thing - http://onlinebeerscores.com/

The idea is you enter the beer on the site, print out a label and tape it to the bottle. Bring the bottles to a club meeting and have judges take them home. You won't know who's beer it is, or who took it home. Then the judge goes back to the site, enters the number and gets to fill out an online version of the BJCP scoresheet that gets logged and emailed to the user.

Please feel free to check it out and use it if it's something you're interested in.
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Old 09-23-2013, 07:18 PM   #10
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It sounds like you nailed it. If you were that close in scores with the proctors, as long as your score sheets were fully filled out using descriptive language and offering good feedback, you should be a shoe in for 80+. Then, its off to take the written exam. I wish you a short exam grade turn around. I've heard of about 90 days right now at the fastest, but also up to 140+, just depending on the luck of the draw with your graders and their schedules. Cheers.



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