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Old 03-23-2011, 03:35 PM   #1
jfowler1
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Default Just Read BJCP Study Guide - my thoughts

I have always been interested in the BJCP program. I love the concept of brewing to a style, and I've spent countless hours listening to Jamil's style shows during my commutes. I have listened to each style at least twice, and the ones I brew as many as a dozen times. Even styles I had no interest in brewing were worth listening to for education's sake. I own and have read Designing Great Beers, Brewing Classic styles, and Jamil's yeast book. For kicks I picked up Radical Brewing and the Complete Joy[....] but I find they are more for interest than reference. In other words, I am familar with styles. Jamil is an active supporter of the BJCP and what it stands for. I am quite a Ja-ciple, so usually if Jamil says it, it's right, so I'll listen. I just read through the study guide and it raised some questions.

Here it is.

http://www.kroc.org/BJCP%20Exam%20In...tudy_Guide.pdf

First, I know I should probably put my money where my mouth is, but as it reads, I am pretty sure I can sit down and take this test today, and come out with a reasonably good result. Brewing process and style questions are pretty straight forward, allow you some freedom, and they account for 90% of your score. Another 5% is True/False. I find that a little discouraging. More discouraging is the minimal requirements to be a BJCP "recognized" judge. I could be wrong about 40% of the information I put on paper, have no experience in judging, and write down on a scoresheet that I am BJCP recognized as I pick through your beer (with 40% of my comments being officially wrong). A "novice" may judge your beer after officially failing the test. Should a "D" student be teaching the class? That is a little screwed up.

There are several style questions. You are given (and you can sometimes choose) a style, and asked to describe as follows.

6 points- Describe the aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel of each sub-style as in the BJCP Style Guidelines.
2 points- Identify at least one aspect of the ingredients (malts, hops, water chemistry) or background information (history, fermentation techniques and conditions, or serving methods) that distinguishes each sub-style.
1 point For each of the sub-styles, name at least one classic commercial example as listed in the BJCP Style Guidelines.
1 point Describe the similarities and differences between the three sub-styles.

Are you telling me you can average missing 40% of this information for each style you discuss and still be a recognized judge? Lets do an example. American Ale.
Naming 1 aspect of ingredients/history correctly gets you to 20%! Citrus hops, often Cascade, Light crystals, clean american yeast. No diacetyl. Off-shoot of British Pale Ales, popularized on the West Coast and are usually higher in alcohol and bitterness, should be made with domestic ingredients, and fermented with less esters than their British counter parts. That was easy.
Naming 1 commercial example gets you another 10%! SNPA, Lagunitas Censored, Big Sky Moose Drool.
Given those two things, you would have to correctly describe less than half of the sub-styles in the biggest point catagory to come up with a 60% overall score. So a Pale Ale should be jet black, no more than 15 IBU's, with an OG of around 1.053 and a FG of 1.012, and finish with a pleasant, citrus-y late hop character. I just got 60%! Come on.

"Certified" is a little more in line, missing 30% of the information the test was looking for, but at least carries a minimum experience of sitting in on 5 panels (for 2.5 points). I think I would accept notes from a Certified judge as being pretty helpful, but what % of judges are at least certified, let alone a "Nationally Recognized" or "Master"?

I am at a point I would really like to start entering some beers to get credited feedback, and get things to a new level, but I just want to know if other people have done this and in the end found it to be a waste of money. I appreciate that judges are volunteers, and it is like yelling at an umpire during a little league game, but if I am only paying real $ to enter a beer for feedback, and that feedback sucks, I think I have a right to be a little pissed. It is the honest feedback I am after, not a ribbon. Jamil himself has expressed some distain in past events. He noted that his Irish Red was perfect for the style, but constantly lost and scored poorly. He finally caved, entered a Scottish 80 as an Irish Red (the two are not really close), and won a gold medal. He admitted a flaw in the system, but attributed it more to when you see one bad driver on the road, get to work and say, "no one knows how to drive anymore". I hope that is the case.

I'd like to hear the test is harder than the study guide makes it seem. I want to be clear; I am not saying I would be a great judge, I am just saying I think I could crush the test. Now if I could sit down with my wife, who has a far better pallet than me, and she described what she is tasting and let me write it down, that would make a great judge.

Thoughts? Experiences?

Joe

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Old 03-23-2011, 03:59 PM   #2
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Until they can calibrate taste buds......


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Old 03-23-2011, 04:08 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jfowler1 View Post
I have always been interested in the BJCP program. I love the concept of brewing to a style, and I've spent countless hours listening to Jamil's style shows during my commutes. I have listened to each style at least twice, and the ones I brew as many as a dozen times. Even styles I had no interest in brewing were worth listening to for education's sake. I own and have read Designing Great Beers, Brewing Classic styles, and Jamil's yeast book. For kicks I picked up Radical Brewing and the Complete Joy[....] but I find they are more for interest than reference. In other words, I am familar with styles. Jamil is an active supporter of the BJCP and what it stands for. I am quite a Ja-ciple, so usually if Jamil says it, it's right, so I'll listen. I just read through the study guide and it raised some questions.

Here it is.

http://www.kroc.org/BJCP%20Exam%20In...tudy_Guide.pdf

First, I know I should probably put my money where my mouth is, but as it reads, I am pretty sure I can sit down and take this test today, and come out with a reasonably good result. Brewing process and style questions are pretty straight forward, allow you some freedom, and they account for 90% of your score. Another 5% is True/False. I find that a little discouraging. More discouraging is the minimal requirements to be a BJCP "recognized" judge. I could be wrong about 40% of the information I put on paper, have no experience in judging, and write down on a scoresheet that I am BJCP recognized as I pick through your beer (with 40% of my comments being officially wrong). A "novice" may judge your beer after officially failing the test. Should a "D" student be teaching the class? That is a little screwed up.

There are several style questions. You are given (and you can sometimes choose) a style, and asked to describe as follows.

6 points- Describe the aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel of each sub-style as in the BJCP Style Guidelines.
2 points- Identify at least one aspect of the ingredients (malts, hops, water chemistry) or background information (history, fermentation techniques and conditions, or serving methods) that distinguishes each sub-style.
1 point For each of the sub-styles, name at least one classic commercial example as listed in the BJCP Style Guidelines.
1 point Describe the similarities and differences between the three sub-styles.

Are you telling me you can average missing 40% of this information for each style you discuss and still be a recognized judge? Lets do an example. American Ale.
Naming 1 aspect of ingredients/history correctly gets you to 20%! Citrus hops, often Cascade, Light crystals, clean american yeast. No diacetyl. Off-shoot of British Pale Ales, popularized on the West Coast and are usually higher in alcohol and bitterness, should be made with domestic ingredients, and fermented with less esters than their British counter parts. That was easy.
Naming 1 commercial example gets you another 10%! SNPA, Lagunitas Censored, Big Sky Moose Drool.
Given those two things, you would have to correctly describe less than half of the sub-styles in the biggest point catagory to come up with a 60% overall score. So a Pale Ale should be jet black, no more than 15 IBU's, with an OG of around 1.053 and a FG of 1.012, and finish with a pleasant, citrus-y late hop character. I just got 60%! Come on.

"Certified" is a little more in line, missing 30% of the information the test was looking for, but at least carries a minimum experience of sitting in on 5 panels (for 2.5 points). I think I would accept notes from a Certified judge as being pretty helpful, but what % of judges are at least certified, let alone a "Nationally Recognized" or "Master"?

I am at a point I would really like to start entering some beers to get credited feedback, and get things to a new level, but I just want to know if other people have done this and in the end found it to be a waste of money. I appreciate that judges are volunteers, and it is like yelling at an umpire during a little league game, but if I am only paying real $ to enter a beer for feedback, and that feedback sucks, I think I have a right to be a little pissed. It is the honest feedback I am after, not a ribbon. Jamil himself has expressed some distain in past events. He noted that his Irish Red was perfect for the style, but constantly lost and scored poorly. He finally caved, entered a Scottish 80 as an Irish Red (the two are not really close), and won a gold medal. He admitted a flaw in the system, but attributed it more to when you see one bad driver on the road, get to work and say, "no one knows how to drive anymore". I hope that is the case.

I'd like to hear the test is harder than the study guide makes it seem. I want to be clear; I am not saying I would be a great judge, I am just saying I think I could crush the test. Now if I could sit down with my wife, who has a far better pallet than me, and she described what she is tasting and let me write it down, that would make a great judge.

Thoughts? Experiences?

Joe
A lot of people are surprised at how hard it is to score well on the test. The median score for a first time taker is recognized, and most people study very hard. You may be underestimating both the standards for grading and the time management challenges that the test presents.

If you can sit down today and score 70 or above I would guess with some study you could score 90 or above. I am led to believe that as few as two people have ever done that on a first sitting, so if you are that strong then you are exceptional and the program would benefit from your participation. If you aren't that strong the program would still benefit from your participation.

Go to database reports and then exam demographics at the BJCP site for some basic analytics on how people are scoring. These people have varying talent for essay exam taking and varying technical competency at the onset of studying but I believe most of them put quite a bit of effort into preparation.

You are certainly right that the abilities and skill of judges vary widely. I find judge skill at least somewhat correlated with rank, but of course there are exceptions. There are currently about 3500 active judges, 500 National, 100 Master. At most competitions some of the judges are not BJCP members at all. So you can see that while National and Master judges represent the best that the program has to offer, you won't get most of your sheets back from them. There are certainly better judged competitions and worse judged competitions and you will figure out which are which in your area by asking or experience. The best judging is at competitions like the NHC second round and MCAB where entries are vetted by an earlier qualification process.
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Old 03-23-2011, 04:12 PM   #4
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You listed some of my greatest reservations. How well does the judge(s) involved know a certain style of brew? How fast does this persons' taste buds turn into Freddy Flameout? Do they understand all the aroma & flavors,not to mention colors,etc of a given style?
After some of the responses I've read,I'm inclined to think judges on the lower end of the scale aren't going to have sufficient experience to judge the same beer as a national judge with a few years under his/her belt. But even that can't be considered absolute. (no,I didn't mean the vodka!)lolz.
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Old 03-23-2011, 04:57 PM   #5
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You should always have at least two judges analyzing a beer in a sanctioned event. In well run events, a more experiences (higher ranked) judge will be paired with a less experienced judge to help balance the lack of experience.

The judges should be sitting and looking at the style description as they go through each aspect of the beer. How well they pick up the things that the style describes are up to the senses of the individual. Usually, there is some discussion before a final score is submitted.

Now, I've personally had some awesome feedback from a lower ranked judge and somewhat dodgy feedback (ie. "This beer lacks aroma for style" being the only note in aroma) from a National ranked judge. In general though, after submitting a recipe to several competitions there is usually a trend that tells me where the beer is. Two scoresheets from a single comp is not a great sample size.

Finally, I've taken the test. I thought much like you going into it. The experience changed my perception. Having three hours to complete 14 pages of hand written answers while stopping to judge 4 beers along the way was quite challenging. I'm still waiting for my scores, so we'll see how it played out...

-chuck

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Old 03-23-2011, 05:11 PM   #6
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Remilard,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. If I can extract a bit, you seem to agree that the skills of competiton judges are very variable, but improves as you go up the competition ladder. I also appreciate you noting that the test is in general, harder than people expect it to be.

You bring up an interesting paradigm. I really shouldn't complain about or question the BJCP unless I get off my butt and do something about it. The homebrew community is a sliver of the population, and maybe only a sliver of the homebrew community has the aptitude to excel as a judge. If more people in our community that are confident in their knowledge of beer styles jumped on board, the pool of judges would become less watered down. It would certainly legitimize the whole organization, and will make big improvements at local level competitions.

That's a good thought,
Joe

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Old 03-23-2011, 05:18 PM   #7
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The thing that irks me is that every single competition I've participated in has had a copy of the appropriate section(s) of the style guidelines sitting right there with the judges while they are judging. Apart from problems with your nose or tastebuds, there is NO EXCUSE for incorrectly judging a beer to be out of style. You don't even have to have the guidelines memorized to actually judge.

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Old 03-23-2011, 05:31 PM   #8
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I haven't taken the exam but I know a few who have. I think it's unfair to form an opinion on the ease of scoring well until you have actually scored well.

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Old 03-23-2011, 05:40 PM   #9
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I am a National judge and the hardest part was getting the tasting score. Fortunately I have gotten a 90 on tasting and so now I just need to get more on the written if I want to advance to Master.

I am also a grader and that is hard, but after a few exams you really get a sense of the differing levels of knowledge and ability to apply it in a judging context. Also, as has been stated, you don't have much time to get it all done. My advise is to take it in a couple shots. Don't try to do both parts in the same exam. When writing be accurate and detailed. A Master score has to have it all. You can't not include something, or expect "light" is going to make it as a description of mouthfeel.

As far as comps go, my experience is they are varied, but getting MUCH better. Gone are the days of "too dark to be an ale" comments. I haven't had a stupid score sheet in many years and I generally find something useful in them all. Judges have bias and some have wrong ideas related to styles, it just happens. For example, a San Diego area judge might be more likely to expect more hops in an American IPA then a midwest judge, sometimes in a way that is out of character with the style guidelines. Comps are a game and it is as much about fitting guidelines as it is about brewing well.

If you know brewing, style and have good tasting skills, take the exam. We need people who can do a fair job at evaluating beer.

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Old 03-24-2011, 10:41 PM   #10
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I took the exam last weekend and I can say that it is harder than you think. Time management is very difficult and you have to scramble to get it all done. While I don't know how I scored yet, I can say that your description of an American Pale Ale would not have cut it. You need to be much more detailed than that. For example, for aroma alone you should be describing the profile of malt, hops, esters/phenols, and any other aromatics. Appearance should include a description of the color, clarity, head and head retention.

Also, think about how many different styles are in the BJCP guidelines. You need to be able to immediately remember all of the minute differences between the styles. That's not easy. You may know the styles better than most, but I'll bet there are still some holes in your knowledge. There certainly are in mine, but I'm working on improving that.

On judging feedback, you have every right to be upset if you get crappy feedback. I would bring these concerns to the attention of the judging organizer. Your scoresheets should be fully filled out with little white space and have some good, constructive feedback. Remember, though, that when you judge a competition you can have as many as 12+ beers in your flight and do 2 flights in a day. To write out 20+ scoresheets at an average of about 10 mins/sheet takes a lot of effort. Judging is not as easy as some people think it is.

I think that people need to realize that judging is a learned skill and that you need to judge to improve. The BJCP exam is really just a starting point, not an end. I'm certain that the feedback I provide has already improved significantly from where I started, but I have a long way to go. Set your expectations at receiving feedback from judges like me and then count yourself lucky if you get national or master level judges providing feedback.

Finally, I encourage you to get involved in the judging side. It has done a lot for my brewing as I'm better able to evaluate my own beers. That, and it's a lot of fun. You meet great beer geeks like you and have a good time discussing and appreciating beer.

If you have any other questions about the exam let me know and I'll give you my 2 cents worth. If you decide to take the exam I can give you some tips on preparation.

Cheers

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