Today I passed the BJCP Entrance Exam. I thought I would share some observations about the test in case anyone studying for it or wondering what it is could get a gauge from.
To get an idea of where I started from:
1. I have been brewing, extract to all grain, for roughly five years now.
2. I have read, cover to cover, more than a dozen books over the years listed by the BJCP. As well as healthfully perusing these forms (which are an incredible wealth of information by the way).
3. I am an attorney with a background in philosophy, so the chemistry of beer is far beyond my skill set and training. Phenols? Esters? Diacetyl? Those are hard enough to get a handle on, once you start throwing numbers into chemical compounds it is over for me.
The number of questions you have to answer on the BJCP Entrance Exam is 200 in 60 minutes. The questions are random, so my thoughts on my particular exam my not be applicable in any given set.
My first observation is that you really need to study the style guides more than anything else. The majority of my questions dealt with particular beer styles and the characteristic ranges for them. This shouldn't be an amazing revelation as what you will be doing as a judge is judging within the styles. However, I would say that you need to pay close attention to a given style's carbonation levels, color range, ABV, bitterness, etc... The questions did not generally ask for an IBU range, but will subtly ask something like: is an english pale ale low in bitterness, high in bitterness, medium, medium low, medium high? This is tricky because it not only means you need to know IBU ranges generally, but make a subjective overall comparison of where a pale ale's bitterness falls on a scale of low to high.
Secondly, do not be U.S. centric. I live in the U.S. and I prefer the more extreme styles found in the U.S. Have I brewed beer styles from Britain, Belgium, German, etc...? Yes, but my main stay is good ole U.S.A. flag waving, push the limits, kick some beer-communist ass interpretations of the classics. I would say only about 10% of my questions dealt with U.S. beer styles and overwhelming focused on British and German styles, with a healthy dose of Belgium thrown in. I was at a major disadvantage having not broadened my brewing horizons.
Thirdly, if there are variations on a given style you should know them very well. I had an inappropriate amount of questions about the differences between south English brown ale versus american brown ale versus porter versus robust porter versus Baltic porter. Some of the level of parsing reminded me of taking the Bar Exam all over. Not fun.
Fourthly, know your flaws and their causes. There were quite a lot of questions dealing with what process could cause this flaw, which ingredients contribute these potential flaws, what suggestions would remedy this particular flaw, etc... You need to know your process very well, but more importantly is knowing what happens when that process goes wrong.
Finally, don't stop with the BJCP. I cannot think of a better pairing of two judgeships than a Beer Judge and a Barbecue Judge. I'm only half joking. An attorney for another office is a certified barbecue judge and the process for being certified is apparently worlds easier. You can find out more here: http://www.kcbs.us/. I bet no fancy snob wine sommelier is a BBQ judge (well probably, but still).
I highly encourage anyone to try out for the BJCP. Its fun, challenging, and unique. Most of all it will probably help you be a better brewer.