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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.