BJCP style creep

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Wynne-R

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What do y’all think about judges that don’t follow the style guidelines? It seems to me the more experience a judge has, the less likely he or she is to pay attention to the published guidelines.

As an example, My first competition entry was an American Pale Ale. I didn’t use any citrus hops. A judge told me , ‘Yeah it’s not required, but judges expect it.’ ???? I realize the guidelines are from 2008, but aren’t they still valid?
Usually a moderate to high hop flavor, often showing a citrusy American hop flavor(although other hop varieties may be used).
That’s for 10a American Pale Ale. Maybe we should use this description:
Hop flavor is medium to high, and should reflect an American hop character with citrusy, floral, resinous, piney or fruity aspects
Oh wait, then what are we going to use for 14b, American IPA?
Hop flavor is strong and complex. High to absurdly high hop bitterness, although the malt backbone will generally support the strong hop character and provide the best balance
Sound familiar? I took that from 14c Imperial IPA. Now what are we going to use for 14c?
Super insane ‘slap your momma’ mule kick hop flavor. Malt flavors are considered a fault
It’s not just the pale ale ‘C’ hop arms race, I could give other examples. Do styles evolve? Am I wrong to take these guidelines literally? It bums me when the winner is out of style. Is it just me, or do other people think we should use the style guidelines?
 

TheZymurgist

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Remember that they are "guidelines." Guidelines that were created by fallible humans, and it's fallible humans that do the judging. Different judges have different tastes, and experiences, and will look for different things. Some stick to the BJCP as being the end-all-be-all. Others use them only as guidelines.

My take on the whole system is that we need a baseline in order for there to be some sort of structure. Otherwise, we would have no way of defining anything. That being said, not everything can fall directly into one category, and even categories can overlap in some areas. I've found the best way to do competitions is find a couple categories that the beer could fit into, and enter it in both. Then you'll have more feedback, and will know which category it best fits into.
 

AmandaK

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What do y’all think about judges that don’t follow the style guidelines? It seems to me the more experience a judge has, the less likely he or she is to pay attention to the published guidelines.
I cannot stand when judges do not follow the guidelines and judge a beer based off of their own expectations. In my experience, this is not due to experience but lack of experience. I have had judges ding a 10A for not having an absurd amount of aroma hops (not req'd, btw), give a Dusseldorf Alt undue praise for being highly musty (he had just gotten back from Germany where all Alts are apparently musty?) and ding a dry stout for having a light chocolate component (also within guidelines).

Luckily (I guess) I am usually the highest ranking judge at the table, so when a judge I am paired with dings a beer for being within style (but not to their liking), we have a nice discussion about how they may need to evaluate the beer versus the guidelines, not their own ideas of the beer.

If the discussion doesn't go very well, I'll comment something to the effect of: "It doesn't matter if I like the beer or if you like the beer, it only matters what the guidelines say."
 
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Wynne-R

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It seems to me the more experience a judge has, the less likely he or she is to pay attention to the published guidelines
OK that’s a little harsh. Most BJCP judges are pretty good. There are a few old farts that have been doing it forever (10 yrs+) that think they know better than the style guidelines and will NEVER consult the guidelines during judging.

However the APA I mentioned above got a 27 from a national judge. I gave one to a different judge for a second opinion and he said 38.

In general the bigger hoppier beers will stand out in a flight. It bothers me when big beers that are obviously out of style score well because that’s what the judge likes. It’s not fair to the people that follow the rules.

I don’t pay much attention to inexperienced judges unless they’re at my table. They tend to paraphrase whatever the more experienced judge says, even if it’s nonsense. That’s part of the problem. In a flight like that, essentially there’s only one judge.

Not enough judges I guess. We need more like AmandaK to limit the nonsense.
 

TheZymurgist

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I do agree that it's frustrating. I entered the same four beers in two different (simultaneous) competitions and got back two vastly different scores and reports for each beer. I had an IPA that won first in one competition, with a score over 40, and then get a score of 25 in the other, with notes saying it was astringent. Also had a Belgian Trippel score over 40 in one and get Honorable Mention with notes saying no noticeable flaws, and in the other it got ripped for having tons of flaws. Didn't make sense to me.
 

jbaysurfer

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Remember that they are "guidelines." Guidelines that were created by fallible humans, and it's fallible humans that do the judging. Different judges have different tastes, and experiences, and will look for different things. Some stick to the BJCP as being the end-all-be-all. Others use them only as guidelines.

My take on the whole system is that we need a baseline in order for there to be some sort of structure. Otherwise, we would have no way of defining anything. That being said, not everything can fall directly into one category, and even categories can overlap in some areas. I've found the best way to do competitions is find a couple categories that the beer could fit into, and enter it in both. Then you'll have more feedback, and will know which category it best fits into.
This reflects my sentiments almost exactly. Guidelines are different then requirements. I know a few "style nazi" judges and to be perfectly honest, I think they're doing the same thing with the guidelines that many churches do with the bible: rigid subjective interpretation. Thing is, the guidelines are written a lot like horoscopes. They can be interpreted in many variants. And the BJCP acknowledges this:

select notes from the BJCP style guidelines "Notes for Judges"

2)Understand that most beer styles are not defined by a single beer. Many styles are quite broad and can encompass multiple stylistically accurate variants. Do not let your understanding of a single beer limit your appreciation of the full range of each beer style.

3)Pay careful attention to the modifiers used in describing the styles. Look for guidance on the magnitude and quality of each characteristic. Notice that many characteristics are optional; beers not evidencing these non-required elements should not be marked down. Phrases such as “may have,” “can contain,” “might feature,” “is acceptable,” “is appropriate,” “is typical,” etc. all indicate optional elements. Required elements are generally written as declaratory phrases, or use words such as “must” or “should.” Elements that must not be present often use phrases such as “is inappropriate,” “no,” or “must not.”

4)Seek to understand the intent of the style categories and to judge each beer in its entirety. Don’t overly focus on single elements. Look to the overall balance and character of the beer for your final opinion.
 

Pilgarlic

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Having judged side by side with a few judges, I'll say this. Bless 'em and we need more of them. They've taken the time and made the effort to study, prepare, test and qualify, then they've volunteered their time to spend sometimes long, tedious sessions working hard to evaluate and objectively document their feedback, for the sole benefit of the competitors. Some are better than others, what a surprise. Those of you who have met with frustration in competition due to seemingly inscrutable or poor judges, and those of you who have apparently thought hard about what is right and wrong with BJCP judges and judging, if you haven't, go do it. It will take some, but not an enormous amount of time and money. And, if you do, perhaps we'll grow a larger and even, maybe, better pool of judges for future competitions.
 

Yooper

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I cannot stand when judges do not follow the guidelines and judge a beer based off of their own expectations. In my experience, this is not due to experience but lack of experience. I have had judges ding a 10A for not having an absurd amount of aroma hops (not req'd, btw), give a Dusseldorf Alt undue praise for being highly musty (he had just gotten back from Germany where all Alts are apparently musty?) and ding a dry stout for having a light chocolate component (also within guidelines).

Luckily (I guess) I am usually the highest ranking judge at the table, so when a judge I am paired with dings a beer for being within style (but not to their liking), we have a nice discussion about how they may need to evaluate the beer versus the guidelines, not their own ideas of the beer.

If the discussion doesn't go very well, I'll comment something to the effect of: "It doesn't matter if I like the beer or if you like the beer, it only matters what the guidelines say."
I agree with everything Amanda said!

Here's something to consider- as a judge, I've consumed and judged a LOT of bad beers. Few are "very good" and it's rare to have "excellent" entries, except for competitions like the second round of the NHC.

One of the things I like to do, believe it or not, is to judge a style I don't care for as much, and I don't like judging IPAs and APAs (my favorite beer styles). That sounds weird, but it's harder to be objective for me when I taste an IPA that I love (or hate). I do go strictly by the style guidelines, but personal preference can come into play so my preference is to judge styles that I'm good with judging but not likely to really be blinded by overhopped and bigger examples of the styles.
 

Phunhog

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I have a love/hate relationship with comps for some of the above mentioned reasons. Just too much variability....as much we try to make it objective. I DO think they are useful for newer brewers to help get valuable feedback and identify faults. However I think for advanced brewers who have a firm grasp on basic brewing they are a bit of a crapshoot. I am not trying to brag but most of my beers score in the high 30's and sometimes in the 40's...sometimes they win, often times they don't. I can't tell you how many times a high scoring beer will have radically different comments.
 

AmandaK

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I do agree that it's frustrating. I entered the same four beers in two different (simultaneous) competitions and got back two vastly different scores and reports for each beer. I had an IPA that won first in one competition, with a score over 40, and then get a score of 25 in the other, with notes saying it was astringent. Also had a Belgian Trippel score over 40 in one and get Honorable Mention with notes saying no noticeable flaws, and in the other it got ripped for having tons of flaws. Didn't make sense to me.
Don't forget that everyone has a different threshold for perceiving off-flavors and flavors in general. You can calibrate your palate based off of standard concentrations of off-flavors, but how many people here really have the opportunity to go to sensory training?

Judging is inherently subjective, judging beer is even more so.

FWIW, 25 seems pretty harsh if the only flaw noted was astringency. But then again, I'm of the belief that "I can't take the points home with me" so no sense in beatin' someone up.
 

Darwin18

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What do y’all think about judges that don’t follow the style guidelines?
They shouldn't be judging. Period.

However, judging is subjective and a judge's personal preferences and perceptions may occasionally creep in. I like to talk to the other judge that I'm paired up after we have evaluated the beer to make sure we're on the same page. At my last competition I scored an American Brown in the low 30's while the other judge scored it in the low 40's. We talked and he pulled out the guidelines and went through it with me and I had to agree with him. I thought the beer was too big for the style, but after a much closer scrutiny it seemed to fit. I adjusted my score accordingly, and the guy ended up winning a ribbon in the mini-BOS.
 

TheZymurgist

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Don't forget that everyone has a different threshold for perceiving off-flavors and flavors in general. You can calibrate your palate based off of standard concentrations of off-flavors, but how many people here really have the opportunity to go to sensory training?

Judging is inherently subjective, judging beer is even more so.

FWIW, 25 seems pretty harsh if the only flaw noted was astringency. But then again, I'm of the belief that "I can't take the points home with me" so no sense in beatin' someone up.
That's a good point. I guess that would explain why the four same beers would do better in one competition than another.
 

moti_mo

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I have a slightly different take on competitions. I'd like to start up a brewery in the relatively near future, so I don't care as much about hitting a particular style's guidelines as I do making a beer that many people would want to buy. I only submit things that are roughly within style guidelines for a particular style, but they're rarely smack-dab in the middle, b/c I don't particularly care to try and clone the best version of a style or hit the style numbers spot-on.

Since I'd like to start a brewery, I think of the competitions as testing grounds for some of my recipes. For that reason, I like to enter the ones that have a large number of breweries selecting pro-am entries. In these competitions, in addition to the traditional BJCP judges, you end up getting a lot of professional brewers at the judging tables, and you may end up getting feedback from one or two professional brewers on several of your beers. For me, if I get feedback from a professional brewer (especially one from a brewery that I respect and am partial to), I consider that very valuable feedback. That judge is consistently trying to brew something that people will seek out and buy on a daily basis, so if they rave about your beer and tell you they'd buy it, I consider that a success, regardless of the overall score or a ribbon. If they give me some particularly negative feedback, its also something I take to heart.

Is it the right way to approach competitions? I don't know, it works for me. Is this feedback as valuable as feedback from a grandmaster BJCP judge? For me - yes. For others - probably not, b/c these pro brewer judges probably aren't adhering to the rigid style guidelines as much as the BCJP-trained judges.
 

bethebrew

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Let's face it.

Tastes Great was and always will be more important than Less Filling.

The style points are secondary. The score sheets reflect this.

Some styles are much more open to interpretation by the brewer. If someone wants to bang heads in an American Pale Ale category without American Hops like OP thinks should happen, I respectfully disagree to an extent at least. To clarify, build a base with the citrusy/fruity American Hops, then add a little Goldings or Willamette or Tettnanger or Mt. Hood to round it off. So in a sense I agree with OP, but only in the sense that it may taste greater by tweaking the style but only in a way that improves it. All the while maintaining style. Style creep in this case could work against the American hop only versions that the judges may "expect"and most will brew to, but will still lose to the better tasting more rounded and balanced version with a variety of hops.
 

machfive55

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I agree that judging is subjective, but I think judges should be reading the style guidelines for the categories they are judging when they sit down at the table. OR, they should have little style cheat sheets with basic characteristics at the tables. Bottom line is that brewers are using those guidelines to craft their beers so judges should be using them to judge the beers. Maybe also a revision of score sheets that are style specific and have style comments above the judges comments, so its easy to compare.
 

Spartan1979

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I agree that judging is subjective, but I think judges should be reading the style guidelines for the categories they are judging when they sit down at the table. OR, they should have little style cheat sheets with basic characteristics at the tables. Bottom line is that brewers are using those guidelines to craft their beers so judges should be using them to judge the beers. Maybe also a revision of score sheets that are style specific and have style comments above the judges comments, so its easy to compare.
Most judges do read the guidelines as they judge. Competitions have printed copies available for the judges and the guidelines are available on a free app.

Having scoresheets that are style specific would be a logistical nightmare for competition organizers.
 

AmandaK

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I guess that would explain why the four same beers would do better in one competition than another.
I make (IMO) a pretty great BGSA. In the past two years, it medals about 65% of the time. Scores range from 33 to 45 - pretty big range, yeah? The 33 type scores note that it is likely "too big for style". Upper limit of the style is 10.5% ABV, mine is 8.5% - so either these judges have very low limits in their palates for alcohol and don't realize it or they just don't read the guidelines.

Either way, I'm happy with the beer, so I just enter it for fun & the chance at a wall decoration. :D

Having scoresheets that are style specific would be a logistical nightmare for competition organizers.
True story.
 

Zamial

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I am currently in my last 3 weeks (class is every Sunday) of a BJCP prep class. There are some neophyte judges/homebrewers there that will not amount to decent judges even if they wanted to, at least in specific styles. One of the fellas openly says crap like "I hate sours and hoppy beers and will never give one higher than a 30 if I have to judge it." It is note worthy that he is the exception not the rule in the class.

I have also learned a great deal about my own palate in this class. For example I highly sensitive to fusel alcohols. I also am one of the only people in the class that can pick out 2,3 pentadione in what others call "trace amounts" is assaulting to me.

I hope you have a more positive experience in the future.
 

Darwin18

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One of the fellas openly says crap like "I hate sours and hoppy beers and will never give one higher than a 30 if I have to judge it." It is note worthy that he is the exception not the rule in the class.
Why would anyone want to be a beer judge with that kind of attitude? Terrible.
 

jbaysurfer

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This thread has inspired me to pursue BJCP certification. I passed my entrance exam on Thursday and am now a provisional judge...going to sit for the exam in November. Thanks for the motivation Amanda and Darwin! I've been judging in club contests (using BJCP scoring) for about 18 months, so I have a foundation, but I want to get certified and broaden my knowledge and judge some bigger/more exciting contests.
 
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Wynne-R

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I started this thread because I was discouraged that the styles seemed to be changing, without the guidelines keeping up. I guess I was really complaining about a few bad judges. We all have horror stories about bad judging, but the majority is very good.

I am encouraged by Amanda’s example, I’m goin’ National. That will give me more authority to take the errant judges to school. Time to study up.
 

AmandaK

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This thread has inspired me to pursue BJCP certification.
I am encouraged by Amanda’s example, I’m goin’ National.
BOOM! Get it guys! :D


But seriously, for those of you that have a problem with the way things are being done: I hope I can inspire you to get up, get certified, rank up and do something about it! I did exactly that and now I have 13 new judges learning the way of the BJCP in my very own class. All of them are very promising new judges and I hope all of them carry on doing well in their judging career. :mug:
 

divvy9

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Hey Amanda I helped out on the first two nights of the KCBM comp as a steward and I was wondering what someone would need to do in order to get into a class of yours. I know you are crazy busy this week but whenever you have a chance could you send me some info in a PM possibly?
 

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