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Craft Beer Judging at Competitions

Sienna Serrao

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Craft Beer Judging at Competitions

Describes as the best scam into getting free beer, and a frat boys dream job, being a craft beer judge comes off as quite a joke to many. People don’t think of craft beer judging as a skill, and assume it involves little work, but I can assure you they are wrong. In fact, judging craft beer requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, concentration, and stamina.

The Beer Judge Certification Program

Beer judging standards used at most competitions have been set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). The BJCP is a non-profit organization founded in 1985 that grew out of the American Homebrewers Association, and has since become independent. In order to become a certified beer judge, one must pass an exam issued by the organization, which is NOT for the unprepared. The exam is a three-hour process consisting of essay questions and a practical component in which you must judge four beers as if in a competition…thankfully there is a BJCP study guide!

Tips for Becoming a Successful Beer Judge

successful beer judgeIt is one thing to be certified, and another to be successful. In order to be a successful beer judge, four main ideas must be mastered.
• Have a broad knowledge of world beer styles
• Know how to correctly and completely evaluate a beer
• Understand and recognize basic beer faults
• Develop a sufficient vocabulary that enables you to communicate perceptions and ideas

The Beginners Guide to Beer Judging

For a beer judging newbie, here’s a few great ways to start learning! First and foremost remember that just about all beer judges started off in the same position you’re in as craft beer lovers, enthusiasts, or nerds.

There are two great ways to start learning. You can either pick all different beer styles and try to learn the differences between different styles, OR you can choose a variety of the same beer style and try to find differences between the same style. The first method helps provide you with a good overview of beer styles, and the range of tastes a beer can have, whereas the second method allows you to explore the range of one style, region, or flavor, and learn subtle differences. As a whole the first option is better for beginners and the second is for a bit more experienced tasters.

The Difference Between Beer Judging and Wine Judging

beer and wine judgingFor those familiar with wine tasting, you know you are told to swirl the wine, smell the wine, swish it around, and then spit it out. This is especially useful at competitions, for it prevents tasters and judges from becoming too intoxicated. Similar to wine, beer is meant to be swirled and smelled, however when you take a sip of the beer, you MUST swallow it. Of course after swallowing the beer there are lingering flavors from hops or a malty sweetness that can be detected, but there is an even more important reason to swallow it…Carbonation!

Since beer has carbonation, CO2, as you take a sip, the CO2 escapes from the liquid as a gas, rises from your throat, and enters your nasal passage, carrying some flavor of the beer. The sense of smell combines with the taste and produces the overall flavor of the beer.

As a whole, when tasting beer, judges: document perceptions, assess the beers ability to meet the style expectation, and identify any technical flaws in the beer. Lastly, when judging beer, it is important that beers with higher alcohol, more bitterness, and stronger flavors be saved for last.

Beer Competitions

beer judging festivalOf course beer festivals are filled with fun activities and opportunities to sample beers, but you have to remember for the breweries entered, a lot is at stake, with each one competing for prestigious awards.

At competitions, all certified beer judges from around the world gather in small groups and conduct blind taste tests in which they do not know the name of the brand they are tasting. They taste beers in each specified category at the competition, with the ultimate goal of identifying the three beers that best represent each beer style category.

Some of the biggest and most rigorous beer competitions in the world are the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and the World Beer Cup (WBC). The GABF is known for judging American commercial beers, whereas the WBC judges commercial beers from more than 40 countries. For example, at the 2010 WBC 179 judges from 26 different countries were involved, and judged 3,300 beers in 90 distinct style categories.

Put your knew knowledge and methods to the test, and have fun experiencing new flavors and beer styles the way certified beer judges do. Our craft beer club is a great way to expand your knowledge of different beer styles with a variety in each monthly shipment.