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Craft Beer Judging at Competitions

Sienna Serrao

Craft Beer Judging at Competitions

Described as the best scam to getting free beer, and a frat boy's 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 are 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 approach helps provide you with a good outline of beer styles, and the gamut of flavors a beer can possess, whereas the second approach allows you to discover the array of one particular style, region, or taste, 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 is a carbonated beverage, it has CO2, therefore, when you take a drink the CO2 leaves from the fluid as a gas, entering your nasal passage after rising up from your throat, bringing some extra beer flavors along with it. The sense of smell combines with the taste and produces the overall flavor of the beer.

As a whole, when tasting beer, judges: document observations, evaluate the beer's ability to match the style standards, and detect any technical defects in the beer. Lastly, when judging beer, it is important that beers with significantly higher alcohol content, extra bitterness, and more powerful flavors be saved for the end.

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 every category at the competition, with the final goal of recognizing the three beers that epitomize each style category most effectively.

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 new 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.