Day 562

Beer can be a symbol for life. I only say that because in Creative Writing, we had a presentation on symbolism.

In Human Resources, the not-so symbolic design of benefits packages for your employees.

In Sensory, a presentation from Paul Dickey on the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Paul is uniquely qualified to talk about this since he is currently the the only BJCP Grandmaster Judge in Canada. In addition to judging, Paul has brewed for Denison’s, has been the brewmaster at the Pepperwood Bistro brewpub in Burlington and at Black Oak (he’s still an associate brewmaster there), and is currently the brewmaster for both Double Trouble and Cheshire Valley .

Paul believes that being a BJCP-qualified judge can help us to recognize how the flavours in our beers are being developed by ingredients and processes, and can also help us identify how taints and off-flavours are being caused.

Becoming a BJCP judge used to be fairly onerous. The entrance exam was a 3-hour marathon that involved 10 essay questions interspersed with four tastings, and required fairly in-depth knowledge of the proper flavour components, appearance and general statistics (original and final gravities, alcoholic content, etc.) of all the beer styles recognized by the BJCP, the effect of  malting procedures and brewing processes on beer flavours, as well as the ability to recognize and categorize taints and off-flavours and the processes that caused them. If the exam was a marathon for the would-be judge, it was doubly so for the volunteer exam grader, and often grading the exam took upwards of six months or more. The backlog on grading was so long that severe limits were placed on how many people could take exams.

For that reason, BJCP has recently announced changes in its exam procedure. Now, you take a one-hour on-line exam of 200 true/false and multiple choice questions. Passing that gives you the opportunity to move on to the next step, a tasting of 6 beers that must be completed within 90 minutes. If you pass, your mark on that portion then determines your judging rank: Apprentice, Recognized, or Certified.

Bonus: If you get over 80% on the tasting portion and have 10 Judging Points (you get these by either judging at a competition, or organizing a judging competition), you earn the right to take the Beer Judge Written Proficiency Exam, which consists of 20 true/false questions and 5 essay questions that must be answered within 90 minutes. Passing this exam opens the door to the rank of National Judge or even higher.

Paul was kind enough to give us several hints about how to write the exams; chief among those was time management–don’t spend so much time answering one question that you don’t leave yourself enough time to answer anything else.

Time management is also crucial during beer competitions. Often you have no more than 3 minutes to write out notes for each beer, including any problems you detected, and any suggestions for the brewer on how the product could be improved.

To give us a taste of what that was like (pun intended), Paul had us score two beers using BJCP scoring sheets. The first was a student-made pale ale, using British grains and yeast but American hops. The result was a beer with the mushroomy esters and biscuity flavour of a British pale ale, but some of the citrus notes and assertive bitterness of an American pale ale. This quickly illustrated a problem with BJCP’s judging guidelines–beers are judged on how well they adhere to the description of the category in which they were entered. This hybrid beer was tasty and well-made, but would have done poorly at a BJCP-sanctioned event. If entered as a British pale ale, it would have been marked down because of the American hop notes and bitterness. But if entered as an American pale ale, it would have been marked down for not having enough of a citrus nose, and too much biscuit flavour.

The problem with hybrid beers is that the BJCP guidelines are only revised every few years–the latest guidelines were released in 2008–so there’s no real way to judge them properly until enough examples have been entered into competitions to justify a new category and then the guidelines are updated to make a new category.

A good example of this is the new style known as “Cascadian dark ale” (aka black IPA, India Black Ale, etc.), which made an appearance in 2009, a year after the current BJCP guidelines were released. The result is that if I entered my Blackheart Black IPA into a BJCP-sanctioned competition, I would have to place it  into the catch-all “Category 23: Specialty Beers”, where it would be judged with all the other hybrid mongrel brews instead of just other black IPAs.

Afterwards, we had a reception for Paul, during which several students commented that the Brewmaster program would benefit from making the BJCP on-line test and initial tasting test part of the curriculum.

Cheers to that!

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