For the first time in seven years, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) have updated their style guidelines and released the 2015 Style Guidelines. A lot has changed in the craft beer and homebrewing scene since the 2008 Style Guidelines were released.
A lot of the changes in the new guidelines were long overdue. In the old guidelines, the only IPA styles were American, British, and Imperial. If I were to enter WAR IPA or Camp Randall Red IPA in a competition under the current guidelines I would have to enter them in Category 23A Specialty Beer. That is essentially a catch-all category for a beer that doesn’t fit in any other style. When a brewer enters a beer in Category 23A, he/she only has a sentence or two to describe the beer and how it is supposed to taste.
On the closed BJCP Facebook group there has been some discord about adding all of the IPA sub-genres. Now a brewer who enters an IPA declares the type of IPA (American, black, brown, Belgian, etc.) and strenth (session, standard, or double). WAR IPA would be a standard white IPA, and Camp Randall red a standard red IPA. As a brewer and judge with a few competitions under my belt, I appreciate the additional guidance the new guidelines provide.
Several new and more obscure styles have been added. For example, there is an entire Czech Lager category that did not exist before save for Bohemian Pilsner. I don’t think there will be a deluge of people brewing these beers, but I think this accomplishes two things: the guidelines are used internationally so maybe brewers in different countries will want to brew them, it provides guidance to brewers and judges should those beer be brewed.
My only concern with all the new categories is how would-be judges could learn all the categories and pass the written and tasting test. My hope is that the exams would focus the content on the more common styles as opposed to the newer and more obscure styles. I took my tasting exam November 22nd of last year and am still waiting to receive my score. I am terrified that I will finish below a 70 and have to start from scratch learning the new guidelines. If I don’t pass I only have two years to pass the tasting exam before I have to take the written exam again. Six months is already down the drain waiting for my results.
I didn’t study as long and hard as most people who take the exam. I met several would-be judges who have been having weekly tasting sessions where they all sample and judge a different beer in preparation for the exam. I saw there were seats available for an exam in Portland and crammed for a few weeks.
I keep checking the BJCP website hoping my results will post. If I don’t pass I will have to think long and hard if I want to take the tasting exam again. There is only one exam scheduled in New England for the rest of the year. If I don’t pass the tasting exam I will still have the rank of “Apprentice“.
In all I like the changes that have been made. Some judges think it is too much change and that too many styles were added. Whenever there is a radical change like this some people will be resistant. Going forward the BJCP has indicated they will update the guidelines more frequently with minor changes. I think that would be best for everyone.