The most important step is to visit the BJCP website at www.bjcp.org
and navigate to the BJCP style guidelines. Next visit your app store on your phone to download the guidelines, which are available for both Android and iOS. The next time you sit at your local pub open the app, choose a style, and read along as you sample—and hopefully enjoy—the declared style. This will help to provide a vocabulary to match the experience with your senses. It will also provide the commonly used ingredients for the specific style. For a fun comparison, when you have the six pack with a detailed description about the brewing or just open the brewer’s website to find more information, compare what ingredients they state are in the beer versus what the guidelines require. Please note that the ingredients listed by the BJCP are not the law, but a reflection of what is most common. Knowing this information from both the brewer’s side and the BJCP helps to identify what you are sampling.
During your “sampling” sessions, pay attention to the characteristics throughout the life of the sample because beer perceptions change as the beer warms and breathes. Take note of how the beer smells and tastes but pay particular attention to the way it feels as you drink it. Note if it is crisp or creamy on the pallet; is it prickly? What is the body or viscosity of the beer, is it thin like water or thick like milk? Rinse and repeat.
As you compare commercial examples, it’s important to know that breweries are in business to make money and sell a lot of beer. They often adjust a product based on their market and not the style guidelines, so do not feel that the beer won’t fit just because the guidelines state one thing, but the beer has a different twist. By noting the subtle to extreme differences, you open your senses to identify specific nuances within all beer and not just one style of beer.
Step two is to do the same thing with your own homebrew. This will help you know if it fits into one style or another or possibly a combination of styles. This is particularly important if you ever decide to enter that batch in a competition. Judges will specifically compare your beer to a specific style by referring to the BJCP guidelines. For example, commercial breweries may do it, but as a homebrewer you cannot simply state that it is a Brown Ale. Because Brown Ales can be English or American and if you do not declare or know the style, then you will have a hard time winning.
So, let me finish with this: I am not saying that the BJCP guidelines are the law; they are just that, guidelines. I am also not saying that because there are guidelines, you cannot think outside of the box or create something new. I am simply saying that before you can think outside of the box, you must first know what is in the box.
In upcoming editions, I will discuss more about beer styles, the evaluation process, and becoming an official beer judge.
Guest writer and Grand Master BJCP Judge James Lallande brings you a series of educational blogs about the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), the judging of beer based on style guidelines, and becoming a better brewer through improving your knowledge of styles based on guidelines that give you a great place to start down your path to that perfect beer through learning how to analyze a great beer.