Let’s tackle the Overall Impression section of the scoresheet! In prior editions, I have shared thoughts on an experienced judge working with a novice judge and simple ways to complete this actual section. However, this edition will focus on developing a new way of thinking for when you complete the Overall Impression section of the BJCP scoresheet.
I cannot speak for all brewers, but I am confident in saying that a large percentage of brewers read only the Overall Impression of their scoresheet. That's it. So, knowing that, please do not feel that this gives you the right to forget about the rest of the scoresheet. Because those sections are for giving detail to your overall perception. They are the support for your Overall Impression. When I enter a beer, I am 100% confident that I know what I am entering and where it might place were "the stars to align." And the Overall Impression tells me if the judges--at that time, place, and order of flight--were in alignment with my expectations. So, I'd want you to give me valuable information in this section and not tell me what I already know from what you described in previous sections.
Traditionally, beer judges have always used the Overall Impression to tell brewers how to fix their beers. For example, if the beer had an infection then they would tell the brewer to check sanitation or make sure to clean and use sanitizer. Another example is if the beer had Diacetyl (that movie theater butter aroma or taste), then they would tell the brewer to complete a Diacetyl Rest or make sure to raise your temperature at the end of fermentation. And these classical answers are not wrong, BUT why not make it better?
To start, there are 3 major problems with focusing on the details of giving technical fixes for issues:
- You may be wrong. Which then destroys your credibility for your final score. For example, giving the suggestion to raise your temperature at the end of fermentation to fix a DMS problem is actually mixing up DMS with Diacetyl. Unfortunately, this is an example I have seen on an official scoresheet.
- Words are often wasted, where there is little room for waste. The Internet is a wonderful tool. If you tell me my beer has Diacetyl, then I know how to fix it because I am an experienced brewer. You may not think that all brewers are experienced, but to that I can easily say, I am 100% confident that brewers are good at research. in fact, most learned how to brew from reading the Internet. So, if you tell the brewer to eliminate the Diacetyl, sanitation issue, DMS, or astringency, they will. Trust me, if they do not already know how, then they will research to know how to fix it. They will not be offended that you did not tell them how to fix it. Basically, when judging you have no idea who brewed the beer, so you can easily appeal to all brewer levels with a few word changes. Leaving more room for more helpful description and a better Overall Impression.
- Your feedback could be one-sided, negative, and/or incomplete. If you write 3 sentences about fixing a sanitation issue, then your Overall Impression section is full and there is no room for sentences like: The base beer seems to fit the style well. Or, Your recipe meets the style. However, eliminate… Or, Your fermentation was perfect. However, the added roast character was higher than style parameters. Or sadly, you left no room for the most important feedback, a solid THANK YOU!
Of course, sometimes it's the opposite. Not enough words. Often because the beer was simply great. I am guilty of this especially when judging a massive competition that requires multiple flights in a day, when we are all having to hurry things along. Something I feel is wrong and certainly make an effort to never do again. I have written Perfect, Thank you! and Wow, Great Job! Thank You! and hope to never do it again. The problem here is that the beer could go on to the second round, but never place. So, as far as me helping the brewer, I might as well have just left the section blank. Yet, had I given just three sentences, then the brewer would at least have had some additional information for comparison and comprehension. Example, Excellent example of the style. The clean crisp fermentation exemplified the style and supported the rich malt. Thank you! Of course, it's always good to add one minor detail that could be improved. Which can be hard with a 40 point beer--should it have something that could be a improved.
Using these examples with the BJCP Judge Procedures Manual to leverage your judging skills, here are some keypoints to writing a great high-level Overall Impression.
- Tell the brewer how much you like the beer or point out a good characteristic. Say something good about it, even if it was a faulty beer. And even with a faulty beer, you could say something like The roasted character is in alignment with the style.
- Always describe a technical aspect of the beer that fits or does not fit the declared style.
- Tell the brewer what characteristic to eliminate, increase, or decrease to improve the beer.
- Use your perception descriptors in the other sections to drive these Overall Impression sentences. If you say it has Diacetyl and the style says that it is a fault then simply say eliminate the Diacetyl to improve.
- Finish with a THANK YOU! or Try it again or a simple Congratulations.
If you use these key pointers, you will have 3-4 valuable sentences along with a final thank you statement. You will have at least 3 areas of feedback to help the brewer improve or to confirm success. And with intention to do your best, you could possibly fit in 6 or 7 areas of feedback. Always remember that a positive comment IS feedback.
When you complete your overall impression, please be 100% certain that your words match your total score. Remember that the scoresheet has a section on the bottom left titled Scoring Guide. If you give a score of 40, please do not say This is a good beer. Because it qualifies as Excellent. If you give it a 37, please don’t say it’s an Excellent beer when you scored it as a Very Good beer. [Sidenote: This section is a perfect guide to writing your first sentence of Overall Impression.]
Finally, let me close with this thought: Remember that the brewer paid to have you judge their beer.
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.