I have talked about the BJCP and where to start along with discussing what you should take away from a received scoresheet. Now, I would like to talk about filling out the scoresheet. Most importantly the primary vocabulary, you only need to know, low, medium, high and no, along with a few other words.
I often hear brewers say that they do not understand the scoresheet or that it’s too hard so they choose not to help judge a competition. They fear that they will do something wrong, hurt someone’s chances at a medal and many other reasons why they do not want to judge in a competition or especially a large competition. Let me state the obvious, every single judge had to write there first scoresheet at some point and every single experienced or BJCP ranked judge will tell you that their beers got better once they started judging. Now, you may be saying…James, yes you are helping me get the courage to try a flight, but you have not helped me know what to do. Well, first and foremost, you will not be judging a single beer by yourself. You will be paired up with an experienced judge and brewer. And if you are not, then the competition administration is not succeeding. The BJCP Judge Procedures Manual has the mechanics of judging so I am going to let the experienced judging partner help with that part of the judging session and they should be ready to help when that time comes. So, onto the scoresheet!
Beer 1, Flight 1 – When you get your first scoresheet, complete the header with your name, the beer category, sub-category and entry number. The steward or other judge will then pour a sample and the fun will begin. Take the sample and follow this order, Smell, Look, Smell, Look, Drink and Swallow, Drink and Swish around your mouth, Drink and Swallow again, Drink and Swallow again.
What to do in each step:
- Smell – Obtain a first impression of the aroma of the beer
- Look – Obtain a first impression of the appearance, specifically the foam (size, retention, and color)
- Smell again – Start writing, provide the aroma of the malt, hops and esters
- Look – Provide the color, how clear the beer is, and describe the head
- Drink – Obtain a first impression of the flavor
- Drink and Swallow – Obtain a first impression of the body and mouthfeel
- Drink – Provide the flavor of the malt, hops, level of bitterness and sweetness
- Drink – Provide the body, which is the viscosity, along with the level of carbonation
- Finally, tell the brewer in the overall impression how it fit the style.
The only vocabulary you need to know are these characteristics:
Level – Low, Medium, High, No (as in none)
Malt – Bready, Toasty, Roast (Coffee or Burnt), Caramel
Hops – Grassy, Floral (Roses), Spicy (white or black pepper, not hot), Citrus, Fruity (cherry or melon)
Esters – The aroma of Fruity Pebbles (the cereal)
Body – Thick (milk), Medium (majority of all beers), Thin (water)
Carbonation – High (soda), Medium (majority of all beers), Low, Flat (water)
Now, let's fill out the scoresheet and put these together (and you should have help with this in the documents on your judging table). You do not have to remember which ones apply where, the scoresheet tells you what goes in which section and the guidelines tell you if it should or should not be in the beer. If you smell or taste any characteristic not listed then ask your judging partner. Do you taste ____? And--depending on style--know that common flaws in beer are butter, cabbage, tart, vinegar or Band-Aid.
Read the style guideline for your flight and make a mental note of the characteristics listed above; the majority of what you smell, see and taste will be in that group. So, let's go over the steps of filling out the scoresheet again:
Steps 1 and 2 require no writing
Step 3 – Fill in the aroma using bullet points like:
- High citrus hops
- Low bready malt
- Low fruity esters
Step 4 – Fill in the appearance (Copper, Clear, Large white short lasting head)
Step 5 and 6 require no writing
Step 7 – Fill in the flavor as bullet points like
- Medium citrus hops
- Low bready and caramel malt
- Medium bitterness
- Light sweetness
Step 8 – Fill in the mouthfeel (medium body and low carbonation)
Step 9 – This is where most judges get intimidated, but it does not need to be detailed for a new brewer. First, think about this scale from the scoresheet:
- Outstanding (45-50): World-class example of style
- Excellent (38-44): Exemplifies style well, requires minor fine-tuning
- Very Good (30-37): Generally within style parameters, some minor flaws
- Good (21-29): Misses the mark on style and/or minor flaws
- Fair (14-20): Off flavors/aromas or major style deficiencies. Unpleasant.
- Problematic (00-13): Major off flavors and aromas dominate. Hard to drink.
Write an overall score that fits somewhere in the range of numbers within which you feel the beer resides and in comparison to the style, then give the good and bad. Example: For a 35 point beer, you might write “Very good example, hops fit the style, malt is low”. Then, you would back fill the remaining number scores by section to add up to your total overall score.
In closing, the last thing to write on your scoresheet is Thank You. Remember someone paid for you drink his or her beer. So, relax and have a homebrew, keep your criticism constructive, and have fun with the experience!