If you've been one of the people like me who have long been advocating for better access to good beer, and recognition of the economic development activity that locally owned, small scale alcohol production generates, it's even better.
Beer is a very broad topic, with an equally broad and inclusive boundary of what, exactly, beer is. In my drinking lifetime, there was a time when beer was mostly categorized by which country it was produced in. The along came Michael Jackson (and others, but he led the way) to point out that beer has terroir, like wine, and could be traced back to a place, and was almost always of a "Style". In particular, Jackson expounded on the pleasures of certain Belgian beer styles and their place in a meal, by a fire, or at a bar.
This would have been in the early 1980's.
Jump forward to today, and we generally live in a world where beer is categorized by style, with perhaps an adjective related to place, or sometimes method, that further defines what the beer is expected to look, smell, and taste like. And how much alcohol one should expect.
In 1985, a bunch of homebrewers, mostly people involved with the American Homebrewers Association got together and started the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). The BJCP has since expanded to include judge resources and a certification program for cider and mead. The goals of the BJCP are to:
- Encourage knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the world's diverse beer, mead, and cider styles;
- Promote, recognize, and advance beer, mead, and cider tasting, evaluation, and communication skills; and
- Develop standardized tools, methods, and processes for the structured evaluation, ranking and feedback of beer, mead, and cider.
The most interesting thing about the BJCP is that although it is incredibly rigorous, and is the organization that is the "keeper of the styles, but it's all run by volunteers. The costs for the exams are minimal, for expenses only, yet the comprehensive information on beer, cider and mead on that website is free to anyone. There is also a beer styles app if you want to take it with you.
Long ago, back in 1991, after I'd been homebrewing for 6 years, I wrote the exam in Toronto, and did well enough that I probably will never need to write it again. I was lucky I knew how to write exams, because back then I had no one to study with and my tasting exam wasn't very good. Since then, I've judged at over 50 sanctioned competitions, and several others. It's been fun, and I've learned a lot.
The world is now rapidly filling up with people getting on the beer bandwagon via whatever handle they can grasp. There are bloggers, photographers, podcasters, people sitting and rating beer in between burps, whatever. And just like everything else these days, it seems, those of us who do know something are sometimes attacked, or derided for offering a contrary, but informed opinion on something beer related.
It can go like this:
Them: Here try our new Kolsch, it's delicious, refreshing, creamy, a sort of hybrid between lager and ale.
Me: This is definitely not a Kolsch, do you think you should really be telling this to people?
Them: Well that's what the recipe said it was. And anyway how would you know?
Me: I've been to Köln.
Them: What's that got to do with it?
Homebrewers and professional brewers assume that because they can make beer, they can judge it. Judging beer is not the same thing as just evaluating it, or deciding whether you like it. There is a standardized scoresheet, and the use of that sheet to fairly assess and compare beers to style guidelines is what separates judging from opinionated drinking. The most opinionated drinkers are professional brewers, who have mostly all decided the beer they make is the best, and anything that doesn't taste like theirs cannot be good. (I'm only exaggerating a little).
But they still believe they can judge other people's beer.
Recently I got to read some typical uninformed comments on beer judging, and even on the value of competitions. It's common to hear things like:
"I still maintain the stance that you do not NEED a BJCP certification to properly analyze a beer and don't subscribe to that elitist attitude. I'm personally not one of them, but I know a few folks that aren't BJCP certified, yet have been in the industry for a long time and are extremely good at dissecting a beer, spot flaws, off flavours, etc. Certainly no disrespect to those that are BJCP certified, but don't look down on those that aren't."
How's that for passive/aggressive ignorance. This person thinks that "dissecting" and "analyzing" a beer are what judging is about. Certainly no one is looking down on anyone, but it's hard to escape the reality that you're either trained as a judge, and have passed the exams, or you're not (insert Yoda quote here). A BJCP Judge has to have passed (70%) an exam where they complete the judge sheet on 6 beers, and their exam is marked very carefully, in a completely anonymous manner. The components they are judged on are given below and total 80% of their mark, with the remaining 20% a calculated percentage related to how close their assigned score for a beer was to the consensus score out of 50.
The ability to perceive - the dissection and analysis that the opinionated non-judge sees judging to be, only counts for 1/5th of the exam mark. That person who has been in the industry for a long time, drinking lots of beer, probably won't make the 70% pass score on an ability to do that alone. A beer judge has to have the language, standardized, and legible, to provide information to the brewer about how the beer was perceived, what it looked, smelled and tasted like, and what might be done to improve it, if anything.
And this person "knows" things, or so they say...
"I know there have been a number of people judging in the 'BJCP sanctioned' events who should have nothing to do with judging beer. I also know of plenty non-BJCP judges that would be able to provide better/more accurate feedback than some BJCP judges."
Perhaps a little homework is in order. If someone can pass the exams, they have proven they know something about judging beer. A lot more than someone who hasn't passed anything but gas can prove. Sure, there are inexperienced judges, but they are still going to be of more use than an opinionated homebrewer. Go take the exam.
And sure, there are always going to be exceptions. I can think of one or two people who were OK at judging before they got involved in the BJCP. But even then, they didn't have the training to properly use the scoresheet.
So what's my point here? All I am saying is that someone who has passed the judging exam should be able to give you better written feedback than someone who is unfamiliar with standardized beer judging protocol. I mark some of the exams from fields afar now, and it's pretty easy to identify those written by people who "know beer" but don't know how to judge beer. It's like this. There are people who can skate. There are people who can figure skate. There are people who can judge figure skating events. It's nice that you can skate.