Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman for

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay Salt City and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

The Topic: Tasting for the Test

For the uninitiated, let me start here with a very brief: incomplete, synopsis. Judging at BJCP beer competitions is somewhat regulated by the BJCP who has a test that ranks you as a judge. I am Certified: which is in the middle of the rankings. One does not have to pass the test to judge, you become an apprentice. One doesn’t even have to take the test to judge: you simply check “experienced,” or “unranked,” or whatever they happen to have on the current official judging form. Most of the time you won’t be head of the table, which technically means you have a boss: the highest ranked judge at the table. I don’t tend to run it that way unless necessary, and I’ve never had to. The only time we came close is when one judge insisted we sit in utter silence through all 11 or so beers… (A bit high for one round of judging, but that’s what we had.) ..and only go back over; adjust scores so we’re within a certain spread… often 3-7 points. I thought it not the best approach, so the other Certified judge and I compromised.

Recently the BJCP has changed the test, at least the parameters on the test, again. I’d like to focus on one aspect of that change.

Now I am going to be honest here: their own website says that they’re finalizing it all so if what I am commenting on here is a rumor… my apologies. But I think the critique still valid. For years I have recommended that the tasting portion of the exam at least become co-equal in scoring to the written portion. It has been scored as significantly less a part of your final score.

Why have I been promoting that? Simple: that’s what we do as judges. If we suck at designing our own recipe from scratch on the test, well that really doesn’t mean we’re better or worse judges. It can mean various things, like we stink at figuring things out or that we haven’t memorized every category. Judging is, by necessity, open book. So where’s the necessity of knowing by heart each and every category? Why should any test be skewed in favor of those with photographic memories?

Rumors are that the new test will be 50/50. 50% taste, 50% written. Well, some of that is written, some multiple guess, as we used to call it in school… or fill in the blank. The new online testing may change that even more.


Well… sort of.

I can hear it now, “DAMIT KEN, AREN’T YOU EVER HAPPY???”

And you would be right. I do think this is the right direction, though I think when it comes to education we need more than just an occasional off flavor seminar. As bad as it would be I think constant exposure to spoiled, or inadequate for the style beer, is necessary to get this right.

And I also think human error, as with all things, can creep in.

For example: when I took the test the last time one of the beers was supposed to be Russian Imperial. What the test givers did was mix a Stout with an IPA and then claimed the test takers would have to say it had insufficient body for an RIP.

Considering the high abv, one assumes it takes fewer RIPs to assure one has a stone above one’s head that reads, “RIP,” right?

Sorry: couldn’t resist.

Anyway, the assumption here is that a Stout mixed with an IPA wouldn’t have sufficient body for an RIP. But, in the days of craft beer that pushes the envelope, doesn’t that depend on the IPA and the Stout? To me, and several of the test takers, this was pretty close to Old Rasputin: an example of the style.

Then we have how they taint the samples. Something that tastes diacetyl-y to one person may simply have a caramel sense, and if that’s appropriate for the style, well it’s appropriate for the style. I can’t count the judges who claim they’re super sensitive to some defect, like diacetyl, who really can’t tell the diff between a caramel sense and diacetyl, in my opinion.

Try to tell them that. Doth not make for a great judging session. That’s why I will, at best, hedge around the issue like “seems more caramel-y to me, and if it is: not that bad.” I will defer to that judge some, just in case I’m wrong, because “this is not the Ken-only brew session.” The shame of it is they often seem to act as if “this is the _________ only brew session.”

So here is the crux of that matter: how are they polluting their beer? Are they using the BJCP off flavor kit, or adding something/doing something they assume will add that off flavor? I have had beer that had been exposed to sunlight and horrid conditions that never got spoiled or cardboardy. It can happen.

Don’t we need stricter standards here, or at least some caveat that highly suggests competition organizers make sure whomever pollutes the samples does it so test “A” and test “B” are comparable when judging the judges?

I write this out of thanks. We have reached a crossroads and headed the better way. I’m just trying to help us walk the better way the best way.


Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

©Copyright 2012
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

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