Well, would you look at that – you’re a Provisional Judge in the BJCP! That is, if you followed the steps listed in Part I of How to Become a Beer Judge. If not, you’ll want to backtrack and get cozy with the study guide.
Technically, a Provisional Judge counts as a beer judge in the BJCP. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to go a little farther down the path of beer judgedom. You’d best not put down those style guidelines just yet! You’ll need them now more than ever.
Pass the BJCP Tasting Exam
Let’s see if your senses can keep up with your book smarts! The second step requires even more dedication, time, and money than the last step. Got more of those? Good. Let’s do this.
The BJCP Tasting Exam is held in person at a specific location, and consists of judging six different beers over a 90 minute period. As each beer is brought out, the style you will judge it against will be revealed. A new beer will be presented every 15 minutes until all six have been dispensed. That means you have 15 minutes to fill out a judging sheet in its entirety.
The exam fee is $40, and it’s likely you’ll have to travel to attend. I live in Salt Lake City, and I traveled down to Scottsdale, Arizona to take my exam. I made a fun little beer/camping trip out of it. I encourage you to do the same!
Here are some tips for tackling the tasting exam…
Sign up for an exam months to a year in advance if you can. These exams have a very limited capacity, and tend to fill up fast. If you find an exam you would prefer to attend but it is full, contact the organizer and get on the waiting list. Also, keep this date free on your schedule should you be contacted last minute with an opening.
Don’t sign up for more than one exam at a time. Signing up for an exam only to drop it last minute for your own convenience makes life hard for the organizers. Don’t be that guy.
Remember that study guide you printed out? Keep living with it. That thing is chock full of great information and references for where to get more.
Judge as many competitions as possible. I recommend judging a BJCP sanctioned competition at least once before attempting the tasting exam. You’ll need to be very familiar with the beer score sheet and how it should be filled out. Judging with others will also help you hone your scoring accuracy.
Print out a bajillion score sheets and judge everything. Commercial examples are great, but you’ll likely be judging homebrew at competitions. Make friends with some homebrewers, and I bet you’ll be blessed with bottles aplenty.
Be nice! Providing constructive criticism is a huge part of being an effective judge. The judging/homebrew community is tight knit and committed to helping one another. If you bash a beer for being awful and sucky on a score sheet, even if it’s totally true, you may burn bridges with friends and extinguish someone’s flame for homebrewing. Do you want to be responsible for that? Of course not. Write down helpful information on how to improve the beer instead of stating your disgust.
Don’t stop digging into those style guidelines. Start grinding the more obscure styles. Taste as many examples as you can, and get comfortable with describing them.
Be prepared to not only note faults in a beer, but how to fix them. Perhaps you detect diacetyl (popcorn butter) in a beer. Can you tell the brewer how to avoid it in a short sentence or two? Also, be aware it is acceptable for some styles to contain low levels of common off flavors.
When was the last time you wrote with a pencil for an hour and a half straight? Make sure your writing chops are up to snuff before taking the exam. It sounds silly, but you don’t want your hand cramping up half way through.
Do a mock exam at home. Get a friend to serve you a small beer sample once every 15 minutes until you’ve made it through 6. Heck, go for more if you’re feeling spry! This will give you an idea for what to expect for the exam pace and if you’re ready for the real thing.
Keep those boogers at bay! Really though, you’ll want to have a clean, easy breathing nose going into the exam. Having a cold or any sort of sinus congestion is a severe detriment. I stayed at a hostel the night before I took the tasting exam, and the air conditioner was blowing on my head the whole night. Luckily, I was fine come morning, but I’ve had similar experiences with unlucky outcomes.
I think that’s about it. There aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to passing this thing, so do the dirty work and you’ll be rewarded accordingly!
The cool thing about this exam is that you get to discuss your thoughts as a class immediately after taking it. The exam proctor will discuss beers one at a time, noting potential off flavors, miscategorization, and approximate score. When you leave, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how well you did based off of this discussion. We were told the exam has a 5% fail rate, so passing shouldn’t be a problem.
The real results don’t come until months down the line. I took the tasting exam on May 21st, and received my results a little over 3 months later on August 31st. Exam processing is done by volunteers, so it’s no surprise the turnaround takes time.
I scored an 82 on the exam. Not awful, but not outstanding. Still, it’s a high enough score that I can work my way toward a judge rank of National by judging more competitions. Your judge rank depends on your tasting exam score and judging experience points. Your exam score puts a cap on how far you can advance by judging competitions.
Here’s an explanation of BJCP ranks taken directly from bjcp.org.
“A judge with any passing score and fewer than 5 experience points receives the rank of Recognized. Judges with a score of 70 or above on the exam and who have accumulated at least 5 experience points receive the Certified rank. A score of 80 or above combined with 20 experience points provides the rank of National. Judges achieve Master status by scoring 90 or better and acquiring 40 experience points. In all cases, at least half the experience points for a given rank must come from judging.”
With only 4.5 judging points, I hold the title of Recognized Judge. After judging another competition, I’ll have enough points (5) to be awarded the title of Certified Judge. Beyond that, I’ll need 20 points to become a National Judge.
As for exams, there’s one more I can take through the BJCP. It’s the written exam! I’ll save the details for Part III sometime down the road. It may be a year or so, but it’s certainly on my mind.
Keep drinking critically!
I’ll see you at the judging table.