Tuesday evening — Our class of 30 is working again and going over our homework. Over the next two and a half hours our instructor lectures, draws diagrams and writes out equations. The last half-hour is a practical and every one takes notes on our
projects before we begin to discuss them. For eight weeks of summer school, a dedicated bunch of men and women are seeking to improve themselves. When class is over we all go downstairs to the bar, grab a beer and continue discussing our lesson.
Ever enter a homebrew contest? Perhaps after seeing your score sheet you briefly wondered about the judges. What qualifies them to be a judge? Well there’s actually some rigorous training. We’re going through that now with about 30 hours of class and practicals. Sure, you think, “30 hours of drinking, easy,” but you’d be surprised at how much work there is.
The organization that trains new judges is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). The BJCP’s purpose is to promote beer literacy, the appreciation of real beer and recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills. The BJCP certifies and ranks beer judges through an examination and monitoring process. Founded in 1985, there are over 2,000 members throughout North America and the world.
Our instructor is George DePiro, head brewer at C.H. Evans Brewing Co. and the Albany Pump Station in Albany, New York. George has been a homebrewer for years, head brewer at the Pump Station since it opened and is himself a BJCP judge. He is a font of wisdom and provides a lot of information for us to master. Eight three-hour sessions followed by two reviews cover every aspect of brewing and evaluating beer. Who would believe you could take notes on malt for five hours? There’s enough science to make me get out my daughter’s chemistry and biology textbooks for a quick review. And of course, there’s history too — why beer styles developed as they did, stout in Dublin and Pilsner in the Czech Republic, for example. We also were assigned to write essays. Our homework while George was touring breweries in Europe was:
- Explain the lambic style and describe each of the following: faro, framboise, gueuze and kriek.
- 2. Describe and differentiate the taste and aroma characteristics of the following beer styles and give commercial examples of each:
- American brown
- Munich dunkel
- Robust porter.
- Explain how the following grains are produced, and what effect each has on beer: Black Patent? Chocolate malt? Dextrin malt? Roasted barley? Munich malt?
The lecture’s end brings the serious work of tastings. Evaluation is, after all, the reason for being a judge. There’s vocabulary to learn and everyone must understand the beer and be able to describe it accurately. We sample flaws in beer such as oxidation, diacetyl, skunkiness and more in order to recognize them.
We also evaluate several mystery beers each night knowing only the style. This is “nose in the glass, sip and write everything you can about the beer on your score sheet” work. All’s quiet until we discuss the beer and then there is the test to get ready for — three hours long and quite difficult. Sample tests are on the BJCP Website (www.BJCP.org) if you’re curious.
If you want to get involved, volunteer at the next homebrew contest. Contests always look for stewards to assist judges. Or you can organize a contest yourself! Those are some ways to earn points towards being a judge. You’ll find a wealth of information about beer and the BJCP at www.BJCP.org along with information on the point schedule. There’s a Talon Barley Wine, Old Nick Barley Wine and a Warsteiner Pils in my fridge — Time to do my homework!