Know Your Styles: The BJCP Style Guide

8 12 2009

If I would take a guess, I would say about 99% of beer drinking is subjective. What one person drinks and likes can be totally different from what another person drinks and likes. It is a combination of experience, attitude, genetics, and chemistry. However for that 1%, it really is objective. There may be off flavors caused by an infection or an unintended chemical reaction, “skunky” for instance. Or maybe what sets a beer apart from the rest depends on how much it adheres to the style it represents.

Much like wines, beers come in many different styles. Depending on color, flavors, aromas, yeast, water, carbonation, and alcohol levels. For a brewer, there is a lot freedom within a style and yet takes a lot of discipline to find that “sweet spot” that balances all the details. By learning your styles, you can better describe what you are tasting and why you favor one beer over another.

But what is the best way to learn your beer styles? There are some books out there that do a very good job at describing beer styles. The Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson (not that one, the other one) wrote several very good volumes about beer. And the head brewer from Brooklyn Beer, Garret Oliver, wrote an excellent book about beer and food called The Brewmaster’s Table. There are several excellent books on beer styles by Charlie Daniels, Randy Mosher, and Charlie Papazian–three big names in the homebrewing scene.

But for me, nothing beats the style guidelines from the Beer Judging Certification Program (the BJCP). The BJCP is the main accreditation program for beer judges. Only people who are certified through the BJCP can judge at official beer competitions. Many magazines and newspapers will only hire BJCP holders as their beer critics. And the guidelines are indisputable as the pre-eminent source on beer styles. In order to know why one beer won gold while another won silver at The Great American Beer Festival or why one beer got a 5 star rating while another got a 3 star rating in this month’s issue of “The Celebrator“, you would have to look to your BJCP to find out.

There is some controversy in the brewing world concerning the BJCP, though. Peter Boukaert, brewmaster of the New Belgium Brewery in Ft. Collins, CO, has gone on record several times stating that it is the job of the artist to create, not classify. For Peter, he has no interest in the BJCP. He believes his beers can win on merit alone and leaves the judging to the judges. He believes there is a time and a place for the guidelines, but his kettle is not one of them.

But what do the BJCP Guidelines look like? The guidelines have 23 categories for beer ranging from lightest to darkest of the “standard style” beers followed by “specialty beers”. The BJCP also have catagories for mead and cider. Each category has sub categories that go into greater detail of what each beer should look, smell, and taste like. Each subcategory also gives color specifications (SRM), bitterness (IBUs), alcohol content (ABV), sugar content (Original and Final Gravity Readings).

Each week, I will be sharing with you a summery of each of the 23 beer categories including all the subcategories specifying a range of characteristics, SRM, IBUs, ABV, and gravity readings.

It will look like the following:

Aroma: Which notes should one smell in this beer? Which “off” scents are permissable in this category? Which are not?

Appearance: What colors are these beers? What kind of head and carbonation should be present?

Mouthfeel: How does this beer feel in your mouth while drinking it?

Comments: What should a judge know about this category when judging?

Ingredients: Are there any specific ingredients that should be present in this beer?

Technical notes: A range of SRM, IBUs, ABV, (Original Gravity-OG and Final Gravity-FG)

Common Examples: Which beers should this resemble?

And that is about it. When you start learning your styles, you can begin to separate the good from the bad. And recognize when things are technically good even when you do not care for them (Budweiser is a good example for me).

What about you? Which styles do you enjoy to drink? Why?




One response

9 12 2009
Johnny Automatic

IPA, Double IPA, TRIPLE IPA, IMPERIAL IPA, Porter, Chocolate Porter, Stout, Russian Imperial Stout

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: