My Beer Judge Exam Results and Reflection

by Billy Broas

The results are in. I took the BJCP tasting exam on March 2nd and my score was emailed on June 3rd.

The score: 80

Whew!

That’s a relief. I was really hoping for at least an 80 because that is the score needed to qualify for National ranking.

Now I’ll tell you all about the exam in case I can help some BJCP hopefuls out there prepare. First, here is the exam feedback sheet I received with my score:

Click to view large version

Click to view large version


The different areas you are graded on are:

  • Perception – Were you able to identify the characteristics of the beer? Did you notice all the flavors and aromas that were present?
  • Descriptive Ability – Were your descriptions detailed and vivid, or bland and generic?
  • Feedback – Did you give suggestions for improvement? Did you tell the brewer how to fix the faults you mentioned?
  • Completeness – Did you comment on all sensory components? Did you use all of the space provided for comments?
  • Scoring Accuracy – How close were your scores to the scores of the proctors?

As you can see, completeness was my strongest area where I achieved a Master score. I was also pretty good at perception and descriptive ability where I got National. I was OK at feedback (Certified) and not so hot at scoring accuracy (Recognized).

I’m mad at myself for not doing better on feedback since homebrewing is my strong suit, and hell, I even teach homebrewing. If I were to take it again, I would pay closer attention to that area.

The scoring accuracy was my worst area. I felt confident after the exam that my scores were accurate but it turns out I was pretty far off from the scores of the three proctors who I was compared to.

The Exam Beers

We were given 90 minutes to judge six beers, so there was 15 minutes allotted per beer. For each one we had to fill out a scoresheet (pdf) and assign a score.

The beer styles could be any one of the subcategories in the 23 BJCP Beer Styles. We weren’t told ahead of time what they’d be and we couldn’t use the guidelines during the exam, so we had to memorize the them beforehand.

Here are the beers we judged and their consensus scores as given by the three proctors (National and Master judges) in the room:

  1. German Pilsner – 40
  2. Witbier – 35
  3. American IPA – 34
  4. American Barleywine – 32
  5. Robust Porter – 37
  6. Flanders Red – see below

For 4/5 beers my scores weren’t terrible, being within 5 points for three of them.

The Flanders Red was by far my worst and really hurt my score. The funny thing is that I was the most confident that I got this one right. I had heard that in the tasting exam there is usually one beer that has serious flaws and scores very low. When this beer was brought out and I smelled and tasted it, I was sure this was the loser in the bunch.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love sour beers, so it wasn’t a case of me just not liking this particular style. La Folie (a Flanders Brown) is one of my all-time favorite beers.

But this Flanders Red was completely undrinkable. I couldn’t take more than a sip because the sourness was so overwhelming. It was like straight vinegar. There were even people in the room coughing.

You’re not supposed to rate a beer lower than 13 because it’s somewhat insulting to the brewer. I gave it a 16 which put it in the “Fair” range and I felt that was somewhat generous.

Well it turns out the proctors actually loved it – they gave it a 42! Yep, I was 26 points off. Ouch!

Because I rated this beer so low I also got low scores on the other categories (I couldn’t perceive or describe anything other than awful vinegar). So that one hurt, but oh well.

My Advice On the Exam

Here’s what you should do if you want to score well on the exam:

  • Start studying as early as possible and form a study group if you can.
  • Know the BJCP style guidelines inside and out.
  • Practice ALL areas of the exam. I stunk at scoring accuracy, but because I was good at perception, description, feedback, and completeness, I still did well on the exam.
  • Judge at real competitions. That’s probably the best thing you can do. I only judged one before the exam and wish I did more.

Also just drink a lot of beer in general. I don’t think I had to tell you that though.

What’s Next?

By scoring an 80 I qualified for National ranking by the skin of my teeth, so getting to that rank is the next goal. In addition to at least an 80 on the tasting exam you need at least 10 judging experience points to take the written exam. I only have one judging point and the exam I signed up for is in March of 2014, so it’s going to be really difficult to get nine more judging points by then. If I can’t make it, I’ll just take the exam at a later date.

Overall I’m really happy with my score. I need to work on my scoring accuracy but that comes with judging experience. Given that my perception scores were high (the “palate test” – the thing I was most worried about) and my accuracy was low, that tells me that I just need to calibrate my scores to those of more experienced judges.

Let me know if you have any questions about the exam. It’s good to be finally be a judge!

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Darren June 13, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Congrats! Moreover, It seems a little odd to me that you’re supposed to score beers near the same as the proctor judges. Everyone has a different palate so how can you be punished for thinking a beer is undrinkable when others liked it? It just seems as though if you don’t find it enjoyable you wouldn’t give it high marks. Congrats again.

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Marty Nachel June 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Darren,

Finding a beer enjoyable is not what proper beer evaluation is all about. To be a good beer judge you need to get beyond your subjective opinions and personal preferences. Beer judges are required to evaluate beer styles that are not “favorites” on a regular basis.

Cheers!
Marty Nachel

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Billy Broas June 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Thanks Darren! As for your question, Marty gave a great response and I’ll just piggyback on it a little.

In judging you’re comparing a beer to the BJCP style guidelines and scoring depending on how well it displays those characteristics. So you’re asking yourself, “How well does this pale ale fit the pale ale guidelines?”, “How well does this robust porter fit the robust porter guidelines?”, etc. There are even commercial examples for each style so you know what a top rated beer is supposed to taste like.

That puts the judges on the same page and it leads to a surprising amount of objectivity. For example, the three proctors who judged my exam were all within a couple points of each other on every beer without discussing the scores.

Naturally it can’t be 100% objective because of genetics and everyone has a different palate, like you said. Some people have blind spots to certain off-flavors, like diacetyl. In competitions you’re paired with another judge and you both must agree on a score, which is very useful because the other judge may have noticed something you missed.

It’s certainly not a perfect system but for the most part it accomplishes its goals of promoting beer knowledge and helping homebrewers improve their beer.

As for the Flanders Red, I’m pretty stumped. I don’t know why they scored it so high I thought it was undrinkable. I normally enjoy really really sour beers. I almost wonder if they got a different bottle that was not as screwed up as mine. It was the exam administrators homebrew and even he (a master judge) thought it would score low.

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Darren June 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm

That makes sense. Guess I didn’t think of it as fitting into the style guidelines. More for me to learn, which is my favorite part about trying new beer. Thanks and keep up the good work!

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Lost June 14, 2013 at 1:34 am

Congrats Billium!!!

–Lost

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Billy Broas June 14, 2013 at 11:44 am

Thank ya!

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vera June 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Congratulations! That’s awesome. Thanks for your honesty, and for your, willingness to share your score and experience .

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Billy Broas June 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Thanks. When I was studying I didn’t find many people writing about their experience with the test so hopefully this fills that gap.

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Jimmie the Mum June 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Also just drink a lot of beer in general… I like that advice..
Congrats on passing this part and keep trying to get those points for next year..

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Billy Broas June 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Gotta’ love a class where the homework is drinking beer.

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James June 15, 2013 at 7:34 am

Congrats billy! It’s been a hell of a year for you so far and I enjoy reading all about it

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Billy Broas June 16, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Thanks James!

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Nitch June 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

Greatly helpful and insightful post- Merci beaucoup!

You talked about studying, judging and (most importantly) drinking beer styles but I’d love to hear where got the idea to take the test. Being certified does what for a person’s well being in life? Kinda like, “cool, you have a driver’s license, but what are you going to drive and where?”
For most festivals, judges are invitation only or does one submit a resume for positions?

XOXO

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Billy Broas June 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Great question Nitch. I forget when exactly I first heard that it was possible to be a beer judge, but it was a long time ago and my initial reaction to it was, “That is so badass – I want to do it.” So there was the “cool factor” as well as my desire to learn as much as I can about beer which studying for the exam definitely provided. As a homebrewer it’s been extremely helpful in improving my beer. I always tell people now that if you want to make better beer, become a beer judge.

Almost all competitions need more judges so it’s not hard to get on board. They send emails around looking for volunteers or you could find a competition in your area (http://www.bjcp.org/apps/comp_schedule/competition_schedule.php) and sign up over the website.

I should make the distinction between judging at a homebrew competition and judging commercial beers at festivals. For example The Great American Beer Festival is not a BJCP competition. That’s put on by the Brewers Association so they judge according to the BA’s style guidelines and the judges don’t need to be BJCP certified (although many are).

Hope that helps. Cheers!

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Forrest June 17, 2013 at 10:02 am

Congrats billy! You will make a great beer judge and I hope to see you soon at the GABF!

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Billy Broas June 17, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Thanks dude.

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David ivey June 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Hey Billy – Great move! A huge congrats to you! What an inspiration. Not sure if I want to take that plunge yet. About how much study time per week did it take you? Do you think that this improved your home brewing too? Cheers.

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Billy Broas June 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Thanks David. Our study sessions were about 3 hours and done twice a month. I didn’t do much studying outside of that until the final month when I made a big push. Then I tried to judge at least one beer a day and really learn the style guidelines. I have the BJCP App on my phone so whenever I had downtime I would try to look over some styles (I did this throughout the year). Then there was the actual judging of a competition and a few stewarding experiences.

I definitely think it improved my homebrew. Go for it!

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Shegogue Brew June 18, 2013 at 6:59 am

Billy, Congrats! From what I have been hearing, an 80 is a great score for taking the test for the first time! I think I mentioned in your earlier post I am schedule to take the exam in September, luckily the proctors are hosting a 14 week class to prepare everyone. Have my second class tonight, but for others out there looking to take the test I have learned some really good info already – 2 big questions to ask about every sensory item is 1) What kind of? and 2) How much of (low, medium-low, high etc) This really helps to describe any aspects of the beer. Bummer about the flanders red!

Congrats again! I will have to send some beers out to some Colorado competitions and look out for D1217 :)

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Billy Broas June 18, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Good luck on your exam. That class will be gold, and excellent tip on the sensory items. Another tip I will give is to develop your own system for filling out each section to make sure you comment on every item. That is part of why I did so well on completeness. My scoresheets are all structured in similar way so it became almost automatic to describe malt, hops, balance, etc.

D1217 would love to taste your beers!

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Shegogue Brew June 20, 2013 at 6:06 am

That is good idea, too! I will have to figure out my way of doing it

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Shegogue Brew September 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Well, just took the tasting exam today! I am pretty optimistic. As you said, that class I took was AWESOME preparation. I was a little conservative on my scores as I wanted to increase my chances of getting them all within 7 points – ended up all were within 5, and 4 were within 3! I think I will be right on the border of getting an 80, but hoping I can reach it.

Are you planning to take the written exam soon to get that National rank?

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Billy Broas October 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Congrats! It sounds like you did great. I do plan on taking the written exam but it will probably be a while. The main reason being that I need to get enough experience points to qualify for it and I haven’t been able to judge many competitions. Do you plan on going for National?

soniablue June 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Congrats!

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Billy Broas June 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Thank you!

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Sheppy June 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Very cool. Congrats.

I’ve heard from several sources that the single best thing to improve your own brewing is to become a judge. It is hard to improve your own beer if you don’t have the ability to critically judge it.

Have fun judging.

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Billy Broas June 21, 2013 at 9:02 am

Thanks. Yes, it is a great way to improve your beer. I am now much better at picking up off-flavors which I’m not sure is a good thing or a bad thing.

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Brian July 18, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Congrats, I have been attending BJCP classes in San Diego for over a year now and haven’t gotten up the courage to take even the online exam much less the written and tasting portions. I have however learned so much and my homebrew has really gotten a lot better because of it. Thanks for the awesome blog!

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bjcp August 21, 2013 at 4:20 pm

“The beer styles could be any one of the subcategories in the 23 BJCP Beer Styles. We weren’t told ahead of time what they’d be and we couldn’t use the guidelines during the exam, so we had to memorize the them beforehand.”

But I assume you were told what style you were judging when each beer was poured? It wouldn’t be a fair test without that key piece of information.

I had always assumed that the test focused primarily on how well you can perceive and describe various characteristics, and evaluate them against a specific style. But without having the style guidelines available during the exam, I guess they are making sure that all judges have these details memorized. Is that reasonable, given that you would actually have the guidelines available for reference during an actual judging event?

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Billy Broas August 22, 2013 at 8:43 am

Yes they when they bring the beers out during the exam they tell you what style to judge it as. I say “judge it as” intentionally because they might throw you a curveball and give you a stout and tell you to judge it as a porter, for example.

They do want you to memorize the details of the styles for the exam. I agree it doesn’t quite make sense since you’ll always have the guidelines available during a competition. It’s sort of like in math class where they wouldn’t let you use a calculator even though you’ll always have access to one in real life. The good thing is that you don’t need to memorize exact numbers like ABV, OG, etc. It’s mainly key characteristics that are allowed or not allowed in a style. For example “Is any DMS allowed in this beer?” Hope that helps.

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Shegogue Brew October 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Couldn’t reply to our previous comments above. My goal is to become National, although I am not in a rush to get there. I too, will need to start accruing some points. I will actually be judging a competition here in MD next week for commercial beers from the state. I was able to get in without being an official judge due to my BJCP teachers vouching for me. I am told points are retroactive so I should start accruing next week!

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Billy Broas October 6, 2013 at 9:56 am

Good luck on the judging. It’s a lot of fun and you learn so much judging in real competitions. Rack up those points!

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Shegogue Brew March 24, 2014 at 9:02 am

Just got my score emailed to me last night. It took right around 6 months (took the tasting exam on 9/29/2013) but there were some scoring problems. One grader had to back out for personal reasons and the other was new and had some “inaccuracies” so they had to get routed to another grader before they could get officially provide scores.

It was well worth the waitt, though – scored an 85! I am ecstatic. I will celebrate by judging a local competition this Saturday, which will bring me to 3.5 judging points. Guess I need to start studying for the written exam!

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Billy Broas March 24, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Congrats! That’s an incredible score. Welcome to the club and have fun judging.

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JK January 17, 2014 at 5:40 am

Congrats on the very good score! People don’t often score 80 on their first attempt. I came across this post randomly in a Google search and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was one of your graders. Hopefully you found the grading to be fair and were satisfied with the feedback on your RTP.

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Billy Broas January 28, 2014 at 8:05 am

Wow that’s very cool that you were one of my graders. You can bet I’m happy with how things turned out. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you around here.

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jw March 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

Billy,

I enjoyed this post and found it very useful while preparing for my own tasting exam.

Like you, I unfortunately bombed on one beer, detecting an acetic note in a hefeweizen when it wasn’t detected by the judging panel. Do you believe they just ignored that beer for you or did it factor into your overall score? I felt that besides some scoring accuracy issues, I did well on the other beers and am hoping for a grade over >80, but feel the one beer may have doomed me.

Appreciate the feedback.

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Billy Broas March 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Hey jw,

I’m pretty sure they factor in every beer you judge. The good thing is that once you’re a certain number of points away from the judges’ score (I want to say 7), you hit a maximum number that can be deducted. So score-wise, being waaaaay off isn’t any different than being way off ; )

Good luck! Let us know how it turns out.

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