Beer Exam Study Course

by Scott Bickham

Originally created by Scott Bickham in 1995 for those preparing for the BJCP Legacy Examination. The syllabus is still completely applicable to the three tier BJCP Exam Structure implemented in 2012 and has been updated to conform the 2015 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines.

The ten session course outlined below is a modification of ones that have been effective in preparing judges for the BJCP exam. One or two members of the study group are usually assigned to the task of collecting commercial and homebrewed examples of a given style. They should also prepare and distribute handouts that outline the background and characteristics of each style, as well as a technical topic relevant to the exam. All but one of the beers are then served blindly and discussed, with positive and negative attributes identified. After the tasting session, a technical topic concerning ingredients, the brewing process, or beer flavors is reviewed. Finally, the study group judges the remaining beer using the BJCP Beer Scoresheet, with a 15 minute time limit, and then compare comments and scores with those of the most experienced judges participating in the session.

The total time for each class should be approximately three hours, depending on the number of commercial examples and depth of the presentations and discussions. The commercial examples should be selected from the classic examples listed in the 2015 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines. The number of beers served in each class should be limited to 8-10, depending on the alcoholic strength and sample size, to prevent palate fatigue and promote responsible drinking. It should be easy to persuade local National and Master judges to lead or participate in the review sessions but the preparation work can also be divided among those studying for the exam.

Note that this type of course qualifies for experience points within the BJCP Continuing Education Program.  

Class 1. Pale Lagers

Styles: American Lager, Cream Ale, International Pale Lager, Czech Pale Lager, Czech Premium Pale Lager, German Pils, German Helles Exportbier, Munich Helles, Festbier, Helles Bock.

Technical topic: Malt, including the malting process, types, adjuncts, kilning and the styles with which different malts are associated.

Class 2. Amber and Dark Lagers

Styles: International Amber Lager, International Dark Lager, Czech Amber Lager, Czech Dark Lager, Vienna Lager, Kellerbier, Märzen, Munich Dunkel, Schwarzbier, Dunkles Bock, Doppelbock, Eisbock.

Technical topic: Water, including minerals, pH, hardness, adjustment, and the effect on the development of world beer styles.

Class 3. British Bitters, Pale Ales and IPAs

Styles: Ordinary Bitter, Best Bitter and Strong Bitter, British Golden Ale, Australian Sparking Ale, Blonde Ale, American Pale Ale, American Amber Ale, English IPA, American IPA, Specialty IPA.

Technical topic: Mashing, including types used for different beer styles, mash schedules and enzymes.

Class 4. Brown, Red and Scottish Ales

Styles: Mild, British Brown Ale, Scottish Light, Scottish Export, Scottish Heavy, Wee Heavy, American Brown Ale, Irish Red Ale, California Common.

Technical topic: Hops, including varieties, IBUs, hopping schedule and the association with different beer styles.

Class 5. Stout and Porter

Styles: Irish Stout, Irish Extra Stout, Sweet Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Tropical Stout, Foreign Extra Stout, American Stout, Imperial Stout, English Porter, American Porter, Baltic Porter.

Technical topic: Yeast and fermentation, including characteristics of different yeast strains, bacteria, by-products and relationship to world beer styles.

Class 6. Barleywines and Strong Ales

Styles: British Strong Ale, Old Ale, English Barleywine, Double IPA, American Strong Ale, American Barleywine.

Technical topic: Brewing procedures, including sparging, boiling, fining and carbonation methods. Reasons for each should be discussed, along with potential problems.

Class 7. German Ales and Wheat Beers

Styles: American Wheat Beer, Kölsch, Altbier, Weissbier, Dunkles Weissbier , Weizenbock, Wheatwine.

Technical topic: Beer Characteristics I, which includes a discussion of how positive and negative attributes are perceived and produced, the beer styles with which they may be associated and corrective measures. The flavor descriptors on the beer characteristic section of the BJCP Study Guide should be split into two sections.

Class 8. Strong Belgian and Trappist Ales

Styles: Belgian Blond Ale, Saison, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Trappist Single, Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Tripel, Belgian Strong Dark Ale.

Technical topic: Beer Characteristics II.

Class 9. European Sour and Belgian Ales

Styles: Witbier, Belgian Pale Ale, Bière de Garde, Berliner Weiss, Oud Bruin, Flanders Red, Lambic, Gueuze.

Technical topic: Recipe formulation, including the selection of appropriate hops, malt, water, yeast and brewing procedure for different beer styles.

Class 10. Doctored beer seminar

This is an informative and practical method of learning how isolated flavors taste in beer. A clean lager is generally doctored with near-threshold amounts of compounds which either occur naturally in beer or mimic those that do. Examples include artificial butter for diacetyl, sherry for sherry-like oxidation, vodka for alcohol, almond extract for nuttiness, grape tannin for astringency, hop oils for hop flavor and aroma, and lactic and acetic acid for sourness. Recommended amounts are given in the Guidelines for Doctoring Beer. Note that some of these compounds have very strong flavors, so they should be diluted in water or beer before adding to the base beer. For example, a detectable amount of lactic acid is approximately 0.4 ml of 88% USP lactic acid to a 12 oz. (355 ml ) sample of beer. Since most of us do not have access to pipettes to measure such a small quantity, 1/8 tsp may be added to 3/8 tsp distilled water, and 1/3 tsp of this solution added to the reference beer. This is equivalent to adding 1/12 tsp times 5 ml/tsp, or approximately 0.4 ml of lactic acid.