Style Guidelines

by David Houseman


The BJCP Style Guidelines use some specific terms with specialized meaning: “Category”, “Subcategory” and “Style.” When thinking of beer, mead and cider styles, the subcategory is the most important label—”subcategory” means essentially the same thing as “style” and identifies the major characteristic of one type of beer, mead or cider. The larger “categories” (or “style families” are arbitrary groupings of beers, meads or ciders, usually with similar character but some subcategories are not necessarily related to others within the same category. The purpose of the structure within the BJCP Style Guidelines is to group styles of beer, mead and cider for competition purposes; do not attempt to derive additional meaning from these groupings.

Historically, types of beers were a consequence of the local water, ingredients and technology available at the time. In most cases, brewers did not set out to develop a specific “style,” or type of beer. For example, the high sulfates in the hard water around Burton-on-Trent resulted in a drier flavor that accentuated the bitterness of well-hopped ales, while the soft water in Plzen enabled the brewers to produce a pale lager with a high hop bitterness and soft palate that would not be possible with hard water. Thus these classic styles were determined by the water of the region. Style guidelines also make distinctions between similar styles. There are a number of Pilsners brewed in Germany, and although there are variations, they can all be broadly classified in the German Pilsner style, but are sufficiently different from the Bohemian Pilsners to deserve a separate sub-classification in the beer taxonomy.

Beer styles are not static but change over time in history as ingredients, brewing technology and consumer demand change. For example, the IPA described in the style guidelines originated in the UK, but is now rarely brewed due to the high taxes imposed on beers of this strength. History and geography highly impact the development of brewing; it is important that BJCP judges have an understanding of these factors. The examinee should be able to discuss these factors on the exam and use this depth of knowledge when providing feedback to brewers.

The beers documented in the BJCP Style Guidelines are those that are most commonly brewed by homebrewers in the US. It is not a complete list of all known beers, even those available throughout the world today. This style guide is continually kept up to date as newer information is made available. Its purpose is to provide a definition of the commonly brewed beers which should be used by both the brewer and the judge as criteria against which each style is evaluated. The BJCP Style Guidelines are not intended to be the complete source of information for the prospective BJCP judge, although the latest edition is quite complete and thorough. It’s recommended that the potential judge read and study Michael Jackson’s New World Guide to Beer and Beer Companion, the Classic Beer Style Series and other sources of information to obtain a complete understanding of the history, geography, and characteristics of the beers described in the BJCP Style Guidelines. The BJCP Style Guidelines, however, should serve as an accurate, quick reference to the different types of beers.

Most of the figures for starting gravity (SG), percent alcohol by volume (v/v), International Bittering Units (IBU) and color (degrees Lovibond or SRM) are taken from one of several sources assimilated by the BJCP Style Committee, including brewers of well-regarded commercial examples.

To receive full credit for beer style questions on the BJCP exam, examinee should provide at least approximate SG and IBU ranges for the style and, where relevant, other parameters such as alcohol content.

It is strongly suggested that the section of this study guide providing sample exam questions pertaining to beer styles be read carefully. These provide an indication of the range and type of questions to expect on the BJCP exam. You will note that not only will you potentially be asked to “describe” styles but also to “differentiate” among them. In this case, it is expected that you will be able to compare the similarities and differences of the indicated styles. In almost all cases, the examinee is expected to provide relatively well known commercial examples of different styles requested on the exam. While the examinee may not have traveled to the respective countries to try local commercial beers or these beers may not be available in your area, it still is expected that you will have knowledge of the commercial examples from the BJCP Style Guidelines, Michael Jackson’s books and other references.


Lagers are produced using bottom-fermenting lager yeasts, Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly known as S. uvarum or S. carlsbergensis). This family of yeasts works well at lower temperatures, generally between 45 and 55 °F (7 and 13 °C). This colder fermentation reduces or eliminates the production of esters and other flavor components, generally resulting in a cleaner tasting beer. During the fermentation and lagering process, at temperatures down to approximately 32 °F (0 °C), the lager yeast remains active, continuing to reduce fermentation by-products, resulting in a cleaner, mellower flavor in the finished beer. Lagers are a relatively new beer style, only produced commercially after the introduction of mechanical refrigeration in the 1800s.


Ales are produced using top fermenting ale yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. These strains of yeast works at warmer temperatures and ferment out faster than their lager counterparts. Fermentation byproducts such as fruity, estery flavors are usually evident and make up a significant part of the ale profile. Ale yeast are usually temperature-sensitive and will flocculate and become dormant when lagered at cool temperatures for extended periods of time.

Mixed Styles

Mixed Styles use one or more variations of temperature and yeasts, such as fermentation with ale yeast at colder temperatures, use of ale and lager yeasts in combination, use of lager yeasts at warmer, ale-like temperature, or use of special yeast strains.

Belgian Styles

Belgian Styles are generally ales, but with sufficient differences in process and taste profile to warrant their inclusion as a separate style section. Some Belgian styles, such as the Lambics, use a combination of wild yeasts and various bacteria in their fermentation process.

Specialty, Cider and Mead

The Specialty, Cider and Mead categories should be understood by the potential BJCP judge since s/he will not know in advance which categories s/he may have to judge in an actual competition and a judge should be prepared to judge any category. However, they are not required knowledge for the BJCP Beer Exam.

Styles on the BJCP Exams

The BJCP Style Guidelines were extensively revised in 2004, and a minor update was produced in 2008. Another extensive update was made in 2015. See the current Beer Style Guidelines.

The BJCP Beer Exams only cover beer styles. No meads or ciders are on the exam. No fruit, spice or specialty beers are covered on the exam. A separate BJCP Mead Exam has been implemented, and a separate BJCP Cider Exam is under development.