Taking The BJCP Tasting Exam

Beer 1 – 13A Dark Mild

Faults: Diacetyl
Beer: Home brewed dark mild

This beer was supposed to be the one that scored 13, as so much diacetyl had been added it should have been like drinking butter! However, including proctors, it didn’t score lower than mid-30s into low 40s. This was a beer that scores low 40s in competition. I have a real blind spot for diacetyl, so I wasn’t surprised that this one escaped me. I scored it low 40s as it seemed very true to style and well made.

Beer 2 – 7A Vienna Lager

Faults: Not to style
Beer: Sam Adams Boston Lager

The only Vienna lager I’m familiar with is Sam Adams Boston Lager, as there aren’t many commercial examples of the style readily available. I thought this beer was quite similar, so I scored it based on this. As it turned out, it was Sam Adams!! This is quite a unique version of Vienna lager, and more akin to a Marzen or Festbier, so it should have been scored high for technical merit, but slightly out of style. This kind of felt like a beer designed to catch you out, especially as it’s not a style with many commercial examples in the UK. It is, however, a style very commonly seen in competitions, which is why it featured in this exam. I need some more practice with this style, clearly.

Beer 3 – 10B Dunkel Weissbier

Faults: None
Beer: Paulaner Hefeweizen Dunkel

I couldn’t find any real faults with this beer. I was pretty convinced it was a commercial example, and I scored it very high. My only advice for feedback was to maybe balance the esters a little more, as the clove was a little dominant, and the guidelines suggest that the best versions are balanced. There were no gotchas or added faults to this one, straight from the bottle. I should hopefully do well for this.

Beer 4 – 18B American Pale Ale

Faults: Not to style. Aged hops.
Beer: Home brewed American IPA

As soon as I picked the glass up, I got a whiff of isovaleric acid. I thought that maybe this had either been spiked or had been made with old hops. It was clearly a hop-derived fault, as I was unable to really pick up which types of hops had been used (fruity, piney etc). As for being out of style, the proctors agreed it was on the extreme higher end of the APA scale for bitterness. It was just about in style in that respect, but was much closer to an IPA. I had thought the same right at the end of the 15 minutes for that beer, and didn’t have enough time to write it down. Mistake!! I could have easily made a note in the overall impression in about 10 seconds. Oh well…

When discussing this beer afterwards, many of the other takers were commenting that they thought this beer was a commercial example (Sierra Nevada Pale). I was a bit worried that I’d listed a fault that wasn’t there, but once the beers had been revealed, the brewer said he had used any old hops that were lying around. I’m hoping to get extra kudos for picking up on that.

Beer 5 – 26D Belgian Dark Strong Ale

Faults: Not to style
Beer: Home brewed Kwak clone

This one tested everyone, proctors included! It was used in the exam as a not-to-style piece, as it wasn’t quite a Belgian Quad, but close. Everyone enjoyed this beer to the point that we were all convinced it was a commercial beer. It reminded me of a lower strength Rochefort 10, with some really nice cherry notes along with the dark fruit from the malt. I noted that it finished a little too sweet for a Belgian dark style, which are usually drier for better drinkability. Other style faults were lower ABV (though still on the bottom end) and not dark enough. This one was purely to test style knowledge.

Beer 6 – 22A Double IPA

Faults: Vegetal/DMS, Astringent, Not to style
Beer: Home brewed Double IPA

The first thing I noticed about this was the sediment floating around. Considering this had been poured from a pitcher, I thought this to be a brewing flaw rather than a dispensing flaw. It didn’t look like hop matter, but didn’t look like yeast either; I still made a note in the appearance section. The hop aroma was muted, and in a DIPA you expect this to be very punchy. After taking the first sip, it was clear that this was a very flawed beer. The bitterness was ridiculously high, and while DIPAs generally are, this just didn’t blend well. The alcohol was very high, and there was a moderately strong astringency as a result. I felt that everything clashed, and it was difficult to drink.

I also noticed that there was a very strong vegetal character, and I put down DMS as a note to come back to. I decided in the end it wasn’t DMS, but that it was ham-like. The only reference to ham-like in the guidelines is for a Witbier or Gose, as an off flavour. I’m still not sure what causes it? I scored it in the low 20’s and it was revealed afterwards it has scored 25 in competition a few months previously. Hopefully the proctors scored it similarly.

Points to take away

  • Confidence – be more assertive and sure of what you perceive, and write it all down, especially if you’re not 100% sure that’s what it is. I put down DMS on the DIPA, then erased it. One of the proctors mentioned DMS after the event. Should’ve kept it on there.
  • Use the overall impression to gauge if a beer is in style. I didn’t believe in myself enough to do this, and didn’t mark any beer out of style. I thought the Belgian Dark Strong was too sweet in the finish and too low in alcohol, and made notes on that, but still declared it as in style.
  • Don’t spend too long figuring out if it’s passion fruit or mango in the aroma and flavour. If you can tell that immediately, great, but there simply isn’t time to consider each and every descriptor. It’s much more important to fill the scoresheet in with something about everything.

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