I have taken my BJCP beer and BJCP mead exam and am a certified beer and mead judge. The whole process was excellent and taught me tonnes about evaluating mead and beer. This article goes through what to expect and provides some study recommendations.
The best feedback I get when I enter competitions is from BJCP mead judges. The BJCP judge program is a great way for anyone to get better at evaluating beers and meads. It consists of passing an online exam, and then taking an in person judging exam.
I decided to do the beer exam in addition to the mead exam since it puts me in the BJCP stream instead of just having a mead designation. This will also help me to be more helpful at competitions (since I usually be submit to the mead categories which disqualifies you from judging mead) and be a better judge of braggots.
The online mead exam requires you to answer 200 question in 60 minutes. All of the answers can be found in the study materials provided by the BJCP. It took me two hours to read through all the material. There were lots of question related to the judging process that I was unable to answer because it is buried in the beer exam material, and so I missed it when studying (see page 18 that provides answers to questions on the online test based on information in the Judge Procedures Manual). Some questions can be very difficult since they ask for multiple choice, multiple answer for the aroma, or flavor of many ingredients and honey types. For those questions, I had the study material open and was able search the honey to quickly verify my answers. Passed the online mead exam first attempt.
I can attest I knew little about official beer styles before studying for the beer exam. But my experience with home brewing and fermentation made the difference. It took me four hours to read through all the BJCP beer exam material. Passed on my first attempt. When studying for the beer exam I realized that it had lots of the subject matter that shows up on the mead exam, but that are not given in the mead study material. Once you pass the exam you are given a provisional judging certificate which allows you to enroll in the tasting exam.
I highly recommend checking out Eric’s post on study materials which provides an excellent summary of BJCP studying, official and non-official. Shout out to Brewnology for the great podcast on BJCP judging.
I took the beer tasting exam in July 2017. The beer exam was a lot of fun, and the beers were very enjoyable. You are presented with six beers and told the categories and name of each beer. You are required to fill out detailed scoresheets for each beer. This requires identifying any off flavors, aroma, appearance, taste, and overall impression. Most importantly, the beer must be judged to style. That means knowing the appropriate color, ABV, tastes and aromas for each category. I tasted an IPA, APA, Irish extra stout, wheat beer, American brown ale, and Berliner weisse. The Irish extra stout was out of category and actually a milk stout and had some flaws. The berliner weisse was excellent sour and phenolic – a flaw in other beers.
I took the mead tasting exam in August 2017. It followed the same format as the beer tasting exam. I judged a standard traditional made from canola honey (tasted and smelled like the oil), a mix of that mead with some raw apple cider that was presented as a cyser, a brown ale mixed with a traditional mead made of Australian honey (think tea tree, yuck), a standard pyment, and a sack cherry. At the end of the tastings, the master level judges who also take the exam with you and whom against your evaluations are compared, give their impression of the meads and the score they gave them. I was very close, although the sack cherry split the judges as one though it tasted too much like cherry pie (yum). As your score is based on how close your score matches the master judges, you are suppose to score conservatively and not go too high or low. I gave the cherry sack a score in the low 40’s, which is high, along with one of the judges.
After the exam, we sampled honey from around the world and tried some other meads that people had brought. I tasted the best mead I have ever had which was a traditional mead from Heidrun meadery made from macadamia nut honey from Hawaii. It drank like an off-dry champagne with clear notes of macadamia nut, pineapple and mango.
I had to wait three months till I got my score back for the beer tasting exam. The exams were judged by a panel of volunteer highly-ranked judges. I scored 77 on my beer tasting exam – which I was quite happy about. I was only 3 points off from qualifying for the national rank. Most of my points were lost on the scoring. I was off for the Irish Stout, APA and the IPA. For the IPA I had perceived lots of sourness, yeast character and some sulfur due to the kicking of the keg. I had docked it pretty hard for not being balanced (thinking lack of bittering hops and the sourness was inappropriate) but the judges rated it pretty well. For the Irish Stout that was out of category, I still gave it about a 30, but the other judges gave it a bad score. The overall performance summary on the BJCP beer tasting exam is presented below in the table.
Here is the full feedback and grading sheet I received. The feedback sheet includes similar ranking for each beer. I must admit that since taking this exam I have judged some competitions and feel much more comfortable in my scoring accuracy. At the Brew Slam completion in Toronto, I was scoring very close to my partner judges that were certified or national.
It took four months to get my score back from the mead exam. I scored 80/100 overall, which is the lower bound of the score I was hoping for. My feedback and overall scoring was very close for most meads, the only mead that was off was the semi-sweet buckwheat sparkling mead. My full scoresheet is available here. The buckwheat is a very interesting example of judging perceptions.
I got exactly what I expected from the buckwheat, barnyard etc., but I must have missed that it was a semi-sweet. It was obviously a dry hydromel. I rated it for it was – a dry buckwheat hydromel – and scored it 32 for being clean and well executed – but my score was really far off from the master judges who gave it a low 20. Pretty obvious that the semi-sweet vs dry distinction would lower the score. However, the low score by the judges exemplify an issue I have with judging overall. It was exactly what I expected, in terms of honey character. I judged it for what it was. However, eastern buckwheat is not that enjoyable, so it gets a bad score.