Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Saltwater LocAle

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 2/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 2/5   OVERALL 11/20ChadPolenz (1701) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 26, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 18A Blonde Ale

AROMA: Sweet blonde malt, though also a buttered popcorn or kettle chip aroma (diacetyl). No hops. 6/12

APPEARANCE: Gold/light copper hue. Clear but no CO2. Foam evaporates quickly. 1/3

FLAVOR: Sweet toffee/kettle chip flavor up front (diacetyl). Slight genuine malt taste on the second half with a bit of a flaked maize (DMS?) flavor on the finish. Very low earthy hop presence. Mild overall, mostly inoffensive. 13/20

MOUTHFEEL: Light body at only 3.7% ABV. Mouthfeel is a bit dull (should be effervescent and crisp). Toffee and corn flavors linger momentarily but eventually fade away clean. Slightly refreshing. 2/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: This was impressive at the beer fest, but on a clean palate it seems very flawed. Is it just me? 5/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Brew Hub’s Harbinger Fest: an underrated beer festival

Harbinger Fest 033In my review of Brew Hub back in July, I described the brewery as “one of Florida’s most underrated breweries.” In keeping with this theme, I would describe their second annual “Harbinger Fest” as an underrated beer festival. Considering it was a combination of local, regional and national breweries pouring unlimited samples in perfect weather at only $35 per person, I’m shocked it wasn’t a complete and total madhouse.

My girlfriend Maggie and I were dropped off at the front entrance by an Uber. Little did we know you were supposed to drive around to the back, so we had to walk all the way around (some signs or arrows would’ve been nice). Since the event ran from noon to 6pm we opted for a 3:30pm arrival to avoid the crowd that tends to form when these events first open. I’d say the event was sparsely populated by the time we got there. No long lines, but still plenty of people in attendance so that it was far from a ghost town.

Harbinger Fest 002The tasting glass was a fancy 5oz flared snifter and not just a generic shotglass-type cylinder you tend to get at events like these. They also provided you with a lanyard cradle so you could holster your tasting glass in case you needed your hands free. I can think of many other events where I could’ve used one of these things. Anyway, let’s talk about the beer.

The first tent closest to the entrance was Lakeland’s own Swan Brewing – a brewery that’s still in development and expected to open in downtown sometime in 2017. I had been familiar with Swan through Facebook but had not met their owner/brewer Dan Thumberg in person or tried their beers until Satuday. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were. First I tried the Champurrado – a stout incorporating both chocolate and spices. This is a difficult combination of flavors to get to work well together, but they definitely did here. I was really impressed. Then I tried the Pumpkin Piety, which lives up to its name – liquid pumpkin pie. The fact this was so tasty and drinkable and that it was from a rookie brewery amazed me (even more notable considering how tired I’ve become of pumpkin beers lately). If Swan Brewing’s beers are all this good when they open, I envision myself stopping by there often.
Harbinger Fest 008
Interestingly enough, Lakeland Brewing Company was not in attendance. But another local brewery, BrewPop of Auburndale, was. I tried the Caramel Graham – a strong brown ale run through a Randall with vanilla beans and a whole bunch of other sweets. Owner/brewery Jerry Sowders said it was an attempt to make the beer taste like Boston Cream Pie. I didn’t really get that; it just seemed like a bomb of sweet flavors that didn’t really work. Maggie wasn’t able to drink more than a sip or two because it was so cloying. I also tried the Ying + Yang apple/pear cider. I’m not a cider connoisseur (yet), so it was difficult for me to truly gauge this beverage. It was fairly enjoyable, slightly dry, but a beastly brew at 11% ABV. I’ve been to BrewPop in person a few times and I promise I will give the location and the range of beers an in-depth review someday.

Harbinger Fest 032The only other local brewery in attendance was Two Henry’s out of Plant City. I tried their Roasted Jalapeno Blueberry Porter, which I had on tap at the brewery and loved. It’s not quite as amazing from a can but it was still really good. I salute them for taking a chance on canning such an unusual recipe.
As for the rest of the beer at the fest, I have to say it was pretty satisfactory across the board. Some were better than others, but I don’t recall any stinkers. Many of the beers were from Florida-based breweries such as Funky Buddha, Orange Blossom, Barley Mow, Tampa Bay Brewing, Saltwater Brewery, Brew Bus, M.I.A. Brewing, Cigar City, and Coppertail. And most of those breweries had their people on hand pouring the beer and talking about it. I’m glad they did, because that kind of direct contract makes me appreciate the passion, creativity and hard work professional brewers endure. That they love doing what they do and will spend an entire Saturday pouring their beer for people who may or may not appreciate it is something I admire and respect.
Harbinger Fest 022
Additionally, there were plenty of beers available from big name national breweries (e.g. Dogfish Head, Ommegang, Bell’s, The Bruery, 21st Amendment, Ballast Point). I also noticed there were three St. Louis-based breweries (High Heel Brewing, 4 Hands Brewing, and Urban Chestnut). Based on their location, I wrongly suspected they were Budweiser products in disguise, but they’re all actually independently-owned. In fact, Brew Hub contract brews High Heel’s Slingback fruit ale and Too Hop’d To Handle IPA.

So how does the Harbinger Fest compare to other beer fests? While it’s no GABF or TAP New York, I will say it’s much better than the average festival presented by a wholesaler or general events promoter. It was a combination of everyday drinkers and enthusiasts like me, without catering to nor excluding either crowd. Anyone of any drinking caliber would be comfortable and have fun here. I was a bit surprised there wasn’t a bigger crowd, especially considering how nice the weather was, but I was thankful it wasn’t a madhouse either. I’ll be back next year for sure.
Harbinger Fest 012
Harbinger Fest 013

Friday, October 21, 2016

Original Sin Pear Cider

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20ChadPolenz (1700) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 21, 2016
2015 BJCP Category: C2B Cider with Other Fruit

AROMA: Light apple juice aroma indicating sweetness. Red apple presence; pear juice imparts some green tartness and hint of acidity. 8/12

APPEARANCE: White gold; crystal clarity. White foam fizzles away quickly. No CO2 bubbles. 2/3

FLAVOR: Apple flavor is more prominent. Pear flavor emerges on the second half as a slightly sweet juicy taste. Overall palette is medium. Brief tartness and malic acid in the aftertaste akin to candy. Works fine as an apple cider + pear juice, but is misleading if drinker assumes it’s a true perry. 14/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-light body; low carbonation. Doesn’t feel flat or watery, but more of crisp texture would be nice. Smooth and refreshing. Slight residual slickness. 3/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: While not amazing, this is a pretty tasty cider with a bonus pear flavor. 7/10


DISCLAIMER: The author is not a certified BJCP cider judge; therefore, this score sheet is not necessarily indicative of proper BJCP judging techniques and protocol. The author is grading to 2015 BJCP Guidelines in order to prepare for examination.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Woodchuck Amber Hard Cider

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20ChadPolenz (1699) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 20, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: C1A New World Cider

AROMA: More sweet than dry (medium to med-dry range). Clean red apple aroma. Faint acid. 8/12

APPEARANCE: Golden/light amber hue. Near brilliant clarity. Slow steady CO2 visible. Small white foam and trace lacing. 3/3

FLAVOR: Sweeter palette than nose would suggest (but in no way cloying). Taste is akin to standard apple juice; no spices or additives. Light tartness/acidity on the backend with mostly clean finish. 15/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-light body; low carbonation. Extremely smooth and refreshing. No linger acidity. 4/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Pretty much everything you expect in a standard hard cider. Solid, to-spec, and highly drinkable. 8/10


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Angry Orchard Crisp Apple (2016 re-review)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20ChadPolenz (1698) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 16, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: C1A New World Cider

AROMA: Semi-sweet apple aroma though not especially juicy. Subtle acidic note. Standard cider aroma. 8/12

APPEARANCE: Lager-like shade of gold. High clarity, Slow, steady CO2. 3/3

FLAVOR: Moderate dry cider up front, though it becomes sweeter on the second half. Flavor is akin to apple juice but with less natural sugar. Slight tartness on the finish lingers briefly into the aftertaste. Tasty and enjoyable, but not exactly amazing. 15/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-light body; not as crisp and effervescent as advertised. Mild acidity in the aftertaste is easily tolerable. 3/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: It’s a solid, enjoyable, drinker-friendly cider. Not bad at all but certainly nothing special. 7/10


NOTE: Here's my original 2012 review:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sixpoint Tesla

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 18/20ChadPolenz (1697) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 14, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 21B Specialty IPA

AROMA: Strong hops: mostly orange citrus with some resin. Sweet grainy malt. No alcohol, clean fermentation profile. 10/12

APPEARANCE: Mostly clear orange/copper. Large, beige froth retains and laces well. 3/3

FLAVOR: Strong dank bitterness. Flavor is orange juice up front and resin/pine at the end (Chinook hops?). Bitterness is quite strong (seemingly higher than the advertised 49 IBUs). Hops linger with a resiny flavor but are not cloying. Lightly sweet grainy malt offers balance but is not especially distinctive. No alcohol taste. Clean fermentation profile. 17/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium body and CO2. Consistently crisp, but smooth. Faint alcohol warmth is not distracting. 5/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Marketed as a "hop-charged lager," this is clearly an IPL and an excellent one at that. Borderline world class example for the style. 9/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

B. Nektar Tuco-style Freakout

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 16/20
ChadPolenz (1696) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 13, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: M3A Fruit & Spice Mead

AROMA: Lightly sweet with general lemon/lime aroma (like Sprite). Slight white wine-like dryness. Cactus-like scent present. 9/12

APPEARANCE: Jewelry-like white gold hue with brilliant clarity. Carbonation bubbles dissipate quickly as does white foam. 2/3

FLAVOR: Dry up front with subtle lime flavor. Seems authentic, not faux. Slight bitterness at the apex from the lime peel. Followed by sweet (but not cloying) natural honey taste. Agave flavor emerges in the aftertaste, albeit briefly. 17/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-light bodied. Fizzy at first, but becomes petillant. Never feels watery. No alcohol warmth or flavor. Pleasant honey/lime aftertaste. 4/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Delicious and interesting mead to say the least. I think I picked a good one for my first-ever mead review. 8/10


NOTE: I am not a BJCP certified mead judge. I am rating commercial mead to hone my judging skills.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hourglass Frankie Rock

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 15/20ChadPolenz (1695) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 12, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 10A Weissbier

AROMA: Standard notes of clove, banana, some bread. Slight orange note. Nose is a bit mild overall. 8/12

APPEARANCE: Extremely hazy shade of maize/burnished gold. Small, white, frothy head. Plenty of CO2 visible. 2/3

FLAVOR: Moderate banana and clove flavors throughout. Malt base creates for doughy/bready presence but is mild. Faint spiciness on the finish of clove and rye (which is a bonus ingredient, but not strong enough to warrant S/H/V categorization). Leaves a slightly sweet, short-lived bubblegum aftertaste; otherwise is clean. No hop character. 15/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-light body. Carbonation feels low (no presence felt on the tongue). Refreshing and smooth - an ideal summer beer. Seems way lighter than 5.3%, though. 4/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Definitely a solid hefe for an American brewery. The recipe is there, but it needs more robustness. 7/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Baltika #6 Porter

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 2/5   OVERALL 14/20ChadPolenz (1694) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 11, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 9C Baltic Porter

AROMA: Dark malt presence with dark fruit notes (plum, raisins, currants). Slight toffee and dark chocolate. Some sherry notes from oxidation. 9/12

APPEARANCE: Seemingly black but actually deep ruby red. Clear. Moderate tan soapy head evaporates. 2/3

FLAVOR: Dark malt throughout, but not particularly sweet nor roasty/bitter. Some dark fruit flavors, especially of black grape. Minor toffee flavor in the aftertaste. Faint trace of spicy hops. Slight sherry component. Good palette considering its age. 13/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium body with med-low CO2. Feels a bit thin and watery. Smooth. 7% alcohol is fairly tame. Finishes too clean. 2/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: For a year-old bottle this has held up well. Palette is complex but mild and body has diminished. I can see why BJCP considers it a classic example of the style. 7/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fuller's ESB (2016 re-review)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 17/20ChadPolenz (1693) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 9, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 11C Strong Bitter

AROMA: Sweet nose of amber malt, red apple, some butterscotch (acceptable). Floral hops quite strong. 10/12

APPEARANCE: Polished copper hue; mostly clear. Small off-white head. 3/3

FLAVOR: Bready/biscuity malt profile with moderate sweetness. Slight caramel or candy apple flavor is accentuated by a confectionery taste on the back end. Hop presence is medium-low; some floral character and supportive bitterness for balance. Minor lingering dry hops/starch. No alcohol presence. 17/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-light body; moderate carbonation. Smooth and quaffable. Bit too heavy at 5.9% 4/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Classic British pub ale that holds up after all these years for good reason. 9/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Read and watch my 2010 original review here:

Saturday, October 8, 2016

High Water Campfire Stout

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 2/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20ChadPolenz (1693) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 8, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 30A Spice/Herb/Vegetable (base style: 20B American Stout)

AROMA: Candybar-like milk chocolate is prominent. Sweet dark malt with light roast. Faint cinnamon. 8/12

APPEARANCE: Inky opaque black body. Small, tan foam fizzles away quickly. No lacing. 1/3

FLAVOR: This stout is brewed with graham crackers, molasses and "natural flavors," though the strongest flavor is vanilla (milk chocolate). I do not get cinnamon or marshmallow (they’ve probably faded). Quite sweet throughout, but not cloying. Faint taste of roasted malt on the finish. Low bitterness with trace of piney hops. Tasty, but simple and repetitive. 14/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-light body; fairly low CO2. Texture is soft and smooth with no alcohol presence. Slight milky aftertaste, otherwise clean. 3/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: A novel idea for a brew that’s tasty without becoming cloying. A little smoked malt would enhance the "campfire" theme. Probably more robust and complex when fresh. 7/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (2016 re-review)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
ChadPolenz (1692) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 6, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 18B American Pale Ale

AROMA: Potent piney/floral hops. Moderate malt presence of somewhat sweet honey/amber grain. 9/12

APPEARANCE: Orange/copper hue; mostly clear. CO2 visible. Med-high off-white froth retains and laces well. 3/3

FLAVOR: Medium-high hop flavor throughout. Flavor is earthy/piney and slightly dank. Malt base is evident and supportive. Mostly clean grainy malt with a touch of bread or toast. Hops linger with a mild resiny aftertaste, but eventually fade. No alcohol presence. No esters. 17/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium body and carbonation. Crisp, but smooth. Highly efficient for 5.6% ABV. Excellent accompaniment with food. 5/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: One of the pioneers of the APA style and it still holds up after 30 years. 9/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills. 
NOTE: Read and watch my 2010 original review here:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sierra Nevada Hoppy Wheat IPA

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 18/20ChadPolenz (1692) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 5, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 21B Specialty IPA

AROMA: Sweet citrusy hops. Akin to lemon and orange-flavored candy. Slight bubblegum. Minor wheat presence, but not beady. 10/12

APPEARANCE: Clear golden hue. Constant carbonation visible. Large, white froth retains and laces well. 3/3

FLAVOR: Classic American IPA palette with fairly strong hop bitterness throughout. Flavor is citrusy orange/lemon/pink grapefruit. Wheat gives the palette slight cracker background flavor. 17/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium body; highly carbonated and crisp. Texture is soft and smooth; very quaffable (but not refreshing). Finishes with dry bitterness with some residual starch. No alcohol presence. 5/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Works very well as both a classic AIPA and as a specialty IPA. Not surprising considering the brewery. 9/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sierra Nevada Tumbler (2016 re-review)

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20ChadPolenz (1691) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 3, 2016

2015 BJCP Category: 19C American Brown Ale

AROMA: Malty-rich aroma with notes of caramel, toffee, and some toasted bread. Slight earthy hops. No esters. 11/12

APPEARANCE: A chestnut/mahogany shade of brown. Clear. Large tan froth laces and retains well. 3/3

FLAVOR: Moderately-high malt palette with caramel/toffee flavors up front and a dark chocolate on the second half. Sweet, but not cloying. Transitions to a fairly strong bitterness that lingers. Hops are spicy/earthy but do not upstage the malts. Faint smoke character. Well-balanced. 18/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium+ body with medium-low carbonation. Soft, smooth texture. A medium-dry aftertaste of both malts and hops. No alcohol presence. 5/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Definitely a California-style brown ale with plenty of hops, but still well-balanced. The use of smoked malt (though probably a trivial amount) is not to style, though. Otherwise it’d be perfect. 9/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

NOTE: Read and watch my 2011 original review here:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sierra Nevada Vienna

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 18/20
ChadPolenz (1691) - Lakeland, Florida, USA - OCT 2, 2016

 2015 BJCP Category: 7A Vienna Lager
AROMA: Malt-forward nose with mostly pale and amber malt. Slight toasty character. Faint floral hop presence. Clean fermentation character. 9/12

APPEARANCE: Dark golden/amber proper hue. Crystal clear with effervescence visible. Average, white, foam; little to no lacing. 2/3

FLAVOR: Mostly amber malt with slight honey-on-toast flavor. More malty than sweet. Firm hop bitterness on the finish with medium-low floral/spicy flavor. Malts and hops both linger in the aftertaste. Clean fermentation. 18/20

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-ish body and carbonation. Consistently crisp. Goes down smooth. Aftertaste is a bit starchy, but faint. 4/5

OVERALL IMPRESSION: One of the best commercial examples of the style. It’d be perfect with just a few tweaks. 9/10


NOTE: I am a rank-pending BJCP judge. I am reviewing commercial beer to BJCP specs to hone my judging skills.

Friday, September 30, 2016

My path to becoming a BJCP beer judge

In my previous blog, I described the process one takes in order to become a BJCP certified judge. That was actually meant to be just a sidebar for this post, but it ballooned to over 1,000 words so I thought it should be its own separate entry. In this post, I want to tell you about my path to the BJCP. It’s a story eight years in the making, so let’s start at the beginning.
I uploaded this review on October 11th, 2008
I uploaded this review on October 11th, 2008

Origin Story….

I posted my first video beer review to YouTube in October of 2008 to only a handful of views, but I eventually grew to become one of the most popular “BeerTubers” by 2010. Of course, with all this attention came plenty of scrutiny. People wanted to know what my credentials were. Was I a BJCP or a Cicerone? Did I homebrew? Could I pick out common flaws and did I know what caused them? What was my standard for rating beers? I was taken aback by some harsh criticism from jerks that took beer way more seriously than I did and vehemently disagreed with my reviews.

I had never claimed to be an expert (and still don’t), and though I never stated it outright, it was pretty clear that my reviews were to my own personal taste. Of course, that’s what a “review” is – it’s inherently subjective, personal, hedonistic, and capricious. There’s no such thing as an “objective” review because objectivity is based in facts and is non-biased. A description is objective but a review is subjective. This is something certain viewers and readers can’t differentiate and I still get comments along these lines all these years later.

Snobs take it to another level and say there are correct and incorrect opinions. So that when Beer X by Brewery Y on Beer Website Z has an average rating of 99/100 that makes it a fact that that beer absolutely is World Class and anyone who disagrees is wrong. I always refer to these types of people as “The Beer Review Police” and made this video a few years ago to expose how asinine they are:

There’s no such thing as a correct or incorrect opinion; but some opinions carry more weight than others. That’s why certain people can make a living via punditry; they have the knowledge and experience to put their insight into context and make a convincing and/or entertaining argument. It’s also why I decided to start on the path to becoming a BJCP. I knew that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a beer critic I’d need some credentials to back it up. I’d also need to know a little about the actual science behind brewing (a.k.a. zymurgy), so in 2011 I began homebrewing.

My first batch turned out surprisingly well, so I decided to keep going. As soon as I ran out of bottles of one homebrew, I would make another. I also had viewers and readers send me their homebrew to review, which was fun and educational. In 2012 I joined the Albany Brew Crafters homebrew club and was even elected to an officer position. I also entered and judged my first homebrew competition that year. I thought it was quite fun, though surprisingly challenging.

Judging beer at a major BJCP sanctioned competition.
Judging beer at a major BJCP sanctioned competition.

Some of the other members of the homebrew club were BJCPs and I was always fascinated to hear their insight into homebrewing and zymurgy in general. If we judged a beer together they would tend to pick out little details I couldn’t find or didn’t know how to describe. I was envious of their abilities, so I kept pressing on by homebrewing regularly and reviewing beer on a near daily basis. I picked up plenty of books on commercial beer and homebrewing to study zymurgy. I judged homebrew competitions whenever I had the chance and entered many competitions (I even won a few).

Cut To: The Present…

You might be wondering why I’m just now becoming a BJCP judge. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, other things in my life have taken always taken a higher priority. When I first started beer reviewing I was busy as a full-time college student and also worked part-time in the Navy Reserves. Of course things like relationships, friends and family, and my other hobbies have also occupied my time. But the biggest factor has always been my career. I’ve had a few different employers in recent years, and then in 2015 I moved from New York to Florida. It was impractical to schedule an exam when I didn’t know where I’d be living or what I’d be doing at exam time. And speaking of scheduling an exam…

BJCP exams are not exactly the easiest events to RSVP for. You can’t just go to a testing center and take it whenever you’re ready. Depending on where you live, the closest exam might be a few states away and might be happening in the distant future (check the exam schedule on their website to see what I mean). Each exam is limited to only a dozen registrants, which means you’ll probably end up on a waiting list. When I lived in Albany, I could never find an exam within a reasonable drive away that hadn’t already been booked up. I figured it’d be easier if my homebrew club just hosted our own exam, but when I contacted the BJCP to schedule it, I was told it would take upwards of two years for this to happen! Ironically, I had better luck finding a seat here in Florida than in New York. In fact, I’m amazed I was able to take the exam at all since I was #8 on the waiting list.

BJCP exam

Nine Months Of Preparation…

So I finally took the tasting exam last weekend at Aardwolf Brewing in Jacksonville. Though I had been cramming for it ever since I was offered the seat (less than a month out), I had been passively preparing for it since January of this year. That’s when I decided to ditch my approach of reviewing commercial beer to my own personal preferences and start reviewing everything to BJCP specs using BJCP scoresheets. My plan was to become as familiar with the guidelines as possible because I knew you couldn’t use them at the in-person tasting exam. Reading them almost every day, even just a few pages at time, was a good way to study.

I spent the last month cramming all these texts!
I spent the last month cramming all these texts!

The nice thing about reviewing beer with a BJCP scoresheet is that you don’t have to take a journalistic approach like you would with a normal blog. In fact, you don’t even have to write complete sentences; blunt descriptions are perfectly acceptable. That made the actual review-writing process quicker and easier. I have the guidelines in front of me; I see how well a beer compares to the description; and I score it as if I were judging a homebrew at a competition. But with this technique comes a few caveats:

iPhone 2016 125Firstly, judging beer to style guidelines means beers with otherwise bad reputations can actually garner a pretty high grade because they hit on every note for their style. A good example of this is PBR: a beer I personally think is only okay at best, but had to score remarkably high because it fits the style description so well. Conversely, I find myself scoring a few beers I personally enjoy rather low because they don’t fit their guidelines well (i.e. too simplistic; too boozy; poor head retention, etc.). Southern Tier’s Pumking is a good example of this. There are also beers that are marketed as one style, but are clearly another. So they in essence fail as the former, but succeed as the latter (Carton S.S. Cream Ale is a perfect example).

Secondly, commercial beer is higher in quality than homebrew. Most of what I review tends to score in the mid-30s to low 40s. Rarely does something rate above 45 or below 28. This is a bell curve effect for sure, but one that’s deviated from the center.

Thirdly, since I am only reviewing commercial beer, it’s quite rare I encounter brewing flaws like diacetyl, DMS, etc. I do come across plenty of handling flaws like oxidation, lightstrike and heat damage. Those faults are due mostly to wholesalers and retailers, yet I have to penalize the beer if I’m going to judge it the BJCP way. Identifying flaws is something every BJCP is expected to do since they are much more prevalent in homebrews. I will say that after eight years of tasting beer with a critical palate, I can and do recognize off flavors when I taste them; but my sensitivity is not as keen as some of the more seasoned judges I know.

What sucks is I won’t find out my score, and therefore my rank, for a few months at least. I’m hoping (and assuming) I scored at least an 80% on the exam, though I would settle for 70%. Either score would enable me to start out at the “Certified” rank, but this depends on how many credits I’ll receive for judging and stewarding BJCP events in the last few years. At the very least I’ll be a “Recognized” judge and eligible to take the written proficiency exam someday to move up to the “National” rank (the way BJCP’s promotion system works is rather convoluted – I wish they’d streamline it).

Where Do I Go From Here?

Something I’ve been pondering for the last week is what I should do about my beer reviews. I could go back to writing them the way I had been for years – in a journalistic fashion and grading beer to my personal preferences using the rubric. Or, I could keep using the BJCP method since it’s quicker and easier, but also a bit futile since BJCP specs are meant to judge homebrew rather than commercial brew. I’m in a bit of a pickle, since I want to keep reviewing commercial beer, but I also want to hone my skills as a BJCP. Hmmm….

Ideally, the best way for me to become a better BJCP would be to judge homebrew on a regular basis. I should probably join a local homebrewing club and ask other members if they’ll give me bottles to practice on. But there’s still a key component missing – how do I know if I’m judging correctly? I’m sure I’m going to get feedback on my tasting exam, but that is unlikely to happen until sometime in 2017. And I do have the option to re-take the exam, but there’s probably a good year-long wait until that opportunity occurs. Getting feedback once every 18 months really wouldn’t be all that helpful. So I guess what I’m saying is I need a mentor – a veteran BJCP willing to critique my reviews and offer insight on how to improve as a BJCP judge (a beer critic critic).

So, what do you think, dear reader? Should I stick with writing beer reviews the BJCP way or back to a journalistic approach? Also, how do I know if I’m even reviewing beer to BJCP specs right in the first place? Let me know what you think.

The BJCP also has guidelines for mead and cider, but they're MUCH shorter than the beer guidelines!
The BJCP also has guidelines for mead and cider, but they’re MUCH shorter than the beer guidelines!


I’m going to try to brew a mead and a cider next. I know little about these beverages, so it would be fun to delve into them. Now that I know what it takes to become a beer judge, I’m going to apply that knowledge to becoming a cider and mead judge (though that might be a few years down the road).