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Homebrew supplier equipment demonstration
Homebrew supplier equipment demonstration

NHC 2014 – evaluating beer, 2014 BJCP styles & sensory evaluation

Following on from our previous article covering the seminars we attended on Day 2 at NHC 2014, the 3 seminars attended on Saturday June 14 were:

  1. Evaluating and Judging Beer by Jamie Floyd.
  2. 2014 BJCP Style Guidelines by Gordon Strong.
  3. Sensory Evaluation: Methods to Improve Your Palate and Vocabulary by Brian Joas & Bruce Buerger.

Evaluating and Judging Beer

Jamie will begin this seminar by teaching the sensory technique for evaluation that is used in sensory labs as well as for judging. He will then discuss sensory evaluation in the commercial brewery and at home, and finish with a discussion of judging homebrew competitions. If you have ever wanted to judge beer, this is a great place to start.

There are sensory sciences for various industries e.g. wine, coffee, crackers plus others which cover how we sense food and drink. Aroma and flavor are perceived by:

  • Olfaction – this is smell (sense of) via the nasal cavity.
  • Gustation – this is taste (sense of) via the taste buds.
  • Trigeminal nerve – detection of hot, cold, carbonation. These cells are a survival mechanism that can be killed (e.g. hot pizza) but the cells cannot fatigue like the above.
Evaluating & Judging a beer
Evaluating & Judging a beer

When evaluating beer the palette needs training to use the above three systems in order to be able to remember and retrieve data about flavors and aromas.

Two samples were handed out by Bell’s Brewery; Two Hearted Ale (IPA) and Kalamazoo Stout. Using these beers we were talked through the ‘How to Taste a Beer’ steps (see photo) and noted that point #6 is the time to pick out the flaws in a beer.

Sensory in a brewery:

  • Sensory Lab – works to ensure consistency.
  • Analytical Lab – works to determine irregularities without tasting or smelling the beer.
  • Panel evaluations – these are trained by Sensory Technicians to be blind evaluators who are free of bias. The following are evaluated:
    • True To Brand (TTB)
    • Free of Off Flavors (FOF)
    • Preference Testing

Evaluating Professional and Homebrewed beer:

  • Use Sensory Technique of Evaluation to write proper remarks.
  • Use BJCP and BA (Brewer’s Association) guidelines to judge beer. BJCP is from a historical perspective whilst BA is more inline with how customers buy beer.

There are various forms that can be used for evaluating beers including the BJCP Score Sheet and the GABF Form. The latter is optimized for 250 people evaluating 5k+ beers in 2.5 days.

How to get involved in evaluating and judging beer? AHA, BJCP, Cicerone, homebrew club, volunteer to steward, judge your own homebrew, practice on score sheets when doing tastings, seek out all styles for home work.

2014 BJCP Style Guidelines

Gordon Strong, Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) president and author of Brewing Better Beer, will explain the updated 2014 BJCP style guidelines.

BJCP President Gordon Strong
BJCP President Gordon Strong (left)

The new guidelines are due for draft release late June 2014, these will then be available for comment before the final version is released by the end of the year for translations and use in competitions beginning January 1, 2015.

Software and web sites will have to change references to the new guidelines.

The last update was in 2008 but this was only a minor update to the 2004 version which was the last major update.

So why change them now:

  • Address more international usage and styles rather than taking a US import view on beers.
  • Inclusion of historical styles.
  • Addition of new US styles.
  • Cited commercial examples change as some beers are no longer produced.
  • New hop variety descriptors.
  • Break out beers from the Specialty category.

The new guidelines include sensory descriptors rather than the previous ingredient references e.g. Pilsner malt. The reason for this is what if the judge does not know what a particular ingredient smells or tastes like then the descriptors should help.

Both the current and new guidelines are organized as follows:

  • Style – a subcategory consisting of a number and letter.
  • Category – a group of styles. These are arbitrary and do not necessarily infer any relationship between the contained styles. Competition Categories do not need to be the same as the BJCP Categories.

The 2014 BJCP Styles consist of:

  • Aroma, Appearance, Flavor & Mouth-feel – these are descriptions of the perception and not the ingredients or processes.
  • Overall Impression – more customer focused.
  • Comments – interesting facts and non-perceptive comments.
  • History – brief but better defined.
  • Characteristic Ingredients.
  • Style Comparison.
  • Entry Instructions.
  • Vital Statistics.
  • Commercial Examples.

An expanded guidance section includes an introduction to beer styles and using the style guidelines.

New Styles include:

  • Historical category created e.g. Gose, Sahti, Kentucky Common.
  • Existing styles moved to the Historical category e.g. Pre-Prohibition Lager (aka Classic American Pilsner), London Brown Ale (aka Southern English Brown Ale).
  • American Wild Ale.
  • Czech Lager is one of the new styles added whilst Bohemian Pils has been renamed to Czech Pils.
  • Specialty IPA is now a category and includes the likes of Black IPA, Belgian IPA etc plus has a strength attribute e.g. Session, Double.

Other changes:

  • Split or modified Styles e.g. Oktoberfest broken down into Märzen (amber) and Festbier (golden), Rye removed from American Wheat.
  • Renamed or deleted Styles e.g. Lite American Lager -> American Light Lager.
  • Fruit Beer now has subcategories.
  • ‘Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer’ now has Autumn Seasonal Beer.
  • There are now Alternative Fermentables such as Alternative Grain Beers and Honey Beers.
  • ‘Smoke Flavored & Wood-Aged Beer’ has received more styles.
  • Specialty Beer now includes the Belgian Specialty style e.g. clone beer, mixed style, experimental.
  • Meads has increased from 3 to 4 styles.
  • Cider has had minor updates.

Styles are grouped in the guidelines for judging purposes and are now tagged so they can be looked up by country.

The slides from this presentation can be found here.

Sensory Evaluation: Methods to Improve Your Palate and Vocabulary

All brewers use sensory evaluation as at least the primary, if not only, method to analyze their beer and determine how to improve it the next time they brew. For many, the palate sensitivity and/or vocabulary to evaluate and describe a beer is the limiting factor in determining how to improve the it. This seminar will provide detailed direction for a number of methods to improve your palate’s ability to recognize a wide variety of characteristics, as well as to develop an extensive vocabulary to describe what is being sensed.

Sensory Evaluation seminar
Sensory Evaluation seminar

A key point raised from the start is the need to train your palette! Starting points to note:

  • Adjust mindset – it is not about liking or disliking a beer. What do you like about it?
  • Break down the beer into independent characteristics – both qualitative and quantitative.
  • Do complete sensory evaluation i.e. appearance, aroma, flavor etc.

Better understand how ingredients smell and taste:

  • Raw ingredients – chew malt, smell yeast.
  • Teas – a good way of sampling malts and hops.
  • SMASH brew – Single Malt and Single Hop then change one ingredient (hop or malt) and re-brew the same beer.
  • Side-by-side experiments – split 5 gallons into 5 x 1 gallon batches and change the yeast in each batch.
  • Sampling – taste the wort whilst brewing.
  • Tasting beers – taste commercial examples so you know how a beer being brewed should taste and smell.

Malt and hop teas were handed round for us to smell and taste. The malt tea was made by steeping grains whilst the hop teas were made using a coffee maker using 0.25oz of hops per cup of water.

Characteristics namesakes help describe flavors and aromas plus increase your descriptor vocabulary (e.g. a Weizenbier has bananas, cloves, bubblegum, wheat, bread):

  • Use beer or ingredient descriptions for guidance e.g. marketing guidelines on brewery and manufacturer web sites, rating web sites, BJCP guidelines, doctoring beers with an ingredient to help identify it, consult other people.
  • Taste and smell examples e.g. spices, flowers, fruit, breads.
  • Flavor wheel which groups similar descriptors together.

Use associations to learn, understand and remember aromas and flavors e.g. smells like my Gran’s couch BUT don’t use these on judging forms as the recipient has no idea how your Gran’s couch smells.

Cross training can also help e.g. wine sampling, food pairings, memory recollection, cooking, and surroundings.

Perception comparison can be improved via clubs, festivals, tastings, friends and family, brewery tours, cross training, competitions and judging.

Education can also help with training e.g. BJCP, Cicerone, literature, brewing and cooking classes.

In our next article we will cover some of the key suppliers we spoke to, Club Night and the Grand Banquet at NHC 2014. If you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to leave them below.

One comment

  1. The 2014 BJCP draft guidelines can be found here:


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