At some point in every homebrewers journey they may feel the need to be able to better describe beer to others - hoppy or sweet just won’t cut it to most people inquiring about a beer.
Being able to effectively evaluate your beer allows homebrewers to find flaws and identify areas of a beer that can be improved. (Don’t worry: it’s a slow learning process and something that we get better and better with as we practice and continue to learn!).
Like many other brewers I decided that becoming a BJCP judge was the best avenue to further my knowledge and understanding of beer. While there are a lot of terms to learn and beers to taste while working towards a qualified judge status, the best thing you can do is to start tasting. We will walk through how to do this in the detailed in the steps below.
What you will need to evaluate your beer
- BJCP Scoresheet
- Mechanical Pencil (wooden can mess with your sense of smell)
- A bottle of beer
- Tasting glasses (clear plastic cups)
- The BJCP Style Guidelines
Judging a Beer (15-20 minutes)
- Pick a time when you will have a good 15 to 20 minutes to sit down and evaluate a beer. Make sure you are in an environment with good lighting, and neutral smells (if you just cooked something stinky in your kitchen it can affect your sense of smell greatly). Have a pencil, score sheet, and clean tasting glasses ready. At competitions clear plastic cups are used. I like to have two plastic cups available - one for the beer and one so I can cover the beer to contain the aromas.
- Make sure your bottle of beer is around 45 to 50 degrees in temperature. If it is too cold then a lot of the flavors and aromas will be subdued. Evaluate your bottle to make sure it has a proper fill level and to see if you can see any signs of infection-like a ring around the top of the fill.
- Open the bottle. Listen for a “pssft” noise, which if it not present could be a sign of under carbonation. Pour your sample and immediately take a deep sniff. Write down any smells that you notice in the Aroma category.
- Cover your cup with your extra cup (to hold in the aromas) and then hold both cups up to the light so you can better see through. Write down the color of the beer, how clear the beer is and the color and visual appearance of the foam in the Appearance category.
- Swirl the beer in the cup and then remove the extra cup and sniff again. Write down any additional on smells you now perceive in the Aroma section.
- Finally, you can now take a sip of the beer. Make sure it hits all parts of the inside of your mouth. Swallow the beer. Now in the Flavor section write down any of the flavors that you notice considering the malt, hops or other characteristics.
- Take another sip and note of the mouthfeel of the beer by identifying the body, the carbonation level, the creaminess, the presence of alcohol warmth, or any astringent (puckering on the tongue) feeling. Write these perceptions under the Mouthfeel category.
- Take another sip and go back to the flavor category. Identify the level of hop bitterness as well as the level and kind of hop flavor. Identify the finish of the beer which is where it lies on the spectrum of dry to sweet.
- Continue to sip and identify other aspects of the beer. As it warms different flavors will come forward, or fade away.
- Compare your perceived notes to the style guidelines and see how much they match up. Try to allocate points accordingly to the Aroma, Appearance, Flavor and Mouthfeel areas.
- Provide your Overall Impression and how well, or not well, the beer is a representation of the style. Assign an overall impression score.
- Add up your total points and assign a final number. Does that number fall in the range for how you feel this beer should be scored based on the scoring guide (lower left)?
- Lastly make sure to check any of the descriptor definition check boxes on the left hand side of the style guideline sheet. Also check off the stylistic accuracy, technical merit, and intangible boxes.
There you have it, your first evaluated beer on paper! It helps to try a well-known classic example of a style to start like a Sierra Nevada Pale ale (10A - American Pale Ale). You can also benefit from evaluating with others so you can discuss the nuances of the beers.
If you want to learn more about judging I encourage you to volunteer as a steward at your next local homebrew competition. Continue to study the guidelines and if you are so inclined, take the test to become a judge yourself.