Club Member Danny Jent reflects on his BJCP Tasting Exam experience.
Danny Jent wrote the following to describe his experience when taking the BJCP exam in November. He hopes that his reflections will be helpful to those preparing to take the exam themselves.
I write this just nearly 48 hours after sitting for the BJCP exam in St. Louis, and thought I’d take some time to share my thoughts and experience for those either preparing or even kicking around the idea of sitting for the exam. First off, let me disclose that I feel really good in regards to how I did on the exam. That’s not necessarily because I feel like I nailed the scoring relative to the proctor judges, or picked out all the potential flaws in the sample beers; I simply made a plan of how I wanted to approach the tasting exam, and I felt like I was able to execute the process I created as well as could have hoped for.
One thing about the tasting exam that I believe gets overlooked far too much, is that what you say in comparison to the Proctor judges only really accounts for about 20% of your overall score. Passing the BJCP exam has more to do with the depth of how well you can convey what it is YOU are tasting in a beer and how well you complete the scoresheet itself, than necessarily if you can “give the right answer(s).” With that in mind, I built a simple framework to consistently complete my scoresheets in a way that I feel gives me a good opportunity to pass. (In case you were unaware, you don’t get the results for the exam for 3-6 months unfortunately; but fingers crossed). My main focus, as you might guess, was on the Aroma & Flavor sections. In completing each of these I made a point to state whether Malt aroma/flavor as a whole was low/med/high, and then list the aroma/flavor descriptors I felt were appropriate while also categorizing them as low/med/high. So for example, in the flavor section of the English Porter that was part of our flight, I wrote, “Moderately intense malt flavor with medium-high notes of caramel, molasses, and toffee; likewise, low notes of coffee and a lightly roasted character are present towards the backend of the palate.” Regardless of what the style guide for English Porter says, this is what I thought I tasted in the sample provided; and I followed this same approach in describing hop flavor & aroma, as well as esters, phenolics, and any other noticeable aromatics, flavors, or potential flaws. Additionally, I made a point to try and remain mostly objective in the first four sections of the scoresheet, and reserve any comments on how it did or did not fit style in the overall remarks.
I think too often we get wrapped up in feeling like we need to know every detail about the categories and subcategories the BJCP spells out in their guidelines; when in all actuality the judging process is much easier and natural when you focus on what YOU’RE tasting, and not necessarily what you think you are supposed to be tasting. As the proctor for the exam in St. Louis said before we started, there’s no reason to stress about this, because at the end of the day it’s still just beer; and why would you stress about having a beer?
In that regard, I actually really enjoyed the experience of the exam itself. I forgot how much I detest handwriting anything of length, but the flight the proctor pulled for us made up for it well enough and included: Kolsch, American Pale Ale, English Porter, American Brown Ale, Belgian Golden Strong, and an American Barleywine. Personally, I was slightly concerned about finishing each sheet in the allotted 15mins; but I found that by coming up with the process I mentioned above and working at following that process consistently, I actually ended up having about 2 mins to spare to make sure I’d checked the boxes on the bottom and side of each sheet (you lose points if you don’t, just FYI).
As I mentioned previously, I don’t know for sure that I passed the exam. Once all your paperwork’s collected, the proctors do go through each beer revealing what they scored it and any major flaws, etc. they noted; but again, this part only accounts for a small portion of your total score. At the end of the day, I feel good about what I said about each beer, and personally I think I did so in enough detail/completeness to pass and become certified. If not, that’s fine too. At the end of the day it’s still just beer. I say all this not to pat myself on the back or anything, but more to hopefully dispel reasons or fears of why people tend to avoid the BJCP in general. In my experience, it’s like everything else in this hobby. If you develop and hone your process, and get enough practice in to gain some experience; it’s really nothing more than another day enjoying a few samples of beer.