BJCP President Gordon Strong announced at the BJCP’s annual meeting at the 2013 National Homebrewers’ Conference in Philadelphia that an effort was underway to revise the BJCP guidelines. Since 1997, there have been five versions of the BJCP style guidelines (1997, 1998, 1999, 2004, and 2008). When questioned as to why it has taken a longer duration to update the guidelines, Strong noted that the BJCP recognized that the changes to the Exam program had to be made first given the rippling effect changes to the style guidelines would have.
In the last 5 years, there have been notable development in styles, both within the commercial beer, craft beer, and homebrewing worlds. The Great American Beer Festival, which focuses upon commercial and craft beer, changes their style guidelines every year to address updates in brewing trends.
The Style Guidelines are one of the foundational resources of the BJCP, and a work product from which certification, exams, continuing education, and other efforts are based. As they are all natural ingredients, malts, hops, and yeast evolve. Trends and personal tastes also cause the nature of beers, mead, and cider to evolve as well.
The Style Guidelines Committee is a standing committee within the BJCP, and has been in place for 10 years. BJCP judges may volunteer to participate on the committee. Each time that the style guidelines are published, the committee begins collecting updates for the next expected publication date. Each of the updates is worked into the existing guidelines, and revised multiple times. Submissions for revisions and for new styles and substyles are reviewed by members of the committee as well as other judges for their completeness and accuracy.
Assistant Communication Director Jeff Sanders spoke with Strong regarding the updates to the guidelines, the process, as well as an expected timeline for their release.
What is the impetus for a revision of the style guidelines, and what are some of your goals?
We typically revise the guidelines every 4-5 years, so it's time. We planned to update them two years ago, but held off so we could roll out the new exam program. There is interest in new styles, several new reference materials are now available, and the BJCP has expanded into other countries. We'd like to make the guidelines more accurate, and better reflect the world's beer styles, not necessarily that which is available in the US market.
Who is involved in the effort? Have there been new members added since the last revision?
Over 2 dozen people, in various capacities, both formally and informally. There's a core review team, plus individual style contributors and those looking at consistency across style descriptions. There are people who have made unsolicited submissions of styles and who have provided commentary and critique of the current guidelines. We're looking at all of that.
Can you describe more of the process of how the team is ensuring the accuracy of the updated guidelines?
Accurate how? Style guidelines are a categorization system, so there is inherent subjectivity in the matter. We try to differentiate styles sufficiently to allow them to be effectively judged in competition. We reference a wide range of external research. We do a lot of tastings, and rely on our experiences. Travel and tastings of foreign styles in local settings is used whenever possible. We discuss and use peer review.
With regards to frequency of revision, has the board ever considered codifying that the style guidelines must be examined for revision every so many years to ensure they are reflective of updates within the beer world? Why or why not?
It's not a rule, but the board has indicated that a revision every 4 years or so is desirable (I think this was discussed in 2003 or so). We're not looking to have it change every year. There are a lot of things that depend on the style guidelines, such as the exam program, that need to be considered. The guidelines are in several forms, translated into several languages, available on mobile platforms, are used within brewing software and beer-related web sites, and used with competition software. So there are a lot of dependencies on the guidelines. I don't think constant churn helps anyone.
In the world of craft beer, increasingly stronger beers were once all the rage, followed by hoppier beers. Now sours and Belgo-style beers seem to be on a surge (the BA recently introduced an "American-Style Brett Ale" in their guidelines). What trends have emerged since the last revision of the guidelines in 2008 that you think will likely be reflected in the updates?
That's actually an argument against frequent revisions. Trends come and go, sometimes quickly. We're not interested in faddish beers; those can always be entered in the specialty categories. If there's any staying power behind these trends, we can look at adding new styles.
We're less interested in adding every last new style, although the new format will be more extensible. We're looking at categories that can be easily expanded without a major overhaul of the guidelines.
How many new styles have been drafted and are planned to be drafted? What are they?
Nothing is finalized, but many have been prepared. Right now, we're looking at things like Australian Sparkling Ale, English Golden Ale, Grodziskie, American Strong Ale, English Strong Ale, Wild Ale, Wheatwine, various Specialty IPAs, Czech Amber and Dark Lagers, etc., as well as adding a historical category. We’re also looking at a complete revision of European styles, particularly English, Scottish, and German styles. We're looking at splitting and combining some styles, and general reorganization. We're also looking at ways of helping manage the entries in the various specialty categories, so we're looking at what amounts to competition entry categories in addition to proper styles. The cider guidelines are completely done.
How does the revision team plan to address the relatively ambiguous nature of IBA, Black IPA, and Cascadian Dark Ale, which some feel are three separate styles while others feel are the same style?
The current plan is to have an extensible Specialty IPA category that can encompass various beers, and then have write-ups on specific examples. We'll have a Black IPA write-up, as well as several others.
Will the numbering schema be impacted by the revisions?
Yes, of course, since we're adding, deleting, and reorganizing styles.
Have there been any major shifts with any style or groups of styles?
Not really. The past guidelines weren't complete (and the new ones won't be either). So it's more a matter of deciding what we want to include, and how best to describe and differentiate what we have identified.
Brewers are increasingly brewing with different and varied ingredients, outside of what have been traditionally considered ingredients for the style. Will the new guidelines reflect these changes in any way?
Homebrewers can use whatever they want in their beer. I don't know that judges could tell the difference either way. Could you tell if someone used acidulated malt or lactic acid in their beer? We're much more interested in describing what the various beer styles taste like than in how they are produced.
Many watering holes now feature "vertical tastings" of the same beer from one year to the next. Many commercial brewers admit that some of their beers (i.e. Oktoberfest, and other seasonal offerings) will vary based upon the nature of the ingredients market that year. I recently took a tasting exam where a known commercial example of an American Barleywine was perceived by the proctors and examinees as having little to no hop character. Do you feel that the style guidelines adequately reflect these nuances when citing commercial examples?
I don't think the guidelines need to address how beers change when they age. That's more of a judge skill development issue. We're looking at simplifying the commercial examples cited since they seem to change so often. I also think people may be placing too much emphasis on a single example and not understanding the full range of the style.
Guidelines are guidelines, not rigid rules. But craft and homebrewers are becoming increasingly more experimental.
Where is the tipping point for a beer style that would typically be entered as a "Specialty" to deserve its own style?
When we see a large number of them entered in a wide area over a significant timeframe.
What is the roadmap for future changes to the style guidelines?
We intend to revisit the guidelines every 4-5 years.
What is the target date for these updated guidelines to be released?
We'd like to have them completed before the 2014 NHC.