How did we get our start?

The BJCP has quite a history, going back to 1985, but many of our newer members don’t really have a good grasp on where we came from. The outline below, authored by Gordon Strong, gives a good capsule summary of the organization from its beginnings up to 2006. More current information is in the News section of our site.

BJCP History

The BJCP was founded in 1985 as a joint venture between the  American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and the (now-defunct) Home Wine and Beer Trade Association (HWBTA). Pat Baker from the HWBTA was the driving force behind the program with support from Charlie Papazian of the AHA.

Few people know the details about the start of the BJCP. Here’s the straight scoop from one of its founders.

Where was the first exam? When was it given? How many people took it? Who was there? You may know that the BJCP began in the mid-80s, and that it was jointly sponsored by the AHA (American Homebrewers Association) and the HWBTA (Home Wine & Beer Trade Association), although today it is completely independent.

For the record, and the benefit of BJCP history freaks, here’s the story.

The first BJCP exam was given on May 31, 1985 at the AHA conference in Estes Park, Colorado. That conference was sort of a disaster for the AHA. The hotel was great and the scenery was wonderful, but it was a long way from anywhere. Attendance was low. There were no pubs around to explore, and if you weren’t into hiking or mountain climbing, there wasn’t much to do. Maybe that’s why so many people signed up for the exam. The Estes Park exam was the biggest exam ever given by the BJCP. Fifty-one people took it!

The exam itself wasn’t much different from those we give today. Obviously, there was no BJCP question, but the weighting between brewing and style questions was fifty-fifty, like it is today. Rather than ten equally weighted questions, there were twelve questions of varying weight. The type of question was what you are familiar with now; rather simple, allowing lots of room for demonstration of beer literacy and depth of knowledge.

For example, “Name two Trappist beers and describe the style.” was worth five points. “List the AHA style categories and subcategories, and state two commercial examples of each subcategory.” was worth 30 points.

You could say that trickiness started with the first exam. “What is the difference between a Märzen, Oktoberfest and a Vienna style beer?” The gist of the desired answer was “Not much.” People like to say that exams were easier in the old days. Not true! There were no 90s on the first exam, and nine takers failed. The score curve for the BJCP exam has remained strikingly constant over the years. In the first two years of the program, 153 people took the exam. 31 failed (21) got nineties. The high fail rate was due to there being no study guide at the time. The high ninety rate was because many experienced brewers took the test. The first ten years of the program saw an average of 15 nineties on the exam.

Who was there at the first exam? Ted Whippie was first in the door. Ted lived in Newtown, Connecticut at the time and was a member of the Underground Brewers. He didn’t get a 90 on the first exam, but he did later and became one of the early Master judges. Jim Homer was number two. Jim was a long time AHA stalwart, and served as the AHA Co-Director of the program for seven years.

A number of people who became commercial brewers are on the list for the first exam, including Terry Dennis, David Norton, John Maier, Roger Gribble, Marty Velas, Ron Downer, James Klisch, and Peter Caddoo. Dave Welker, long time organizer of the AHA National Homebrew Competition also took it.

Estes Park was the first exam, but how and when did the program get started? Lots of people have good ideas. I am sure I wasn’t the only one in the early eighties to think that it would be nice to have “legitimate” judges to evaluate home brews and pronounce that they were good. We were having competitions and were putting commercial “ringers” in the flights. It was great when Guinness came in third behind two homebrews, but did the judges know anything?

I was involved with the HWBTA, and thought that perhaps if the HWBTA and AHA joined forces behind a judge certification program, it might give beer judging some credibility. I wrote up a plan, and discussed the idea with Charlie Papazian at the AHA Mini-conference in October 1984. Charlie’s response was cool; “Do you really think people will pay money to take an exam?” But he agreed to go along with it if I would do the work.

Estes Park was the next step and when fifty-one people * came through the door, we knew we had something meaningful. Lots of people have made major contributions to make the program what it is today. I am pleased to have been involved at the start, and proud to see what we have all achieved.

*Editor’s note: As of January, 2007, nine of the original 51 examinees are still active in the BJCP. One is a Master Beer Judge; the other eight are National Beer Judges.

Patrick Baker lives in Westmoreland, NH. He was the HWBTA-appointed Co-Director of the BJCP from its start until August 1995. During his term as Co-Director, 2,034 people took the BJCP exam.

The BJCP was governed by the Beer Judge Certification Committee (BJCC), which had two members appointed by the AHA and two members appointed by the HWBTA. These representatives had voting authority for the organization, but appointed directors ran things such as the exam program. The AHA ran the Sanctioned Competition Program and published the style guidelines. An AHA employee served as the BJCP Administrator and managed the database and the point entry for judges. The presidents of the AHA and HWBTA and the appointed directors participated as non-voting members of the BJCC.

The appointed directors generally ran the program with the representatives setting strategy and policy. As the BJCP grew, the BJCC increasingly asserted itself and started voting on operations. At this time the program became committee-run. The BJCP was quasi-independent but still heavily influenced by its sponsoring organizations, particularly the AHA. BJCP judges were generally AHA members and helped run the AHA National Homebrew Competition.

In 1995, the BJCP planned to increase representation from its membership on the BJCC. Three additional representatives were authorized for the BJCC, all of which would represent the membership. However, before this plan was implemented, the AHA announced on January 31, 1995 that it was withdrawing sponsorship of the BJCP and intended to create its own judging program. Three additional members were appointed to the BJCC to represent the members, and this seven-person committee handled the transition of the BJCP from a joint venture to an independent organization. The BJCP became independent on April 19, 1995 when the AHA formally withdrew sponsorship; the HBWTA voluntarily withdrew sponsorship at this time so that the BJCP could be relaunched as a completely independent organization.

The interim BJCC accomplished many tasks such as obtaining ownership of the BJCP name, receiving the BJCP database from the AHA, establishing an independent treasury and transferring program funds, setting up an initial regional structure, and setting up direct elections of representatives. The last BJCC chairman was Russ Wigglesworth, who handed over program authority when the new board was seated. All prior BJCC representatives resigned from their positions so that completely new representatives could be elected directly by the membership.

Member elections were conducted in mid-1995 with the first elected board being announced on July 11, 1995. Initial goals were to address incorporation, by-laws, competition sanctioning, style guidelines, exam improvements, and introducing better member representation. Many BJCP judges were complaining about the exam format and the feedback received, whether annual dues should be charged to judges, and whether there should be a quarterly newsletter. Most concerns were focused on open-ended exams, lack of published information from the BJCP, non-transparent operations without sufficient communication, and the financial viability of the organization. After the split from the AHA, the need to develop a competition program, style guidelines, and competition materials (scoresheets, etc.) was seen as more important.

Tim Dawson developed an initial draft of style guidelines in mid-1995 and posted them on JudgeNet for review. This was an independent action not directed by the BJCP, but an interim measure while more complete guidelines were written. This followed the pattern of the 1992 Study Guide, which was originally developed by Chuck Cox with review and input from JudgeNet.

The early days of the independent BJCP were quite chaotic and many openly wondered whether the BJCP would survive. During the interim period, the BJCP started to organize as a loosely affiliated collection of regional organizations with separate databases, mailing lists, elections, and leadership councils. Some regions were more aggressive about self-management than others.

Dennis Davison emerged as the BJCP president in August 1995. After resignations of the remaining program staff, Russ Wigglesworth was appointed BJCP Program Administrator and Scott Bickham was appointed Exam Director. After this step, the decentralization of the BJCP stopped and all program administrative functions were re-centralized under the Program Administrator. The Exam Director began to improve the exam structure, turnaround time and feedback. Four Associate Exam Directors were soon appointed to oversee grading. The BJCP board focused on completing by-laws, incorporating the organization, and setting up an initial web page.

During 1996, board member Greg Walz developed a revised and expanded study guide. This was still not an official BJCP guide, but was widely referenced. Tom Fitzpatrick was appointed as the first Competition Director to oversee the introduction of a competition sanctioning program, the development of style guidelines, the development of scoresheets and related competition materials. These activities involved several committees and lasted into 1997. The AHA and BJCP reached an agreement on fees and on recording points for AHA sanctioned competitions. The BJCP board completed a final set of by-laws, which were adopted by the membership. The organization was incorporated in the State of New York. A revised Program Guide was released.

During 1996, the AHA announced that it no longer intended to develop a competing judging program, although it was still interested in a tasting program for beer enthusiasts. The AHA and BJCP continued to work closer together, including having the AHA agree to use the BJCP style guidelines for AHA competitions starting in 2000.

After 1997, incremental changes continued in the BJCP. New style guidelines were developed and released in 1999. A new member guide was published. The BJCP web site was rehosted. The exam format was revised and standardized. A BJCP Study Guide was created. The competition point schedule was revised. Logo polo shirts were offered for sale. The BJCP web site replaced the previous newsletter as the official publication of the BJCP.

After 2000, many changes took place in the BJCP database and web site. Three separate databases were combined and judge records were placed on the web site. The web site was expanded and rehosted onto a commercial-class server hosted by Beer, Beer & More Beer. Several web-based applications were introduced, including an organizer reporting system, a voting system, and a competition registration system. The BJCP became an all-electronic organization in 2002, stopping its annual mailings.

The style guidelines were revised and expanded again in 2004. The BJCP began recognizing points for judges in commercial competitions. The AHA and BJCP merged competition programs into a single AHA/BJCP Sanctioned Competition Program, managed by the BJCP. All competition materials were revised. A new Continuing Education Program was launched in 2005.

As of 2006, there are efforts underway to revise and update the BJCP exam and to add new exams for mead and cider certification.