Introduction to the 2015 Guidelines


The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines are a major revision from the 2008 edition. The goals of the new edition are to better address world beer styles as found in their local markets, keep pace with emerging craft beer market trends, describe historical beers now finding a following, better describe the sensory characteristics of modern brewing ingredients, take advantage of new research and references, and help competition organizers better manage the complexity of their events.

Many new styles have been added, and some existing styles have been divided into multiple categories or simply renamed. The groupings of styles into categories has a new philosophy that groups styles with similar judging characteristics rather than a common heritage or family name. Do not assume that the same primary characteristic (e.g., color, strength, balance, dominant flavor, country of origin) was used to determine each category grouping; the reasoning was more variable and nuanced. Some changes have been made to allow us to be more agile in making future revisions. Finally, we have provided some additional guidance on how to use the guidelines to reduce the potential for misuse that we have observed in past editions.

If you are familiar with the 2008 guidelines, note that many category names and numbers are changing. Note that we have added an Introduction to Beer Styles section, just as we have had in the past with Mead and Cider styles. This new section addresses common characteristics of beer, and attributes that are assumed by default to be present or absent unless otherwise noted.

Styles and Categories

The BJCP Style Guidelines use some specific terms with specialized meaning: Category, Subcategory, and Style. When thinking of beer, mead and cider styles, the subcategory is the most important label – subcategory means essentially the same thing as style and identifies the major characteristic of one type of beer, mead or cider. Each style has a well-defined description, which is the basic tool used during judging. When specialty beer descriptions refer to a Classic Style, we mean a named style (subcategory name) in the BJCP Style Guidelines; see the Introduction to Specialty-Type Beer section for more information.

The larger categories are arbitrary groupings of beer, mead, or cider styles, usually with similar characteristics but some subcategories are not necessarily related to others within the same category. The purpose of the structure within the BJCP Style Guidelines is to group styles of beer, mead and cider to facilitate judging during competitions; do not attempt to derive additional meaning from these groupings. No historical or geographic association is implied.

Competitions may create their own award categories that are distinct from the style categories listed in these guidelines. There is no requirement that competitions use style categories as award categories! Individual styles can be grouped in any fashion to create desired award categories in competition, for instance to balance out the number of entries in each award category.

While style categories are more useful for judging purposes since they group beers with similar perceptual characteristics, we recognize this may not be the best way to learn about beer styles. For educational purposes, the styles may be grouped into style families so they may be compared and contrasted. Beers may also be grouped by country of origin to better understand the history of beer in a country, or to learn about a local market. Any of these groupings is perfectly acceptable; the styles have only been grouped as they are to facilitate competition judging. See Appendix A for alternative groupings of styles.

Naming of Styles and Categories

Some people get so lost in the specific names we use for beer styles and categories that they don’t seem to understand the descriptions of the actual styles. Our names are simply identifiers that we have chosen to best represent the styles and groupings described. Styles were named first, then grouped by similar characteristics or region of origin, then the groupings were named.

We understand that many of these styles can have different names and are called different things in different (or even the same) parts of the world. In the past, we often used several of these names in the style title to avoid showing a preference, but this too often led to people incorrectly using all the names simultaneously. So understand that we have selected names that are either commonly used or are descriptive of a style that might not have a local name. We are not attempting to tell breweries what they should call their products; we are attempting to have a common name that can be used for easy reference.

Some names we use are protected appellations. We are not saying that these should not be respected, or that all commercial breweries should use these names. Rather that these are the most appropriate names to describe the styles. If this concept is hard to understand, just assume that there is an implied “-style” designation on every style name. We didn’t want to use “-style” anywhere in names since these are style guidelines, and of course everything is a style.

We sometimes had to choose names that included a country or region of origin to differentiate between styles that used the same name (such as Porter). The names we use in these cases are intended to be descriptive, and not necessarily what the products are called in local markets. So one should not infer that we are telling brewers that they should be renaming their beers.

The use of country or region names in style and category names is also not meant to imply that those styles are only made in those countries or regions, simply that they either originated in or were popularized in those areas. Many styles are now quite worldwide, with subtle differences reflective of local ingredients. Remember the implied usage of “-style” when considering the differences in these products, and whether they truly represent a different style or are simply the normal variation you would see between breweries of a similar product.

We are not using country or region names to imply ownership or any other preferred standing. When names in common usage exist, we prefer to use them for styles rather than selecting a broader geographic name. We understand that some names bring along political, ethnic, or social conflict; we take no position on any of these – we’re trying to describe beer, not settle disputes. 

Using the Style Guidelines

When we created previous versions of the style guidelines, we had no idea how prevalent and pervasive they would become. We believed we were creating a standardized set of style descriptions for use in homebrew competitions, but then found they were widely adopted worldwide to describe beer in general. Many countries with emerging craft beer markets were using them as handbooks for what to brew. Consumers and trade groups began using the styles to describe their products. And, unfortunately, many made astounding leaps of logic well beyond what was our original intent, and subsequently used the guidelines as a sort of universal Rosetta Stone for beer.

While we understand that the guidelines may have been misused in contexts beyond our original intent, we’ve also observed them being misused in competitions and for other BJCP purposes such as exam preparation and grading. Some people develop their own misinterpretations of the guidelines, and then often unknowingly instruct others in their misuse. Our hope is that the information in this section will help prevent many cases of misinterpretation and misuse in the future. If anyone encounters someone using the guidelines incorrectly, please refer them to this section.

The following maxims express our original intent, and are designed to limit misuse not prevent the guidelines from being adopted for new uses:

  1. The BJCP Style Guidelines are guidelines not specifications. Take those words at face value, or their plain meaning. Guidelines are meant to describe general characteristics of the most common examples, and serve as an aid for judging; they are not meant to be rigorously-applied specifications that are used to punish slightly unusual examples. They are suggestions, not hard limits. Allow for some flexibility in judging so that well-crafted examples can be rewarded. The guidelines are written in detail to facilitate the process of the structured evaluation of beer as practiced in homebrewing competitions; don’t take each individual statement in a style description as a reason to disqualify a beer.
  2. The Style Guidelines were written primarily for homebrew competitions. Individual style descriptions are written primarily as an aid for judging, and we have in some cases sought to define clear lines between styles to better allow for non overlapping judging categories. We understand that some styles may overlap in the market, and some commercial examples may straddle boundaries. We have organized style categories for the purpose of organizing homebrew competitions, not for describing and communicating the styles of the world to a different audience.
  3. We know lots of people use our guidelines. We understand that many other organizations or groups are using our guidelines for purposes beyond our original intent. To the extent that those groups find value in our work, we are happy to have our guidelines used. We freely allow our naming and numbering system to be used by others. However, don’t make rash assumptions about the nature of beer and beer styles based on applications of the guidelines beyond their original intent. We also know some craft brewers are using our guidelines to rediscover historical styles, or to brew styles not native to their country – we are thrilled to be able to help advance craft beer in this way. Just remember that it’s not our original mission to do this; just a happy side-effect.
  4. Styles change over time. Beer styles change over the years, and some styles are open to interpretation and debate. Simply because a style name hasn’t changed over the years, doesn’t mean that the beers themselves haven’t changed either. Commercial brewers are subject to market forces and government regulation; their products definitely change over time. Because we have a beer known as porter now doesn’t mean that it has always been made that way throughout its history. Beer styles described in the guidelines are generally meant to describe modern beers currently available, unless otherwise specified (e.g., in the Historical Beer category).
  5. Not every commercial beer fits our styles. Don’t assume that every beer fits neatly into one of our categories. Some breweries revel in creating examples that don’t match our (or anyone else’s) guidelines. Some create beers called a style name that deliberately don’t match our guidelines. It’s perfectly fine for a commercial beer to not match one of our styles; we have not attempted to categorize every commercial beer – that is not our intent or our mission.
  6. We have not defined every possible beer style. Of course we know of beer styles that aren’t defined in our guidelines. Perhaps it is because the style is obscure or unpopular, that homebrewers aren’t making the style, that insufficient examples or research material exists to adequately define it to our standards, or that it is from a part of the world we haven’t extensively visited. Perhaps it was a historical style no longer made. Or perhaps it is something we believe is a passing fad. Regardless of reason, don’t believe that our guidelines represent the complete categorization of every beer style ever made – they aren’t. They do, however, describe the beers most commonly made today by homebrewers and many craft breweries.
  7. Commercial examples change over time. Just as beer styles change, individual examples change as well. Just because a beer was once a great example of a style does not mean that it will always be a great example of the style. Sometimes the beer changes (with ownership change, perhaps) or sometimes the style trend changes but the beer doesn’t. Anchor Liberty helped define the American IPA style when it was created, but it seems much more like typical American Pale Ales today.
  8. Ingredients change over time. Hops are the best example today; there are constantly new varieties coming to market with unique characteristics. Brewers looking for a differentiator may be rapidly adopting (and abandoning) ingredients. It is difficult to say that the character of a beer style is set in stone when the ingredients typically used in it are changing constantly. Allow for these changes when judging beer; not all American or New World hops will be citrusy or piney. Don’t be rigid about judging based on what was available or commonly used at the time of this writing; understand the ingredients typically used, and adapt judging to match the changing ingredients.
  9. Most styles are fairly broad. Some believe that our styles inhibit brewer creativity by rigidly prescribing boundaries. That is not our intent; we think creativity can drive innovation, and that brewer interpretation should be allowed. However, not every innovation is a good idea, or results in a beer that is recognizable in the same grouping of others with the same name. So styles should be interpreted as having some flexibility, but within reason.
  10. The Style Guidelines are not the Ten Commandments. The words in this document are not due to divine inspiration; they were written by people making a good faith effort to describe beer as it is perceived. Don’t treat them as some kind of Holy Scripture. Don’t get so lost in parsing the individual words that you lose sight of the overall intent. The most important part of any style is the overall balance and impression; that is, that the beer reminds you of the style, and is a nicely drinkable product. To get lost in the individual descriptions loses the essence of the style. The mere fact that style descriptions can change from one edition of the guidelines to the next should be the clearest illustration that the words themselves are not sacred.

Format of a Style Description

We have used a standard format to describe beer styles. The sections within the template have specific meanings that should be understood so as not to be misused:

  • Overall Impression. In past editions, this was often a simple restatement of the basic Appearance, Aroma, Flavor and Mouthfeel sections. However, the section now describes the essence of the style; those points that distinguish it from other styles and that make it unique. The Overall Impression can also be thought of as an expanded consumer-level description that might be used to describe and differentiate the beer to someone who isn’t a beer geek or judge. This section also acknowledges the many uses outside judging, and allows others to describe a beer simply without using the detail needed by judges.
  • Appearance, Aroma, Flavor, Mouthfeel. These four sections are the basic building blocks of the style. They are the perceptual elements that define the style, and are the guidelines against which a beer is judged in competition. These sections have been rewritten from prior guidelines to focus more on the perceptual characteristics of the ingredients, not the ingredients or process themselves. Saying that a Munich Helles tastes like continental Pils malt is a great shorthand for what is perceived; except, of course, if you have no idea what continental Pils malt actually tastes like. Our guidelines are written so that a trained judge unfamiliar with examples of a given style can do a credible job judging it just using the structured evaluation method and using our guidelines as a reference.
  • Comments. This section contains interesting trivia or additional notes about a style that do not affect the perceptual assessment. Not every style has extensive comments; some are quite simple.
  • History. The BJCP is not a historical research organization; we make use of multiple references, although we freely admit that we have defined the history for many modern styles that aren’t found in reference books. Entire books can be (and have been) written on some of the styles we describe; we are only presenting a brief summary of some of the more important points.
  • Characteristic Ingredients. We don’t attempt to provide enough details to create a recipe for every style, but we do try to describe the typical ingredients (and sometimes processes) that help drive the character that distinguishes the style from others. Not every beer is going to be made the same way or using the same ingredients; we are simply describing what is typical, not what is required.
  • Style Comparison. A new section in this edition of the guidelines, the Style Comparison notes help describe how this style differs from similar or related styles. Some people might understand a new style better if it can be described in terms of another style. Judges occasionally want to know the key points that separates one style from another. This section provides those clues, which helps put the perceptual notes in context, particularly for judges unfamiliar with the style.
  • Entry Instructions. This section identifies the required information necessary for judges to judge an example in the given style. Competition entrants should always provide this information. Competition software should always require this information. Competition organizers should always provide this information to the judges. Judges should always ask for this information if it is not provided.
  • Vital Statistics. The general characteristics of the style, expressed in Original Gravity (OG), Final Gravity (FG), Alcohol-by-Volume (ABV), International Bittering Units (IBUs), and Color as expressed in the Standard Reference Method (SRM) from the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC). For those outside the United States that use the European Brewing Convention (EBC) color method, note that an EBC value is roughly double the equivalent SRM value. For those familiar with the Lovibond system, Lovibond is roughly equivalent to SRM for colors that exist in all but the darkest beers. For the purists out there, we’re talking about what is distinguishable to a judge using their eyes, not chemists using analytical equipment in a laboratory setting. Keep in mind that these Vital Stats are still guidelines, not absolutes. They are where most examples fall, not every possible commercial example of a style. They help judges determine judging order, not whether an example should be disqualified.
  • Commercial Examples. The guidelines present well-established commercial examples that are generally representative of the style. The number of examples has been generally reduced from past editions of the guidelines to facilitate maintenance. We intend to publish additional examples on the BJCP web site in the future. Do not assign any additional meaning to the order of examples within the guidelines. Do not assume that every commercial example would score perfectly when evaluated against the style descriptions. Simply because a commercial example is listed as a reference for a style does not mean that every example is going to be world class. Some beers can be mishandled, and some examples change over time. Do not use commercial examples as the benchmark for a style description; judge competition beers against the guidelines, not expectations from a single commercial example. A single beer rarely defines the entire range of a beer style, so do not limit your expectations in such a restrictive way.
  • Tags. To facilitate the sorting of styles into alternate groupings, we have applied an Information Architecture-type tagging of attributes for each style. The list of tags is in no particular order, and is meant to signify attributes or information about a style. The tags should not be used to imply any deeper meaning.

Style Description Language

The guidelines are a set of long documents, and some style descriptions are quite lengthy. To keep the prose from being bone-dry boring, synonyms (words or phrases meaning exactly the same thing, or having nearly the same meaning) are frequently used. Do not attempt to read more into the use of synonyms than is intended. In the past, some have questioned the difference between light and low, medium and moderate, deep and dark, and many other similar examples – the answer is there is no difference in these words in the context in which they are used; they are intended to mean the same things (often, relative intensities of perceptions). Take these words at their plain meaning. If you find yourself parsing the guidelines like you’re trying to find a secret message if played backwards, you’re trying too hard.

When we use multiple words to mean similar things, we are simply trying to be literate, and to use a reasonably educated vocabulary. We don’t want to be the Language Police and say that one synonym is always right, and others are always wrong. So don’t be looking for inconsistencies in usage or try to add nuanced distinctions in different words used to express the same concept. Don’t require that words in the style guidelines be the exact same words used on scoresheets or exams. Worry more about the concept being conveyed and less about the precise expression of the concept.

Pay careful attention to the modifiers used in describing the styles. Look for guidance on the magnitude and quality of each characteristic. Notice that many characteristics are optional; beers not evidencing these non-required elements should not be marked down. Phrases such as may have, can contain, might feature, is acceptable, is appropriate, is typical, etc. all indicate optional elements. Required elements are generally written as declaratory phrases, or use words such as must or should. Elements that must not be present often use phrases such as is inappropriate, no, or must not. Again, take these words at their plain meaning.

Do not overly focus on single words or phrases within style descriptions to the exclusion of the broader intent. Understand the overall impression of the style, the general balance, and how the style differs from related or similar styles.

Do not disproportionately weight specific phrases if that would change the overall impression, balance, and meaning of the style, or if it would cause the beer to be disqualified or otherwise marked down for style issues.