The 2021 BJCP Style Guidelines are a minor revision to the 2015 edition, itself a major update of the 2008 edition. The goals of the 2015 edition were 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. These goals have not changed in the 2021 edition.
In 2015, many styles were added, some styles were divided into multiple categories, and some simply renamed. Styles are organized into categories following a 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 nuanced.
If you are familiar with the 2015 guidelines, we have made a few name changes and some styles have moved from provisional, historical, or local styles into the main guidelines. We intentionally tried to keep style moves, style additions, and numbering changes to a minimum.
Styles and Categories
The BJCP Style Guidelines use some specific terms with specialized meanings: 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 characteristics of one type of beer, mead, or cider. Each style has a well-defined description that is the basic tool used during judging.
When specialty beer descriptions refer to a Classic Style, we mean a named style (or subcategory name) in the BJCP Style Guidelines prior to the Specialty-Type Beer styles section.
The larger categories are arbitrary groupings of beer, mead, or cider styles, usually with similar sensory characteristics. Subcategories are not necessarily related to each other within the same category. The purpose of the category structure 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 or intended.
Competitions may create their own award categories that are distinct from the style categories in these guidelines. There is no requirement that competitions use style categories as award categories! Individual styles can be grouped in any manner to create desired award categories in competition; for instance, to evenly distribute the number of entries in each award category.
While style categories are more useful for judging purposes since they group beers with similar sensory 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
We chose names and titles to best represent the styles and groupings in our categorization system. Don’t let these names interfere with your understanding the actual style descriptions – that is the main point of the BJCP Style Guidelines. We are not telling breweries what they should call their products. We are only providing names that can be used for easy reference.
We realize that many of our defined styles can have alternate names, or are called different things in other (or even the same) parts of the world. In the past, we used multiple names in style titles to avoid showing preference, but this too often led people to incorrectly use all those names simultaneously. So, we selected one unambiguous name for each style.
We added a country or region of origin to some style titles in order to differentiate between styles using a common name (such as Porter). The titles we selected are intended to be both unique and descriptive, but are not necessarily what the products are called in local markets. We are not implying any special ownership or standing based on the names we selected, and we apologize for any unintentional political, ethnic, or social offenses.
Some names we use are protected appellations or trademarks. We are not saying that these should not be respected, or that commercial breweries can use these names. Rather, these are the most appropriate names to use when discussing the styles. If this concept is hard to understand, just assume there is an implied “-style” designation on every style name. We didn’t want to use
“-style” in our naming scheme since these are style guidelines, and of course everything is a style.
Using the Style Guidelines
When we published 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 are now 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 our original intent, and subsequently used the guidelines as a sort of universal Rosetta Stone for beer.
While we understand that our 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 misinterpret 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 to prevent the guidelines from being adopted for new uses:
- 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 use each individual statement in style descriptions as a reason to disqualify a beer.
- The Style Guidelines are written primarily for homebrew competitions. Individual style descriptions are written primarily to aid in judging. We have, in some cases, sought to define clear lines between styles to create 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.
- We know many people use our guidelines. We understand that other organizations or groups are using our guidelines for purposes well 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; it’s just a happy side-effect.
- 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 also changed. Commercial brewers subject to government regulation and market forces definitely change their products over time. For example, because there is now a beer known as porter doesn’t mean that it has always been made that way throughout its history. Our beer styles are generally meant to describe modern beers currently available, unless otherwise specified (e.g., in the Historical Beer category).
- 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 beer called by a style name that deliberately doesn’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 neither our intent nor our mission.
- We have not defined every possible beer style. Of course we know of beer styles that aren’t defined in our guidelines. Perhaps they are obscure or unpopular, homebrewers aren’t making the styles, insufficient examples or research material exists to adequately define them to our standards, or they are from a part of the world we haven’t visited extensively. Maybe they are historical styles no longer made, or that we believe the styles are a passing fad. Regardless of our reasons, 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.
- Commercial examples change over time. Just like beer styles change, individual examples change as well. A beer that was once a great example of a style might not always remain so. Sometimes the beer changes (with ownership change, perhaps) or sometimes the style trend changes but the beer doesn’t. For example, Anchor Liberty helped define the American IPA style when it was created, but it seems much more like typical American Pale Ales today.
- Ingredients change over time. Hops are a good example today; new varieties are 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 profile of a beer style is fixed when its typical ingredients are changing constantly. Allow for these changes when judging beer. For example, not all American hops will be citrusy or piney. Don’t be rigid about judging based on what was commonly used at the time of this writing; understand what ingredients are typically used, and adapt judging to match the evolving character.
- Most styles are fairly broad. Some believe that our styles inhibit brewer creativity by rigidly setting boundaries. That is not our intent – we think creativity drives innovation, and that interpretation by brewers 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. Therefore, styles should be interpreted as having some flexibility, but within reason.
- 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 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.
- Our Guidelines are extensible. We understand that our guidelines will change in the future, and that there may be years between revision cycles. The BJCP’s primary mission is to conduct exams, and if the references changed constantly, it would make studying nearly impossible. So, we have adopted a compromise: we have Provisional Styles listed on our website that can be used in the same way as styles in these guidelines. This allows us to add changes between editions. We also have a list of Style Entry Suggestions on our website to help understand where best to enter styles not defined in the guidelines or as a Provisional Style. These features, as well as the extensibility of some styles such as Specialty IPA and Historical Beer, allow brewer-defined styles to be used in competitions. Combined, these three features allow the guidelines to evolve between major updates.
- We are not the beer police. We categorize and describe beer styles that we see exist, and that are used. In no way are we telling commercial brewers what they can brew, or saying that they are wrong if their products don’t fit our guidelines. We also do not create styles in the hopes that they will become popular. The state of the overall beer market in any given country is not our concern.
- Different formats exist. Our guidelines appear in many third-party locations, on multiple mobile platforms, and are translated into other languages. Unfortunately, not all these versions contain the full text of our guidelines, or are completely accurate translations. Be careful when using a format supplied by someone other than the BJCP; when in doubt, always refer to the original source.
- The BJCP does not run competitions. Sometimes competitions use entry software that limits comments, or otherwise makes it difficult to comply with Entry Instructions in the guidelines. Report problems to competition organizers and to the software suppliers. Our intent is that all allowable information requested by the guidelines be supplied by brewers, be accepted by competitions, and be furnished to judges.
Format of a Style Description
We use a standard format for describing beer styles. The sections within this template have specific meanings that should be understood so as not to be misused:
- Overall Impression. This section describes the essence of the style – those points that distinguish it from other styles, and that make it unique. It can also be thought of as an expanded consumer-level description useful for describing and differentiating the style 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 sensory building blocks defining the style, and are the standards against which a beer is judged in competition. These sections focus on the sensory perceptions derived from the ingredients, not the ingredients or process themselves. For example, 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 who has not tasted examples of a given style can do a credible job judging it 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 sensory assessment. Not every style has extensive comments; some are quite simple.
- History. The BJCP is not a historical research organization. We rely on available information, often revising our summaries as new facts are published. Our histories are abridged summaries of some of the more important points of style development; please do not take these notes as the entire, complete history of styles.
- Characteristic Ingredients. We identify typical or common ingredients or processes that drive the distinguishing character of the style. Please do not treat these notes as recipes, or as requirements. Beer can be made in many different ways.
- Style Comparison. Since some might better understand an unfamiliar style if it could be described in terms of other known styles, we have provided notes on the key points that distinguish a style from similar or related styles. Not every possible style comparison is listed.
- Entry Instructions. This section identifies the required information necessary for judges to evaluate a competition entry. This information should always be provided by the entrant, accepted by competition software, and provided to judges. Entrants should be able to supply optional comments about their entries, subject to review by competition organizers.
- 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.
Some style categories include multiple styles that represent a continuum, such as British Bitter or Scottish Ale. When we provide a dividing line between these styles, we typically use a single number to represent the upper bound of one style and the lower bound of the next. This does not imply that a beer with that borderline stat (e.g., ABV or OG) should be entered in both styles. No overlap is intended. In these cases, treat the upper bound as “ending just before” and the lower bound as “starting at” the listed numbers.
Keep in mind that these Vital Statistics are still guidelines, not absolutes. Commercial outliers certainly exist, but these statistics are meant to describe where most examples are clustered. They help judges determine judging order, not whether an example should be disqualified.
- Commercial Examples. We include a selection of current commercial examples that we believe are representative of the style at the time of publication. We may publish additional examples on the BJCP website in the future. We cannot guarantee that breweries will continue to make these examples, that the names will stay the same, that the recipes won’t change, or that they will be available at your local bottle shop. Some are rotating, seasonal, pub-only, or otherwise difficult to find outside festivals, competitions, or local markets.
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 sole benchmark for a style – judge competition beers against the guidelines, not expectations from a single commercial example. One beer rarely defines the entire range of a style, so do not limit your expectations in such a restrictive way. Breweries often assign names to their beers that do not agree with our style guidelines. Be careful about selecting examples based on brewery-supplied names alone.
- Tags. To facilitate the sorting of styles into alternate groupings, we have applied tags to signify attributes or information about a style. The tags are in no particular order, and should not be used to infer any deeper meaning.
Style Description Language
The guidelines are a set of long documents, and some style descriptions are quite involved. 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 between these words in this context; 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 in a song 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 by saying that one synonym is always right and others are always wrong. So don’t look 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.
We stylize lists using the Oxford comma, which is a less ambiguous grammatical construct. When describing lists of characteristics, or means any or all of the items may be present, all means all of the items must be present, either or means only one of the items can be present, neither nor means none of the items can be present. Past usage of and/or has been replaced by or, which has the same logical meaning.
When we use style names in Capital Letters, we are intending them to be a cross-reference to those styles within these guidelines. Lowercase usage of style names represents a more general reference.
Pay careful attention to the modifiers used in style descriptions. 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. If an intensity is used in conjunction with an optional indicator, that means any intensity from none up to the listed intensity are allowable, but that the characteristic is not required.
Phrases such as may have, can contain, might feature, is acceptable, is appropriate, is typical, optionally, etc. all indicators of 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.