The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) operates the Sanctioned Competition Program (SCP) in a joint venture with the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). Judges who volunteer for competitions sanctioned by the AHA/BJCP SCP should be aware of the common procedures and best practices developed over many years based on sanctioning and running thousands of homebrew competitions.
This short manual is the basic guidebook for judges in performing their duties during a sanctioned competition, and in developing good judging skills. It is neither meant to be a training manual nor does it explain how competitions are run. The BJCP publishes extensive training materials through the Exam Directorate and Education and Training Directorate, and there is a comprehensive BJCP Competition Handbook designed for competition organizers and staff.
The BJCP intends to revise and update this manual in the future to incorporate more information on judging ethics as the code of conduct for judges is introduced.
Guidelines for Conduct at Competitions
Judges, as well as other volunteers, must maintain uniform standards. Review the BJCP Competition Rules on the BJCP website for more information, including the authority the competition organizer has to run the competition. See Appendix A for definitions of competition roles.
General Guidelines for all Participants
Judges, stewards, and staff should all realize that volunteering to help in a competition is a commitment to the organizer, who then relies on them to help make the competition a success. BJCP Members and all other volunteers should make every effort to fulfill their commitments. If for some reason a volunteer cannot attend as planned, it is the volunteer’s responsibility to notify the organizer as soon as possible. Volunteers who neglect their duties (particularly if they fail to notify an organizer in advance that they cannot attend) should not be surprised if they are not invited back to participate in future competitions.
Competition judges and volunteers should behave in a civil and forthright manner. All participants should follow these guidelines to make competition judging fair and fun for everyone involved:
- Be prompt to all sessions. Notify the organizer if you expect to be late or must cancel. Never fail to appear without notifying the organizer!
- Do not become intoxicated during any portion of a judging session or event. If you are unable to perform your duties due to excessive alcohol consumption, please recuse yourself.
- Avoid introducing unpleasant, distracting, or objectionable aromas into the judging room. Do not use tobacco, perfume, cologne, or aftershave before or during judging. Be aware of any body odor issues; shower, use neutral deodorant, and wear clean clothes.
- Avoid introducing excessive noise into the judging room. Speak in a hushed conversational tone to avoid distracting others. When finished with your duties during a judging session, move to another room if provided by the competition.
Guidance for Judges with a Disability
The BJCP is committed to enabling its judges to actively participate in SCP homebrew competitions by reasonable means of accommodation. However, since competitions are organized by local volunteers, any accommodations must be coordinated with and agreed to by the local organizer. The judge requesting accommodation must contact the organizer at least 30 days prior to the competition to discuss potential accommodations. Not all competitions will be able to make accommodations due to their location, judging room layout, number of volunteers and judges, equipment requirements, and cost.
Every effort should be made by the judge requiring accommodation to be self-sufficient. The local organizer and staff are typically volunteers, frequently under-staffed, and are always under-funded. Any equipment present is often the personal equipment of the organizer or their staff. The BJCP Competition Handbook has examples of potential accommodations.
Ethical Guidelines for Judges
The BJCP considers the following practices to be proper for judges to follow at competitions.
Circumstances with Being Seated at a Competition
- Do not judge in a category you have entered. There is no ethical issue with a judge entering and judging in the same competition, provided that the judge never judges a category in which they have an entry. If put into this position, immediately seek out the judge director and request to be swapped to a different flight. Keep this quiet since you do not want to draw attention to your entries in front of judges who will be evaluating them.
- If another judge recuses themself from a flight, do not ask for justification. The other judge is likely trying to preserve the blind judging protocol as much as possible, or is somehow unable to continue.
- Do not demand to be seated or to judge any particular flight, except to provide your preferences when requested. Accept the judge assignment given unless you are unable to judge that flight (e.g., allergic to specific ingredients, you have an entry in that category, etc.).
Issues while Judging
- Understand the experience level of those in your judging team. If you are a new judge or a judge in training, inform your judging partners. If you are an experienced judge, be patient with new judges and offer guidance as requested. Understand that non-BJCP judges can have excellent palates and sensory skills, so do not be prejudiced based on judge rank. However, they may not be familiar with the judging process.
- If you notice a label or other data that identifies the brewer on a bottle, look away and ask that the steward remove it, or request that they pour the samples for you and then remove the bottle.
- If you believe you recognize an entry, do not say anything and avoid speculating on the brewer. Let the other judges speak first before joining in the discussion. Always try to preserve the anonymity of entries while judging.
- In a multi-round competition or when using a mini-BOS, avoid commenting on a beer you passed forward until all other judges have a chance to comment first. It is fine to say, “I passed this forward, I’d like to hear your opinion first.” This is to avoid the appearance that a judge is “walking through” a favored entry.
- Be objective in judging to style guidelines, even if this is not a style that you personally enjoy. Do not substitute your personal opinions about a style or your personal preference. Do not deny a medal to a certain style because you believe the style is somehow of lesser importance, reputation, or significance – any style should have an equal chance of winning.
- In the event of a disagreement in score, try to understand the basis for how the other judges assigned their scores. Discuss the characteristics and perceptions of an entry, and how those relate to the style guidelines. Do not harass or otherwise state that another judge is wrong, or force a judge to change their perceptions. Discussion of how heavily faults are weighted is fair game, as is general judging calibration. However, be patient, tactful, and respectful during these discussions. The head judge may limit discussion if no further progress is being made.
- Always pick the best entry on the table. Knowledge of previous samples is not relevant. There can be variation from bottle to bottle, so always judge each round without consideration to information gleaned from past rounds.
- Judges should not consult with other judges outside the table unless the judges at the table cannot reach a consensus score, and then only if they all agree to the consultation. If this is the case, be sure to ask anyone consulted if they have an entry in that category since that may provide undue influence on the outcome.
General Judge Conduct
- Do not present your opinions as if they are facts. Recognize that you could be wrong, or that other judges may have different perceptions or assessments.
- Every BJCP judge has the duty to follow proper judging practices personally, and has the responsibility to point out infractions observed to other judges regardless of rank or position. Be civil about this interaction, though.
- If you notice another judge practicing questionable behavior, politely speak with the judge about your concerns; peer pressure often is the best remedy. If this does not work, seek guidance from the judge director, a BJCP board or staff member, or other senior judges in a room. Do not make a scene, but try to resolve the issue quietly and discreetly.
- Understand the role and authority of an organizer in a competition. Refer to the BJCP Sanctioned Competition Rules when in doubt.
- Understand any competition-specific rules in effect.
- Do not cause disruptions. Perform your duties. Complete your scoresheets to the best of your ability.
Public Statements, Social Media
- Your job is to judge beer; let competition organizers announce the results to both the assembled participants at the competition site and over social media.
- Don’t post information about what you are going to judge at a competition. Ignore any public information about what entrants have entered in a competition.
- Don’t post information about beer that you are judging, especially if not good. Don’t post identifiable information showing entry numbers or descriptions.
Preparing for Judging
Before you evaluate beer, prepare yourself for the process. Try to be well rested, mentally fresh, and eager for the evaluation session. Be aware that some medications may impair your ability to perceive certain stimuli. If you are taking medication or have an illness that could negatively influence your ability to judge, please inform the judge director that you are unable to judge.
Avoid eating very spicy or greasy foods; applying cologne, perfume or aftershave; or using lipstick or lip balms several hours before you begin a judging session. All of these substances can markedly alter your perception of beer characteristics.
Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue before judging. Try to avoid strongly-flavored toothpastes, which can alter your perception of beer flavors (you can substitute water and baking soda for toothpaste). Do not use mouthwash or antiseptic rinse before judging. Have some crackers and water, or a sample beer before judging. Initial impressions can be skewed by things that change the pH in your mouth.
Mechanics of Judging
There is no single right or wrong way to judge beer. Many judges have different approaches that can reach similar conclusions. However, experience has shown that the following practices lead to good results and should be strongly considered.
General and Administrative Processes
These are general practices to follow during judging that affect how the logistics of tasting will be handled, and covers some common administrative problems that can come up during competitions.
- Review the style guidelines for the category you are judging before you begin. If you are notified in advance of the styles you will be judging, use that time to become acquainted with any unfamiliar styles.
- The head judge should review the style guidelines for all aspects of the styles being judged. Judges should discuss and reach a common understanding of the styles before commencing judging, including answering any questions judges who are unfamiliar with a style may have. Judge only according to the style guidelines, regardless of any personal knowledge or opinion of the styles being judged.
- Judges have control over the tasting order; you are not required to judge the beers in the order on the pull list. You should structure the tasting order to minimize palate impact and to allow you to have the best chance of perceiving each beer in the flight.
- Provide the steward with the pull order for entries to be judged, and explain to them if the pre-printed order has been changed.
- Judges may not disqualify any entry. Questionable entries should be referred to the judge director or competition organizer for a final decision.
- Judges may not move an entry to another category, even if it is clear that the beer is mis-entered or has been swapped. Only the organizer can make those adjustments. To be fair to the entrant, you may describe the score the entry would have received if entered in the correct place. However, be careful when making these assumptions because you may be wrong.
- Entrants may contact the judges, the competition organizer, their BJCP Regional Representative or the BJCP Competition Director if they are dissatisfied with any aspect of their scoresheets. Judges are encouraged to provide a contact email or other address information on their scoresheets.
Individual Entry Handling
When judging an individual entry, there is more to be done than simply taste the beer and fill out the scoresheet. The following guidelines are provided to help the handling of individual entries within a flight.
- Protect entries from light and agitation. Help ensure proper serving temperatures are maintained. If entries are presented too cold, ask the steward to bring several entries to the judging table to allow them adequate time to come to an appropriate serving temperature.
- Confirm that the entry numbers on the caps and labels match.
- Wait until all judges are ready before opening an entry. Completely judge each entry before moving on to the next. Try to reserve some of the entry in the bottle in case it needs to be re-evaluated when determining the top entries in the flight, or when using a mini-BOS. Recap the bottle, if possible, immediately after pouring.
- Use water and French-style bread or unsalted crackers between entries to cleanse the palate.
- Remove any offensive-smelling entries (for example, ones that are strongly skunked or badly infected) from the judging table to avoid influencing judging of the remaining entries.
- Judge each entry as presented. If clarification is needed about the entry (for example, it doesn’t appear to be entered in the correct category, or the flight pull sheet doesn’t provide necessary information such as special ingredients or base beer style), don’t hesitate to have the competition organizer (via the steward) check the entry form. It’s never appropriate for the judges to see the entry forms, but the organizer can check them for the judges. Sometimes entries may become mixed, or necessary details may not have been provided to the judges.
- Do not judge any entry according to a style other than the style it has been assigned. Scores and comments must reflect appropriateness to the style entered.
- Judges should work with the bottle that has been provided to them. They should attempt to conserve the beverage for taste-offs at the end of the flight or for mini-best of show. However, it is acceptable to request a second bottle to give an entry a fair chance at an accurate judging if a beer is a “gusher” or tastes infected; it is better for the beer to receive an accurate evaluation and possibly win a place in the flight than to preserve a bottle for a best-of-show round in which they have no chance of participating.
- If a beer is a “gusher” or has an unpleasant aroma upon opening, a judge should not just assign a courtesy score of 13 (or whatever competition minimum is used) without tasting and commenting on the characteristics of the beer. If the judges genuinely believe that the beer may be dangerous or hazardous to their health, they may state this belief and provide as much feedback as they can to the entrant, leaving the scores blank. Before taking this measure, call for a second bottle to see if the problem is isolated.
- Judge each entry to the best of your ability with the information provided. Entry labels and pull sheets often lack information (e.g., specialty ingredients or base style) necessary for judging because the entrant did not include the proper information, the entry form was illegible, or the entry data was mishandled.
- Do not mark down a clearly out-of-style entry or an entry missing required details without first attempting to determine if there was a bottle sorting mistake or if the missing information can be located. Ask the organizer or registrar (via the steward) to double check the entry or look for the missing data. Have the steward check additional bottles. If a beer clearly isn’t going to place, it is fine to call for the second (or third) bottle to verify.
Individual judge approaches can vary, but this is a common practice and represents a complete evaluation approach. Judges on the same panel do not have to follow the exact same procedure.
- Inspect bottles prior to opening for fill level, evidence of possible infection (e.g., ring around the neck), or bottle conditioning. Make note of anything unusual. Bottle inspection does not affect scoring. Do not make assumptions about the beer based solely on bottle inspection. Remember, judge the beer not the bottle.
- Pour in a manner that gives each entry its optimum appearance, keeping in mind some entries may be under- or over-carbonated.
- Sniff the beer immediately after pouring to ensure proper evaluation of volatile aromatics. If you need to re-evaluate aroma after your initial evaluation, swirl the entry in the cup to release volatiles.
- Evaluate the appearance immediately after evaluating aroma. Make note of head, head retention, color, and clarity.
- Taste the entry after your initial evaluation of aroma and appearance. Attempt to isolate as many flavor components as you are able, describing and quantifying each of them and their appropriateness to style.
- After noting your initial impression of aroma, appearance, and flavor, re-evaluate the entry and note any changes or additions to your initial comments.
- Fill out the overall impression section of the scoresheet, noting major issues affecting the total score and providing feedback to the brewer. Be sure that your comments justify your assigned score, offering suggestions for improvement when points are deducted.
- Once all of the judges at the table have finished filling out their scoresheets, they should discuss the entry and their scoring. Keep in mind that some people are more sensitive to certain flavor and aroma compounds (such as diacetyl or DMS) than others.
- Scores should be within seven points, and preferably within five or fewer points. Adjust scoring as necessary based on the discussion. Be aware of any scoring requirements set by the competition that dictate a maximum point spread between judges or a minimum overall score.
- It is the responsibility of the head judge to work with the other judges in the flight to assign a consensus score to each entry. The final assigned score is then written on the cover sheet and flight sheet. The consensus is not necessarily the arithmetic average of individual judge scores.
- Be sure not to underrate the less aggressive beer styles while evaluating them. Calibration beers (if used) are intended to help judges narrow their scoring to within an acceptable range prior to commencing with the judging. Calibration beers are not intended to serve as a standard against which entries should be judged; rather, entries should be judged based on the standards set by the style guidelines.
- In the rare event of an impasse in reaching a consensus score, the head judge should ask the competition organizer for assistance in reaching consensus.
As a judge, the product of your work is the scoresheet that is returned to the entrant. Entrants trust you to provide a legible, accurate, and thorough evaluation of their entries. They have paid entry fees and possibly shipping costs to submit their entries. Keep in mind that your comments will not only affect the entrants’ impressions of you, but also of the competition and the competition organizers. Fill out scoresheets as you would have other judges fill out scoresheets for your own entries.
- Write legibly. Be sure to write your name and judging info at the top of each scoresheet. Better yet, bring pre-printed labels with your name, BJCP ID, rank, and email address, and use those on the scoresheets. Templates are available on the BJCP website. Some competitions will provide name labels for you, but it’s a safe practice to always carry some of your own.
- Use clear, concise, and meaningful language when filling out the scoresheet.
- Your comments should provide a complete sensory evaluation, an assessment of the entry against the style guidelines, and the basis for any point deductions. These comments should help entrants improve their brewing.
- Judge comments should be fair, constructive, and encouraging. Derogatory, snide, or rude comments on scoresheets are absolutely unacceptable. Keep in mind that a “bad” entry could be an unfortunate contamination or inconsistency limited to a single bottle. In a multi-bottle competition, you can call for a second bottle if you wish to test the “bad bottle” theory.
- It is important to be quick as well as thorough and complete when writing your scoresheets. On average it should take about ten minutes to judge each entry, including completely filling out the scoresheets and coming to consensus.
- While judges should be aware of the time constraints in competitions and work quickly, a complete scoresheet is still required. It is not appropriate to write only comments and an overall score on the scoresheets, leaving scores for the individual sections blank. It is also inappropriate to only write a few comments, even if all section scores are assigned.
- Comments on the condition of the bottle should be provided to the entrant as feedback in case there are any questions about mishandled entries or whether indications of bottle conditioning or infection are observed. The serving temperature of the beer may be provided to the entrant if you feel it is a relevant criterion in regards to your enjoyment of the beer. Do not penalize an entrant for a beer served at the wrong temperature; rather, work with the competition staff to see that the beers are properly presented.
- In each section of the scoresheet, you should comment on all relevant characteristics of the entry, not just the most prominent features you detect.
- You should always fill out the “style grid” on the scoresheet as a good check against your scores.
- Comments should reflect knowledge of brewing, fermentation, bottling, and handling processes but should avoid excessive speculation about the recipe, ingredients, or process – you will almost certainly be wrong.
- A judge should provide information on how to improve the entry as warranted. Focus on sensory-based comments, or how changes in balance of individual aspects of the beer would be an improvement.
- Do not include unnecessary comments that fill space but don’t provide content or add value to the scoresheet.
Judge Interactions with Stewards
Stewards assist judges and staff, acting as an interface between the two groups. They are not servants for judges. Following are some specific best practice recommendations for judge interactions with stewards:
- Ask or politely request stewards do something for you (such as bringing the next beers, replenishing table supplies, asking questions of the staff, etc.) Don’t order them around or make demands of them, and do not be rude or condescending towards them.
- Stewards typically have been given specific instructions for the competition. When they make a request of you, consider that they are acting on behalf of the competition organizer. If you disagree with their instructions, raise the issue with the competition organizer or head steward not the steward.
- If you believe you are missing data regarding entries being judged, request that the steward check with the organizer or registrar.
- If you want stewards to help with paperwork, ask them politely. Be prepared to explain how to complete the paperwork and manage it if they haven’t done it before.
- Ask your stewards if they have interest in becoming a judge. If they do, take the opportunity throughout judging to point out interesting points and make sure they observe the full mechanics of judging.
- If sample size permits, you may ask the stewards if they want to taste your entries. Do not do this if you are doing a mini-BOS, or may need a repour later. Stewards may ask you questions if time permits, but they should not be involved in the discussion until a final consensus is reached.
Appendix A: Competition Roles
The competition organizer is the person who has overall responsibility for the competition. Many of the organizer’s duties occur in preparation for the event, including registration with the AHA/BJCP Sanctioned Competition Program, any advertising, acquisition of prizes or ribbons, assuring that all necessities for the competition are secured (e.g., cups, scoresheets, pencils), delegation of duties to staff assistants, running the event itself, and the timely distribution of the scoresheets and any prizes or ribbons to the entrants. The competition organizer is also responsible for filing the competition organizer report in a timely manner so that all those who contributed their efforts to the competition receive their due credit.
The judge director manages all judging operations for the competition. The judge director recruits judges, assigns judges to categories, and handles all other judging issues. If possible, the judge director should ensure that there is at least one BJCP-ranked judge assigned to every flight, and that at least one of these judges is experienced enough to serve as head judge. In some cases, the competition organizer is also the judge director, but for large competitions it is best to split the two jobs. Once the competition is underway, the judge director may be able to judge if he has no knowledge of the association between entries and entrants.
Each competition flight should have one judge designated as the head judge for that group of judges. The head judge’s responsibilities include reviewing all scores and paperwork for accuracy. The head judge should review the style guidelines for the categories being judged and go over the scoring guidelines with the other judges. The head judge should take the lead in discussions to form a consensus on scores. The head judge should try to tutor novice or lower-ranked judges as time permits. Once judging is complete, the head judge is responsible for ensuring that scoresheets, cover sheets, and flight summary sheets are filled out and turned in to the judge director or competition organizer as directed by the competition management.
A judge is any participating person whose scores count when evaluating competition entries. BJCP judges are participants in the Beer Judge Certification Program who have taken the BJCP exam. It is recommended that inexperienced or new judges be paired with more experienced BJCP judges. Any person can be approved by a competition organizer to serve as a judge. Note, however, that many homebrewers expect highly qualified evaluators who understand the BJCP judging process. Using too many inexperienced judges can hurt the reputation of the competition.
The job of a steward is to help the judges. While the head judge is the person responsible for all activities for the judging flight, the steward assists as needed. Whenever possible, one steward should be assigned to each flight. Most flights have between two and four judges assigned; two to three is considered optimal. Stewards ensure that the judges have all of the judging materials they need including judging forms, pencils, cups, bottle openers, water, and bread or crackers. Stewards often bring the competition entries to the judges in the order specified by the head judge. Stewards should NOT open the competition entries unless specifically directed by the head judge. During the judging, stewards double-check all of the competition forms, including the cover sheets, to be sure they have been properly completed and that the math has been done correctly. Stewards may calculate the final assigned score if the head judge directs the steward to use a simple average score (i.e., arithmetic mean). Judging is an intensive process, and the stewards play a key role in making sure all goes smoothly. Serving as a steward is an excellent means of learning about beer evaluation and is usually the first step in becoming a beer judge.
Appendix B: Personal Supplies for Competition Judging
Competitions are expected to provide the basic tools and forms to perform judging. However, many judges like to bring their own judging kits and supplies. Following are some of the more important items judges can bring for themselves:
- Pre-filled peel-and-stick judging labels (many judges print their own, or keep leftovers from past competitions).
Style Guidelines (many judges use electronic versions of guidelines on their mobile devices, and some bring pre-printed guidelines that have durable covers).
Favorite writing tools, such as good-quality mechanical pencils, spare lead, good-quality erasers, etc.
Bottle opener and corkscrew. A bottle opener that can open a cap without causing a major crease can make it easier to recap bottles.
Plastic bottle stoppers. Recap favorite entries quickly and conveniently.
Favorite flashlight. Make sure the battery is fresh.
Toothbrush and toothpaste. Maybe pepperoni pizza for lunch wasn’t such a great idea.
Medicines, such as ibuprofen, acid blocker, nasal decongestant, or other things to counter judging-related ailments.
Handkerchief or bandana. Something to clean up spills might be useful.
Bottled water, in case the supplied water is full of chlorine or the glassware smells of detergent.
BJCP pins and badge. Let people know who you are.
A small bag or case for carrying this stuff.