Excerpt from the Introduction to the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines:
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.