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How best to prep for tasting portion of BJCP Exam?

How do folks best suggest how to prep for the tasting portion of the BJCP exam?

I know I know, drink beer…duh…but how best to learn the material for exam day?


The chapter on tasting/palate training in Gordon Strong’s Brewing Better Beer was helpful. Its a general overview of how to develop the skills and he offers some good tips for practicing.

You really do need to try to memorize the BJCP guidelines in their entirety, and learn and understand as many “hot button” or “red flag” keywords as possible. Taste a lot of beer, yes, but as you do so, practice describing each segment of the score sheets in as much detail as possible, including aroma and mouthfeel, which are two pieces that tend to be overlooked more than others. When tasting a beer, don’t go straight for the mouth. When I am really serious about tasting, I usually spend the first 90 seconds or more just smelling the beer over and over and over as I hold the glass in my hand to warm it up a bit, giving the beer a swirl here and there to get some of the CO2 and aromatics out. There are subtle nuances in the aroma that you can totally miss out on if you drink first and smell later. Once I’ve got the aroma completely nailed (and written down when appropriate), I can usually guess with good accuracy how the beer will taste, as the flavor is usually the same or similar to the aroma (although not always of course). So, describing the aroma in great detail actually gets you prepped for what you will describe and discover about the flavor. I guess you would say that the aroma sets the tone for the whole tasting.

The other thing you can do to learn a LOT about tasting before you take the exam is to volunteer as a steward or a non-BJCP rank judge at a local competition. If you beg, plead, and connive, they’ll usually let you do it, especially if you let them know of your sincere intent to take the exam very soon. If you can give them the exact date of the exam, so much the better.

Nice thing about BJCP exams is that they usually select more of the real obvious and well known beer styles for tasting such as stout, porter, pale ale, Oktoberfest, doppelbock, etc., and less often the somewhat more obscure styles like smoked beer, Scottish 60 shilling, fruited beer, sour ales, etc. Make sure you have all the real obvious styles nailed. They’ll still hit you with one or maybe two lesser known styles, but you should really be able to nail the common ones. If you can’t, your score will suffer, and rightly so.

I speak not as a grader but as a BJCP judge who in hindsight would have prepared much better prior to taking the exam. Now with a few more years of experience under my belt, I think I would friggin ace the thing. But I dare not even try, for fear of damaging my ego. :mrgreen: But seriously, beer judging ain’t rocket science, although it does take deep enthusiasm and a little practice and experience to do it well. If you have the desire, you’ll get there. If you don’t feel ready, take the exam anyway and get some practice, then take the exam again later if necessary when you know you’re ready to really kick butt.

Thanks Dave. That is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. I’m taking a prep class with my club for next months exam. But I still don’t feel that prepared. I hope in the next month I will be. I don’t feel I am the best judge of aroma and sometimes I smell or taste things and I’m not really sure what to say about them, or if to say anything. For example, there are times in prep class I taste something that to me may seem like an off flavor, but then no one says anything about it. Then I feel silly like, well what am I tasting? what is that? Is it really an off flavor? And then there are times I smell/taste nothing and people are picking up stuff all over the place. I know people have blind spots and I know some of mine.

Then there are the guidelines…damn there is a lot there to remember. I really need to make more time each day to learn a few. Good advice about really know the “key” style! I’m focus more time on them.

I’m excited to take the new entrance exam before the tasting. Im enjoying getting into the core of brewing and it’s process and components. But I am starting to worry about the tasting portion. Like you said, Im taking it no matter what (assuming I pass the online exam :slight_smile: ) . But you’ve given me some great tips to practice over the next month.

Oh, and BTW I may keg that cider next week. Looked at it last night, crystal clear and it’s been 4 months. I plan to back sweeten with a can of concentrate.


Does anyone else have advice? A seat came up at the last minute and I have until Sunday to study and get ready for the tasting exam…

I see now that my advice from last year was kind of generic. However now I just recently retook the tasting exam, and here’s a few more specific things that I learned:

  1. Learn to manage your time well, and write twice as fast as you think you need to. You’ll be tasting 6 beers in 90 minutes. You might figure, that’s a piece of cake! And for the first half of the exam, it seems like it is. That is, until you get to the point where they say “10 minutes left!” and you find yourself still writing down more comments for beer #4! With 2 beers to go and only 10 minutes left, you could really be scrambling to get done (as I know I was)! So… get some practice filling out scoresheets 100% within 10-12 minutes each if you can possibly help it so that you won’t find yourself in this predicament.

  2. Figure out some flowery words that will help you fill up the body/mouthfeel section. In my mind, there’s only a few things can be said for this part of the tasting, but you need to try to find some creative way to fill up the white space or else you might get docked. Admittedly I know I personally need to put a lot of work into this if I ever take the exam again. And this should go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t…

  3. Be sure to fill up all the lines / white space in every section. I understand that completeness is a big part of your score. Also…

  4. Make sure you provide an improvement suggestion or two in the Overall Impression section. And be specific. Don’t just say, “too hoppy!”. Be very specific and say “use roughly 50% as much flavor and aroma hops next time” or “an English bitter should not have so much citrusy hop flavor; however, this beer might score better as an American pale ale”.

  5. Don’t eat any garlic or onions the day before the exam. Also if you are a smoker, cut back on the smoking. Personally, I don’t even eat any of the crackers provided, and I am careful to sip the water before the exam to ensure it isn’t off-tasting. I prefer to taste only the beer, otherwise you might taste crackers or minerals or other junk in the beer that are not actually there.

Study hard, and know those scoresheets inside and out and ensure you can fill them out very completely and very quickly! Good luck!

Ok just saw that you are in cram mode for Sunday. If you know the styles relatively well, I honestly wouldn’t spend that much time trying to cram every single nuance of every single style into my head at this point.

If you want to do well, at this point, I would spend A LOT of time filling out scoresheets. Like 4-5 per night, timed. Then if you can find a local GM or even national judge who has graded and might be willing to look yours over, get that feedback ASAP and remember it.

Remember how this thing is graded. You are graded on:

  1. perception
  2. descriptive ability
  3. feedback
  4. completeness
  5. scoring accuracy

You have the most control over 2, 3, and 4 in my book. Perception comes with tasting experience (which, believe it or not, you do have time to do before the exam), and accuracy comes with judging and calibrating yourself with other judges. In some cases, the proctor judges (whose perceptions you are graded against) are off as well.

With descriptive ability, obviously you want to describe everything you can about the beer. Use the ‘categories’ under each headline to guide you. For example, under “Appearance”, it says to comment on “color, clarity and head (retention, color and texture)”. So:

-" light amber with red hues, brilliantly clear with tan, dense head that has good retention" is a good description and should get you full points (assuming that’s what the beer looks like).
-apply this same thing to all sections, and use the descriptor categories to assist you.

-my general rule for feedback is one suggestion for every 10 points less than a perfect beer. So a 30 point beer should get 2 suggestions. One ‘studying’ type thing I would focus on if it were me would be to challenge yourself to think of two or more potential causes of an off-flavor. For example diacetyl could be caused by improper yeast management/pitch/temp or in some cases either/both pedio or lacto infection can cause it. So, your feedback would be “ensure a proper pitch of healthy yeast, accurate fermentation temperature, and good cleaning/sanitation of all cold-side equipment”.

-Finally, on completeness, just remember to ask yourself with EVERYTHING you are perceiving:

“What kind of/how much of”?

For example, in the flavor section for a good IIPA, I might write: "low bready malt followed by an intense, tangerine citrus and resinous hop flavor and a high but smooth hop bitterness that lingers into the aftertaste. [write more]

Finally, I would just get a system of what you do when the beer is put in front of you that works for you down between now and your exam.

For me, as soon as i get the beer, I:

-smell it a couple different ways, both edges of the glass, big sniffs, short sniffs. I usually write as I’m doing this. Then I give it a swirl and write some more.

-take a small sip and get a sense of it. While I’m doing this, I look at it and write my appearance section

-Then I move on to the taste portion and make sure I do a ‘how much of/what kind of’ for every term on there (malt, hops, ferment characteristics, etc.).

-Grab a cracker, some water, take another sip and do mouthfeel (I don’t usually take a whole lot of time on this one, its usually pretty straightforward, but make sure to comment on creamy or crisp/astringency)

-finally write your ‘overall’ comments. Sometimes I will do the scoring as I go, sometimes I will decide a final score and back into individual scores. Check to be sure anything you wrote is checked on the left AND that the bottom boxes are checked.

Good luck-

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