BJCP Update Part 3 – Ales and Specialty Beers

Continuing from BJCP Update Part 1 – History of Beer Styles, and BJCP Update Part 2 – Overview and Lagers/Hybrid Beers, we move on to the 2014 proposed changes to the BJCP Style Guide in the areas of ales and specialty beers.  These are the categories of beer that have the most entrants, the most variation, and the most contention.  Here is where the enhanced and expanded concept of Descriptors really steps into the ring swinging.

It’s also the section that includes the most uproarious new style – the oxymoronic Black IPA (or is it Cascadian Dark Ale?).  Everyone wants a definitive ‘what is a black IPA’ and a ‘what is NOT a black IPA’ to work with.  (What’s next?  Dark Pale Ale?  Schwarzweisse?  LOL.)  With the use of descriptors, the powers that recommend have easily stepped around this issue – and put an end to the Imperial IPA vs Double IPA discussion at the same time.  (More on that below.)

English Pale Ale

  • Standard/Ordinary Bitter naming simplified to Ordinary Bitter.
  • Special/Best/Premium Bitter naming simplified to Best Bitter.
  • Extra Special/Strong Bitter naming simplified to Strong Bitter.  Can’t say I’m entirely happy about this one.  I like the idea (see the explanation in the Overview in my last post), but not the names.  I see the concept of similar naming by strength, but I would have preferred the ESB name stay in use within the Style Guidelines.
  • A new style that has become popular in England in recent decades is English Golden Ale, also known as Summer Ale or Golden Bitter.

Scottish and Irish Ale

  • The Scots don’t refer to their beers by shilling price (60/-, et al.) any more, so the names are being updated to reflect current usage.  The names in use reflect a simpler differentiation, so the number of different-strength Scottish ales have been reduced.
  • Scottish 60/- and Scottish 70/- ales have been combined into the new Scottish Light style.
  • Scottish 80/- and Scottish 90/- ales (sometimes submitted as 80/- ales and sometimes as Scotch ales) have been combined into the new Scottish Heavy style.
  • Scotch Ale, a naming source of MUCH confusion in the beer world, has been renamed to Scottish Wee Heavy, reflecting both current usage and eliminating the Scottish/Scotch naming confusion.
  • Much to my sadness at the continued nationalism displayed, Irish Red Ale currently remains with the Scottish ales.  Personally, I’d like to see this moved into the English Brown Ale category with Milds, perhaps renaming the category British Amber Ale.  The flavour profile does not belong with Scottish Ales.  In fact, British Amber Ale could include Milds and Irish Reds, while British Brown Ale could include the brown ales and the Scottish ales – much more appropriate groupings, if the focus remains on judging the final products’ traits.

American Ale

  • Perhaps because it’s a simple catchall category for everything that does not fit somewhere specific, American Pale Ale, American Amber Ale, and American Brown Ale remain the same.

English Brown Ale

  • There has been confusion about the difference between a light-coloured Mild and a lightly-hopped Ordinary Bitter.  In order to clear this up, Mild is being renamed Dark Mild.  This should make the differences between an English Pale Ale (lighter colour, lighter hops), an Ordinary Bitter (lighter colour, heavier hops), and a Mild (darker colour, lighter hops) clearer to a potential entrant.
  • Southern English Brown Ale is (a) not called that by the English and (b) near impossible to find commercially, so it is being renamed London Brown Ale and being described as a Descriptor under the new Historical Beer category.
  • Northern English Brown Ale (also not called that by the English) is being renamed to simply English Brown Ale, as it reflects the brown ales currently on the market in England.

Porter

  • Nobody in the world outside of BJCP judges has ever heard of a Brown Porter or a Robust Porter – small wonder entrants often have a hard time deciding how to enter a porter in competition.
  • In reality, the Brown Porter style describes the modern British porter, so the name and description are being altered to more accurately portray an English Porter.
  • In reality, the Robust Porter style describes the drier, bolder, roastier porter made in the USA, so the name and description are being altered to more accurately portray an American Porter.
  • Baltic Porter remains the same.  IMHO, however, they are getting harder to find and seldom seen in competition – Baltic Porter may be a good candidate for moving into the Historical Beer category.

Stout

  • Some things remain the same.  Sweet Stout, Oatmeal Stout, American Stout, and Imperial Stout remain unchanged.
  • Dry Stout is being more accurately renamed Irish Stout and the description is being revised to describe the Irish house stouts, often served on nitro tap.
  • In practice, stouts served in Ireland are generally around 4% ABV, so the higher gravity 5.5-6% stouts that are generally bottled for export are being split off into the new category Irish Extra Stout.
  • Perhaps Irish Stout and Irish Extra Stout will end up grouped with Scottish and Irish Ales?
  • In addition, due to popular request from the southern hemisphere, Foreign Extra Stout will remain while Tropical Stout is split off as a new category.  Although with the new dependence upon Descriptors, it seems the Tropical Stout substyle would be an ideal candidate.

India Pale Ale

  • Okay, I know…this is the one y’all are waiting for.  It’s also some of the biggest change in the entire list.
  • First, there’s this:  there are only two styles of IPA:  English IPA and American IPA and they will stay English IPA and American IPA.
  • Imperial IPA has been deleted.  It was an arbitrary name chosen by the BJCP that became part of common beer parlance.  Confusion with Imperial IPAs and Double IPAs has led to both being used in the marketplace, and Double IPA is becoming the preferred term.  At this point, the BJCP will only recognize the term “Imperial” as referencing Russian Imperial Stout.  Of course, the industry has grabbed the term and run with it, giving us Imperial Reds, Imperial Browns, Imperial Hefes, etc. that will still continue to be downgraded for being too strong for their styles unless they are entered as some sort of Specialty beer.
  • IPAs will now have a Descriptor for strength.  A Standard strength IPA does not have to be stated as such – if no descriptor is written, the assumption will be as a Standard IPA.  Lower-gravity IPAs may be listed as a Session IPA.  Higher-gravity IPAs are to be listed as a Double IPA (remember that Imperial IPA no longer exists).
  • There will also be a Descriptor for the IPA substyle.  Examples listed by Gordon Strong include Black IPA, Brown IPA, Red IPA, White IPA, and Rye IPA. This is also where you may add your own notes (for example, you may list your American IPA as a Chocolate IPA or your English IPA as an English Smoked IPA).
  • He also listed Belgian IPA on the same list, but I’m not sure how that would work, listing a Belgian IPA as a substyle of an American IPA?  Perhaps the Belgian IPA is more appropriate at the same tier as the English/American style split?
  • You can also use multiple Descriptors from the list.  Thus it is possible that a new IPA entry may list a Red Rye American Double IPA as the beer style, for example.
  • Crazy, yah?  But remember, this is also about taking the categories that have ridiculous numbers of entries and splitting them apart for manageable judging.  This will allow a competition to have the often-several tables of IPA judges be able to have a more consistent palate at each table, granting more accurate judging and less palate fatigue.

German Wheat and Rye Beer

  • The category is being simplified to include wheat beers only, removing the rye.
  • Weizen/Weissbier is being renamed to simply Weissbier.  I can understand the confusion of Weizen and Wiezen, but don’t agree with the Weissbier choice personally.  This is one of those American-viewpoint naming issues.  The fact is, in Germany, what we know as hefeweizen is more commonly called hefeweiss or simply weiss.  The BJCP is trying to correct the industry usage to reflect the naming in the style’s home country.  However, an awful lot of people are going to wonder where to put a hefeweizen.  And surprisingly, I see no accomodation for krystallweizen.  Perhaps Hefeweizen and Krystallweizen are better as Descriptors for the new Weissbier category?
  • It get worse when we see that Dunkelweizen, in the same category, remains unchanged as Dunkelweizen.  Somehow, I would really like to see the terms Hefeweizen, Krystallweizen, and Dunkelweizen at the same tier, side-by-side with Weizenbock.
  • Speaking of Weizenbock, it is being renamed to Dunkels Bock (which sounds strange to me, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beer labelled as a Dunkels Bock, although I’ve seen a few Dunkelbocks).
  • Roggenbier (German rye beer) has been hard to find for some time and is being removed to the Historical Beer category (if it were still easy to find commercially, it would have moved to the Alternative Grains category).

Belgian and French Ale

  • A weird junk drawer of north-central European ale styles, most of it remains the same.
  • Witbier, Belgian Pale Ale, Saison, and Biere de Garde remain unchanged.
  • Personally, I think a Continental Wheat Ale category would be nice, including witbier, hefeweizen, dunkelweizen, and weizenbock.
  • Biere de Garde and Biere de Noel seem to be disappearing from the marketplace.  Perhaps these should move under Historical Beer or be considered a Descriptor-level substyle to Saison?
  • There is a new Trappist Singel style for monastic-style table beers that will probably land in this category.
  • The Belgian Specialty Ale category has been deleted.  Many will move to Belgian IPA, Trappist Singel, or Specialty – Clone Beer.

Sour Ale

  • Berliner Weisse and Flanders Red Ale remain the same.
  • Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin has been renamed to simply Oud Bruin.
  • Lambic (I assume this includes the Gueuze and Fruit Lambic styles as well) remains the same naming-wise, but now must list the Carbonation and Sweetness levels as Descriptors.

Belgian Strong Ale

  • Praise be!  An entire category that remains untouched!
  • Belgian Blond Ale, Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Tripel, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, and Belgian Dark Strong Ale remain the same.
  • Personally, I would like to see a Monastic Beer category spun off including Singel, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel.  This would leave Pale, Blond, Golden Strong, and Dark Strong together for a basic Belgian Ale catchall category.

Strong Ale

  • Old Ale is being redefined to explicitly require an aged character.
  • Old Ale without the requisite aged character is being spun off into a new style called English Strong Ale.
  • A new category named American Strong Ale fills the remaining gaps, creating a new home for difficult-to-place beers such as Stone’s Arrogant Bastard (the example Gordon Strong used).
  • English Barleywine and American Barleywine remain unchanged.
  • Although they will be supplemented by a new Wheatwine style.

Historical Beer

    • So here’s a weird one.  We finally have separate styles listed under Fruit Beer and Specialty Beer, so we can avoid having the same thing written for category and style on a beer (something that can confuse over-imbibing judges’ beer goggles) – more on that below – and BAM! there’s a new category with NO styles whatsoever.  Instead of listing styles that may come or go in popularity, and wanting to accommodate new styles without needing to renumber again, the suggestion being made is to list the actual historical style of a beer entered into the Historical Beer category as a Descriptor.  The new BJCP Style Guide will describe the basic details of a number of example historical styles, for judges to reference.  However, entrants are NOT restricted to the example Descriptor styles listed.  So here’s what was directly mentioned in one way or another:
    • London Brown Ale – as noted above, the former Southern English Brown Ale is the historical style, so it has been renamed and the description will move here.
    • Roggenbier / Rauchbier – as noted elsewhere, these styles are less in commercial production than they were and their descriptions are being moved here as well.
    • As noted earlier, the Classic American Pilsner has been more accurately renamed as Pre-Prohibition Lager and moved here.
    • A Pre-Prohibition Porter has been proposed, to cover the styles known as East Coast Porter or Pennsylvania Porter, typified by Yuengling Porter.
    • Gose – a salty, coriander-dosed refreshing light beer (recently highlighted by Samuel Adam’s 26.2 beer for the Boston Marathon).
    • Grodziskie – also called Gratzer, this is a Polish style of beer made with 100% smoked wheat malt (the entire reason that Oak-Smoked Wheat Malt is even on the homebrew market), often with bread yeast
    • Lichtenainer – a sour style of smoked beer
    • Kentucky Common – a darker style of Cream Ale, currently in resurgence
    • Sahti – a Finnish beer made with juniper, often with bread yeast (recently getting press in the craft beer publications)As one might expect, selecting a Historical Beer style that is not delineated would require some notes about the style for the judges to use – and would face a greater challenge being accurately judged for the style (and brewing to style IS the focus of what we’re judging at a BJCP event).

Fruit Beer

Gordon Strong on the BJCP definition of “fruit”

We are being more explicit in how we define “fruit.” We are explicitly saying that we’re using the culinary definition of fruit and not the botanical version, because I don’t know how many times I’ve heard arguing about that. And we actually do use the phrse in here . . . umm . . . try to remember it exactly . . . “If you have to use the word ‘technically’ to justify a beer being in this category, that’s NOT what we mean.” Because . . . you wind up with cocnut, or, you know, tomato or something like that – and people argue endlessly on that. So we just . . . you know, if you wouldn’t eat it for breakfast, it’s probably not a fruit.

  • Fruit Beer, a formerly style-less category, now has three separate styles.  As always, all fruit beers are required to list their Base Style and what fruits are added.
  • The Fruit Beer style remains as a designation, although it now refers to a beer from a classic base style with only fruit added.
  • The new Fruit and Spice Beer style in pretty self-explanatory.  Be sure to list all of the featured fruit and spice additions.
  • A third catchall is the Specialty Fruit Beer style.  This may include fruits and overlap into the herbs or vegetables additive lists.  This does NOT include sour fruit beers, however.  Again, list all fruits and special ingredients.

Spiced Beer

  • The category formerly known as Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer is now named Spiced Beer, with three styles listed.
  • The first grouping is where the old category designation Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer lies now at the style level.  Although it is still written this way, Gordon Strong pointed out in his presentation that it was never meant to be said or used in full that way.  He stressed that the original intent was to have a grouping that would allow people to enter a Spice Beer, and Herb Beer, a Vegetable Beer, a Spice and Vegetable Beer, etc.  He was not quite clear whether this should be written as the style name itself or as a Descriptor for the style.
  • The second style group under Spiced Beer is the old Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer that has been renamed as Winter Seasonal Beer (a little easier to read and is descriptive of the full range of winter brews involving spiced.
  • A new style is Autumn Seasonal Beer.  Obviously, this includes pumpkin beers and harvest beers – there are many styles that capture the bounty and flavours of the season, just remember that this style needs to include some sort of spices, herbs, or vegetables.

Smoked Beer

  • Classic Rauchbier has been renamed to the more broad Classic Style Smoked Beer.  True German Rauchbier is rare enough that it is a Descriptor style under Historical Beers.
  • Other Smoked Beer has been renamed Specialty Smoked Beer.

Wood-Aged Beer

  • Many judges complained about the palate fatigue of having to judge smoked and wood beers together, so the decision was made to separate them into two different categories, each with a classic style and a specialty style.
  • Wood-Aged Beer remains as a style listing, although the definition is being clarified that this style is meant for first-use wood (i.e. clean wood flavour).
  • A Specialty Wood-Aged Beer style has been added to encompass all of the beers aged in liquor/wine barrels, as well as the standard special creations that homebrewers come up with.

Specialty Beer

  • Again, a formerly style-less category, Specialty Beer not only has its own styles now (to break up the often HUGE number of specialty beers that don’t fit in other categories), but two new categories have been added to further break it up.
  • One new Specialty Beer style is Clone Beer.  Like it sounds, this is meant to pick up (amongst other things) many of the clones that ended up clogging the Belgian Specialty Beer style.
  • Another new style is Mixed-Style Beer.  This is for things like Marzen/Oktoberfests made with ale yeast, etc.
  • Finally, the old Specialty Beer category has been replaced with the Experimental Beer style – something that Gordon says brings the grouping much closer to the original intent.

American Wild Ale

  • An all-new category that was formerly under the umbrella of Specialty Beer, this does not necessarily mean sour or literally wild organisms are required.
  • The first style is Brett Beer, meant to include 100% Brett and Brett-finished beers.
  • The second is Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer.  Fairly self-explanatory.
  • The third is Soured Fruit Beer (that do not fall under Lambics and the like).

Alternative Fermentables

  • The last new category in beer is for beers showcasing different grains.  American Rye Beer is now here.
  • The new style Alternative Grain Beer encompasses all of the standard and non-standard grains and sugar sources that can be used in beer.  Some native beers, such as Chicha, may be a tough call to enter here or under Historical Beer.
  • There is also a separate Honey Beer style.  Use of honey has gotten very popular and this is to help judges split the category for mini-BOS rounds.

I gotta run off to work at the brewery.  Hopefully, I’ll have time to get through the meads and ciders and a final wrapup tonight.  Cheers!

Stay tuned for BJCP Update Part 4 – Meads/Ciders and Wrapup posting soon!

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5 thoughts on “BJCP Update Part 3 – Ales and Specialty Beers

  1. Pingback: BJCP Update Part 2 – Overview and Lagers/Hybrid Styles | Brews & Stews

  2. Pingback: BJCP Update Part 4 – Meads/Ciders and Wrapup | Brews & Stews

  3. I suggest that in the “Vital Statistics” table in each beer style, the IBUs range be replaced by the BU:GU range. When working with a range, it makes a difference, and I believe BU:GU is a more accepted measure of the perception of bitterness. Alternately, the IBU range could be shown as well.

    • An excellent idea! Although I might prefer to see both a Session-strength and a Double IPA may have the same BU:GU ratio, but with the higher OG/FG, the Double would also have a correspondingly high IBU level.

      I hadn’t gotten as far as thinking about the actual listings yet – just the sorting, naming, and new styles . . .

  4. English IPA should be moved to the English Pale category either as a separate subcat or combined into an expanded strong bitter subcategory. They are far closer to ESB’s than American IPAs these days.

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