BJCP Update Part 4 – Meads/Ciders and Wrapup

After reading through the previous posts of the BJCP Update Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, we are finally ready to look at the non-beer categories of meads and ciders before I wrap up the presentation with links to Gordon Strong’s presentation slides (as a PDF file, graciously hosted by the bjcp.org website) and full video of the presentation posted to youtube by Chip Walton of Chop and Brew (as well as a few final notes of my own).  I will also point out the venues available for you to provide your own feedback and possibly influence the impending changes.  So, here we go:  meads!

Traditional Mead

  • This category remains unchanged with the three styles of Dry Mead, Semi-Sweet Mead, and Sweet Mead.
  • As before, all meads must list Descriptors for carbonation (Still, Petillant, or Sparkling) and for strength (Hydromel, Standard, or Sack).
  • As before (and true for all meads), the type of Honey used should be listed in the Descriptors only if there is significant character from that honey in the final product – if you list it, the judges will be looking for it and downgrade you if they can’t find that character.  There is never a need to list your ingredients unless the judges need to know to look for it.  In other words, don’t say that you used orange blossom honey if the final mead does not smell or taste of citrus!
  • It is interesting to note that all of the other mead categories (spiced, fruited, and specialty) have three Descriptors required:  sweetness, carbonation, and strength – yet the Traditional Mead category lists the strength at the style level.  The engineer in me balks at the same spec being listed for similar products at different tiers (style vs descriptor), however, many competitions have a large number of traditional honey-only mead and this is their way of saying they want organizers to split them by sweetness first.  I get it, but definitely have some mixed feelings about that – like I said, the engineer in me wants consistent logic in listing specifications of anything.

Melomel (Fruit Mead)

  • Our original two specific melomel styles still remain – Cyser (Apple Melomel) and Pyment (Grape Melomel).
  • Two new styles have been added to help break apart the growing number of “other fruit” meads:  Berry Mead and Stone Fruit Mead.
  • A final catchall style for Other Fruit Melomel remains.
  • As mentioned above, all meads must now list the Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, and strength.  Fruit meads must also list the fruits used.

Spiced Mead

  • Metheglins (spiced meads) were originally listed as a single style under the Specialty Mead category.  As fruits lends certain semi-consistent flavour profile notes, the same can be said for the use of spices – and a growing number of meadmakers are using spices, often in combination with goodies from the garden.  To ease splitting up entries and reduce palate fatigue, metheglins have been split out to form a new Spiced Mead category with two styles.
  • The first new style is Fruit and Spice Mead.  Clearly, both fruit and spice character is required.
  • The second is Spice/Herb/Vegetable Mead.  As with the S/H/V Beer style, the intent is to list NOT as a S/H/V Mead, but as a Spice Mead, or an Herb & Vegetable Mead, etc.
  • Starting to get a bit repetitious, but yes, all spiced meads must list Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, strength, and all character-bearing honey/fruits/herbs/spices/vegetables used.

Specialty Mead

  • As mentioned above, Metheglin is no longer a style under the Specialty Mead and has been moved to its own category (see above).
  • Braggot remains as the first specialty mead style.
  • A new Historical Mead style has been added.  With the number of new, experimental meads coming out now (largely fuelled by local mead superstar and fellow active member of Brew Free or Die, Michael Fairbrother or Moonlight Meads), this gives meadmakers a place to specifically identify more traditional meads to avoid being judged alongside the wild cornucopia of new flavors and styles in mead for fairer judging and less palate fatigue.
  • The Open Category Mead style has been renamed to Experimental Mead in order to be more consistent with the Experimental Beer style, and to more properly reflect the nature of most entrants in this style.
  • All Specialty Meads must list Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, strength, and special character-bearing ingredients.  If a special technique was used that would create a different experience for the drinker, that should be mentioned too.

Standard Cider and Perry

  • Common Cider and Common Perry have been renamed to New World Cider and New World Perry to more accurately reflect the heritage of this style of cider/perry.
  • English Cider, French Cider, and Traditional Perry remain the same.
  • All ciders/perries must list Descriptors for sweetness and carbonation.  Like listing honey types for meads, you should only list Descriptors for your apples/pears if they make a distinct difference in the character of the final beverage.

Specialty Cider and Perry

  • New England Cider remains the same.
  • Fruit Cider has been more accurately renamed Cider with Other Fruit.
  • Apple Wine has been renamed Applewine, which is more consistent with its heritage.  This may have something to do with the ever-growing number of people brewing and entering EdWort’s fortified Apfelwine recipe over the last half-decade (which I have made several versions of myself, with outstanding results).
  • A new style for Ice Cider has been added.
  • Another new style, by popular demand from the judges themselves trying to avoid palate fatigue, is Cider with Herbs/Spices.  Yes, like S/H/V, this should be entered as Cider with Herbs, Cider with Spices, or Cider with Herbs & Spices.
  • Finally, Other Specialty Cider or Perry remains the same.
  • All ciders and perries must list Descriptors for sweetness, carbonation, and whatever character-bearing ingredients the judges need to look for.

Wrap-Up / Conclusion

So . . . that’s the full rundown of what Gordon Strong presented.  There were a number of things that he discussed that leave a lot of vagueness and the fact that this is still relatively early in the process was clear.  I’ve had to do a lot of guesswork to try to figure out what the new list would look like.  I’ve gone through several iterations of an Excel spreadsheet, first based on only the slides, then on his presentation, then again upon re-evaluation for this writeup.  The new categories could be put anywhere in the list and this will require renumbering all of the categories below them – this means that a number of styles, particularly among the meads and ciders, that will remain the same but be renumbered.  Either way, we will no longer be able to trust (for some time, anyway) that Category 17 is Sours or Category 23 is Specialty without asking “Is that Category 23 under 2008 or 2014?”

 My Thoughts

Those that know me well, know that I pretty much always have some thoughts or observations and am generally not shy to speak up about them.  (Actually, my high school yearbook lists me as “Most Opinionated” for my ready willingness to debate pretty much any point.)  As you’ve probably noted as you’ve read through, I’ve had a few things to say already. 😉  Here’s what’s on the forefront of my mind as I finish this review/writeup of the potential changes:

  • I have never liked the idea that the Scottish/Scotch ales (that all have the same flavour profile, ingredients, and techniques) were split into so many separate styles, simply on the basis of strength.  Also, the method of identifying by the schilling cost was both archaic and, unless versed in the notation, nobody outside of the UK would translate /- to mean schillings.  Bravo to simplifying it to Scottish Light, Heavy, and Wee Heavy.  Although, to be fair, taking it further to Scottish Ale and Wee Heavy would be better, I think.
  • While I appreciate the simplification of the naming for English Bitters, I think it could stand condensing to simply Bitters and Strong Bitters.
  • As a judge, it has never made sense palate-wise to have Irish Reds in the same category with the Scottish ales.  As I mentioned above, the styles are based on Michael Jackson’s work and being the good Englishman he was, some of the old English Imperialist attitude led him to create several broad categories for English ales and one small grouping for the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish beers (that collectively received less attention than any one of the broad groupings of English ales).  I would really like to see the entire grouping of British ales re-sorted.  Stouts and porters are certainly their own categories (so distinctly so that even Jackson grouped the Irish stouts with the English ones).  Likewise, pale ales and IPAs are distinctly unique.  However, this entire mid-range from light bready beers through ambers and on into brown ales is a muddled mess, with some very similar beer styles in different categories.  Scottish ales certainly share a flavour profile with many brown ales.  The breadiness of Irish Reds, milds, and ESBs likewise put them in a similar flavour profile.  I think it would be really nice to see these re-sorted into something like British Light Ales and British Brown Ales.
  • I feel similarly with the broad grouping of Belgian Ales.  I really think (especially with the new Trappist Singel style) that a separate Monastic Beer category would make sense, to group the Singel, Dubbel, Tripel, maybe Quadrupel together away from the more experimental secular Belgian brewers.  Belgian white ale, Belgian pale ale, Belgian blond ale, Belgian golden strong ale, and Belgian dark strong ale could all go together as a Belgian Ale category (although I think the pale and blond could be combined into one category – either that, or the blond ale could be split between the pale and golden strong styles and eliminated).
  • The new American Wild Ale category is interesting – I think there will be a lot of discussion over exact interpretation.  I’ve always felt the French and Belgian Ale category something of a random junk drawer, misfitting in the same way as Irish Red amongst the Scotsbeers.  This new category includes many beers that are also similar to many of the less-wild ‘farmhouse’ beers.  I propose that we have a category called Farmhouse and Wild Ales to include the new Wild Ale styles, as well as Saisons and Biere de Garde/Noel.
  • If Belgian specialty ale is deleted, Belgian pale ale is regrouped, and saison/biere de garde are moved, this leaves Witbier orphaned.  However, with German Wheat and Rye Beer being simplified to German Wheat Beer, we could take that one step further to Continental Wheat Beer and include Wit.  Either that, or it could be considered a Spice Beer style (but the flavor profile is a wheat-plus-fruity-spicy mix not that far from hefeweizens).
  • Like I mentioned earlier, the idea of changing weizen to weissbier, while keeping dunkelweizen is going to confuse an awful lot of people.  Then consider that weizenbock is being renamed ‘dunkels weissbier’ – sitting right next to the retained ‘dunkelweizen’ – leaving us with similar-flavor weissbier-vs-dunkelweizen and similar-colour dunkelweizen-vs-dunkels weissbier.  Weizen, dunkelweizen, and weizen bock had a consistency in naming that we now lack.  Perhaps the change (since is this is trying to reflect what they call these beers in Germany) should be to Weissbier, Dunkels Weissbier, and Strong Weissbier?  Although honestly, I would really like to see krystallweizen called out as a separate style under a new style heading – the final product is a distinctly different experience when these beers are filtered bright.
  • Berliner weisse would fit under the Continental Wheat Beer category ingredients-wise and historically speaking, but yeah, should probably stay under Sour Beer.  With the introduction of the new Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer and Soured Fruit Beer styles, perhaps these could be grouped with Berliner weisse into a new Sour Beer category with a Wood-Aged Sour Beer style and an Experimental Sour Beer catchall.  This would allow the remainder of the current Sour Beer category (Flanders red ale, oud bruin, lambics, and gueuzes) to be renamed Belgian Sour Beer and possibly expanded in the future to reflect the growing worldwide popularity of the wide range of sour Belgian experiments.  A Blended Sour Beer style could be useful for beers such as Ommegang’s Three Philosophers that use a small percentage of sour beer.  Although an amazing beer, the sourness would probably cost some points as a Belgian Dark Strong Ale.  Interest in sours in still growing, alongpace with interest in barrels – I believe that we will be seeing many more of these sorts of slightly-sour blends in the years to come that will be hard to place otherwise:  not sour enough to compete with true sours, but sour enough to be inappropriate in base style categories.
  • Be there no doubt, there will be much screaming and tearing or hair over the changes to the IPA styles.  However, before the clamour begins, I DO feel the need to point out (although Gordon did not) that this provides a beautiful step-around of the Black IPA vs Cascadian Dark Ale battle.  As it is written as a Descriptor that is expecting Black IPA, there is nothing to stop the entrant from declaring the Descriptor as a Cascadian Dark Ale if it does indeed have the specific flavour profile of the Pacific Northwest hops and the correct malt balance!  Gordon mentioned Specialty IPA as a possible descriptor in his talk, but did not list it on his slides, so my assumption is that write-in style Descriptors would be allowed (so you could also list as, say, a Chocolate IPA or a Smoked IPA).
  • Gordon mentioned trying to change things to avoid people having to judge high-gravity and low-gravity beers together, but the IPAs will now have the Imperial-strength ones spread across the stylistic categories as Doubles.  I suppose that this does allow the organizers to sort out the IPAs by either strength or by colour/style.
  • I honestly don’t know what to think about replacing the Pilsner category with a Czech Lager category.  My first question is “Why?”  The second is “Wouldn’t splitting out German Lagers be a more distinct stylistic difference?”
  • The expansion of many categories, such as the Strong Ales and Stouts make a lot of sense.  Strong Ales cause intense palate fatigue – further splits in styles will help ease this, or allow organizers to spread the high-gravity stuff across more judges.  Stouts had way too many entries and further breakdown is good – at many competitions, it’s the stouts and the IPAs that overwhelm everything else in terms of numbers.
  • The reiteration of how things should be called out in the Spice/Herb/Vegetable styles is a necessary thing.  Entrants should be labeling their beers as being a Spice Beer or a Spice & Vegetable Beer – this is actually useful to the judges and organizers.  This was always the intent of the S/H/V Beer category.  In trying to avoid listing every permutation (spice beer, spice & herb beer, spice & vegetable beer, spice herb & vegetable beer, et al.), this intent was never adequately conveyed to the BJCP community – with the greater focus on description this time around, enforcing this is a very good idea.
  • I wonder about a few of the new styles.  Are there REALLY so many German leichtbiers, kellerbiers, topical stouts to need separate styles for each?
  • I think that the Historical Beer proposal could still stand to have some styles to split it up before the Descriptors are applied to specify the actual beer.  In the coming years, I believe that there will be a huge interest in historical re-creations, many of which will not fit elsewhere under current style listings.  I think a Primitive Beer style could be useful to separate the new-found interest in beers such as chicha that do not depend upon malted barley.  It may be useful to have an Unhopped Beer style as interest in historical beers continues to grow and be encouraged – this would allow a clear place to put gruits other than S/H/V Beer or Specialty.  Likewise a Historical Beer Hybrid could cover the ground between non-barley beers, gruits, and mead or wine crossovers.  Calling out a specific style groupings for Historical American Beer and Historical European Beer (vs a Historical World Beer?) could be useful differentiation for beer based on certain points in Euro-American technological advancement.  Of course, any of these style groupings would still require the specific beer to be called out as a Descriptor – but this mid-level grouping would allow organizers to split the historical beer entries more easily into logical groupings for the judges.
  • I’m not quite sure whether we even need to differentiate between the of ‘spices’ and ‘herbs’ in beers, wines, or meads.  Their use is very similar and they have the similar effect of sending the aroma/flavour direction of the beer into someplace that traditional ingredients do not reach.  I suggest we simply consider herbs to be a type of spice and simply things to Spice/Vegetable throughout.
  • It seems strange to see all meads requiring sweetness, carbonation, and strength while the style dictates the allowed extra ingredients – yet the traditional mead category lists the sweetness as styles.  It doesn’t feel right to have the same spec at different levels for meads, but from the knowledge that pure-honey meads have been the largest mead entry category, I know it was needed to split them apart.  However, this time, it would be nice to see traditional mead at the style level in with braggot, historical mead, and specialty mead with all three required Descriptors.
  • I dig all the alterations to ciders, though!
  • The BJCP has acknowledged the randomly-impetuous decision involved with naming Imperial IPA as a style.  Like the Black-vs-Cascadian issue, the Imperial-vs-double issue has long led to heated discussions (and even rumours of an occasional fistfight).  The industry itself, while having no clear consensus, has been leaning towards the use of Double IPA in the majority of late, and the 2014 BJCP is reflecting that.  It is interesting to note, however, that the industry has only settled on ‘double’ for IPAs – most over-strength beers outside of IPAs are being labeled as Imperial hefes, Imperial reds, Imperial browns, etc.  The widespread use of the term ‘Imperial’ outside of Russian Imperial stouts is purely the result of the earlier BJCP decision to use Imperial IPA as a style name.  Only time will tell how this change will proliferate through the market.  I think this will reinforce the industry lean towards ‘double’ and we will see more Double IPAs than Imperial IPAs.  Whether there become more double reds and double browns than Imperial reds and browns, only time will tell.
  • Dealing with re-numbering after so many years of judges having memorized them, there will be much confusion during discussions.  Likewise, organization for competitions and all of the forms will need to change slightly to adjust to the changes.  There will be many people asking “2008 or 2014?”
  • As Chip Walton puts it at the end of his video recording of the presentation:  “The BJCP is being progressive, and proactive, and seeing the changes and the evolution in beer, and instead of, you know, sticking to those categories as they stand and forcing everything into place, they’re lettin’ it kind of . . . they’re opening the gate and they’re redefining things and they’re helping us redefine what we do in brewing as they go along, and I think that’s amazing.”

Like the list of styles itself, the reasons for the changes are myriad.  Some are logical splits of categories/styles that had way too many entries to manage well.  Some are reinterpretations to reflect the original sources more accurately.  Some are to accommodate future changes (prime example being Gordon talking about the heavier use of Descriptors to avoid needing to renumber categories or styles again).  Some seem a little random.  Look at each change yourself and think about why it’s being proposed, if it really makes sense alongside the rest of the style guidelines, if it’s really an accurate depiction of expected entries, and whether it would be judging easier or more confusing.  Speak up!

Places to voice your opinions:

  • Right here on this blog, just respond to any of the posts.  WordPress forces me to moderate and approve posts by hand, but as long as you’re on-topic and not too offensive, I’ll approve pretty much anything.
  • Chip is encouraging everyone to post responses at any of the Chop & Brew locations: website, youtube presentation page, or facebook.
  • Twitter feeds:  @DarkBroodBrews (Me) or @chopandbrew (Chip) to discuss our posts.  Other possible feeds are @BJCPComms, @GordonStrong, @HomebrewAssoc, or @brewingnetwork.
  • Finally, direct comments may be emailed to style@bjcp.org.

From the Horse’s Mouth

Obviously, this is all my interpretation of Gordon’s presentation to the 2014 National Homebrew Convention, which is, in turn, his interpretation of the conclusions of the panel working on this update (who are spread far and wide).  If you don’t know his name yet, you haven’t done much with beer judging or the BJCP – Gordon is the President of the BJCP, not by dint of elections, but because he has accumulated more judging experience than anybody else in the world . . . and by a significant margin.  His experience points rank him as a Grand Master Level VIII – there are no other judges ranked above Level V (and only three of them, only three at Level IV, and only five at Level III).  If you would like to see for yourself what he has to say, the Beer Judge Certification Program has shared his presentation slides as a PDF file.

Gordon Strong’s Slides from NHC 2014 (direct link)

If you don’t know him, Chip Walton is the beerophile videoman behind Northern Brewer’s first set of Brewing TV episodes (with Jay Keeler and Mike Dawson), and who now does video marketing work for Summit Brewing Company.  He is also the creator of the Chop and Brew video blog – one might easily notice that he and I have some similar passions. 😉  Chip has been working hard to record a number of the wonderfully informative presentations at the National Homebrew Convention and will be editing and posting them for everybody over the coming months.  Aware of the time-sensitive nature of this one, he has already edited and posted Gordon’s entire presentation to his blog and youtube accounts.

Gordon Strong’s NHC 2014 Presentation

Finally, I have put together an Excel spreadsheet tracking the changes.  The Excel file contains one tab that lists the 2008 BJCP styles and a second tab that tracks the changes into the 2014 proposals.  If you’re not interested in playing around with the information on the sheet, I have also output it as a PDF file that will print on two 8.5″x11″ landscape pages.

2008-14 BJCP Changes Excel / 2008-14 BJCP Changes PDF

(one final round of updating and I’ll upload these two files)

Over the next few weeks, the BJCP will post the full text of the proposed 2014 Style Guidelines and there will follow a comment period of up to a couple of months before being closed to write the final draft.  Then forms will need to be updated, all the versions of the BJCP software (competition software, web apps, and phone apps), new exams, new organizer guidelines, etc. – Gordon says he hopes to have it all phased in by the beginning of 2015.  Of course, then will follow the updates from everybody else, like updates for BeerSmith and such.

Be sure to provide some feedback!  Make your voice heard!  These are OUR guidelines that we use on a regular basis around the globe.  The mighty Brewers Association style list used for the GABF will likely reflect the changes to the BJCP in the years to come.  The entire craft beer industry reflects in beer styles brewed and in naming conventions how the BJCP organizes and defines beer.  I encourage you to comment on these posts and start a good discussion on the subject.  By weighing in on this subject, you personally have the opportunity to have a direct influence on the future direction, operation, and names used across the world in the beer hobby and industry.  Chip has also encouraged everyone to post comments on his youtube page for Gordon’s presentation.  And of course, use the BJCP forums!  This is our chance to mold the style guidelines for the future – it will be a long, long time before an update of this magnitude is considered again.

See also:  BJCP Update Part 1 – History of Beer Styles, BCJP Update Part 2 – Overview and Lagers/Hybrid Styles, BJCP Update Part 3 – Ales and Specialty Beers.

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One thought on “BJCP Update Part 4 – Meads/Ciders and Wrapup

  1. Great analysis of the changes, well done!
    I particularly question regional categories (like Czech Lager, Irish Beer) subsuming time-honoured categories such as Pilsner or Stout.
    The whole issue of complexity faced by the BJCP inspired me to create a beer chart that clearly shows all categories at a single view. A chart for each of the 2008 and the new 2014 categories can be seen at: aka-post.tumblr.com
    An article on how I created the chart can be seen at: aka-post-2.tumblr.com
    I think it provides a very interesting overview/comparison of the beer style / categories.
    And I would really welcome any feedback to help improve the format/concept.

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