BJCP Update Part 2 – Overview and Lagers/Hybrid Styles

Continuing from BJCP Update Part 1 – History of Beer Styles, we delve into the 2014 proposed changes to the BJCP Style Guide.

A small revision in 2008 caused a small hurricane of grumbling – one would never have guessed it was a minor update from the uproar, but that’s what happens with passionate people.

Now, the BJCP has announced the next long-awaited update (through a presentation by Gordon Strong) – and whoo BOY, it’s a DOOZIE!  Huge changes proposed throughout, even different information to be specified by the entrant for some beers.  I will step through it all with you here, as now is our time to review and comment.  In general, there was some effort put into simplifying the descriptions and names to reduce confusion and redundancy.

  • For one thing, all of the comments such as: “No diacetyl.” are being eliminated – as judges, we should primarily be looking for what IS supposed to be there.  Unless the style states it is acceptable, assume that it isn’t.
  • Many descriptions are being rewritten to focus on the experience of the taster and less on the ingredients and/or process – we judges can guess all we want about what was done, but our job is to evaluate the final product.
  • Many descriptions are just being simplified but removing unneeded information.
  • Likewise, many style names are being simplified.  The original idea was that Jackson’s special bitter, best bitter, and premium bitter were similar enough to consider one style (although there were subtle differences originally) – common practice has led to people actually referring to the style out loud, saying:  “special-best-premium bitter,” which was not the intent.  To make things easier on everyone, this style is now simply best bitter.
  • Many styles being updated or added have suffered from years being interpreted from an American view and are being corrected to properly reflect how they are viewed in their countries of origin.
  • Some beer styles have been moved around to avoid beer judges facing a category that has low- and high-ABV beers in the same grouping.
  • Some categories have been split or added to allow more-similar flavour profiles to be isolated together (such as smoke beers being separated from wood-aged beers).
  • A few styles currently require Descriptors.  Fruit and specialty beers need to name their base style, meads have to list sweetness, strength, and carbonation, etc.  This concept is being HUGELY expanded.  Styles that now have required Descriptors include IPAs, lambics, and pretty much every kind of specialty beer – many with several different required Descriptors.
  • For conventions of this post, I will be colouring the text for the beer styles.  Red text will signify a 2008 style or category name, while green text will signify the 2014 names.  If something is being called out as a specific required Descriptor, you will see it in orange text.  If a name remains black, it is just being used for descriptive purposes.  I hope this helps to keep things clear.

Okay, so why don’t we step through the changes, shall we?

Light Lager Category

  • Lite American Lager renamed to American Light Lager (for consistent naming conventions).
  • Standard American Lager renamed to American Lager, which now includes the lower-ABV range from Premium American Lager.
  • the former high-ABV range of Premium American Lager renamed to International Pale Lager.
  • Munich Helles remains the same.
  • Dortmunter Export renamed to German Exportbier.
  • German Pilsner has been renamed German Pils and moved to the Light Lager category.
  • German Leichtbier added (like an American Light Lager with German character).
  • Kellerbier added (both Munich and Franconian variants).  This may be listed as two separate styles, or it may be one style with the variant (Munich/Franconian) needing to be listed as a Descriptor (how I have shown it in my tables).
  • It is possible that Munich Helles, German Exportbier, German Pils, and German Leichtbier may be grouped as some sort of German Pale Lager style as all be listed as Descriptors.

Category 2 – Pilsner / Czech Lager

  • Pilsner is dead as a category – it is now replaced with Czech Lagers.  A new catchall category for all flavours Czech, it includes the new styles of Czech Light Lager, Czech Amber Lager, and Czech Dark Lager.
  • As mentioned above, German Pilsner has been moved into the Light Lager category.
  • Bohemian Pilsner remains as the anchor for the category, although it is now being called Czech Pilsner.

European Amber Lager

  • A new catchall style, International Amber Lager, heads the category, including all of the amber lagers that are not distinctly Czech – sort of the lager equivalent of American Amber Ale.
  • Vienna Lager remains the same.
  • Oktoberfest/Marzen is being split up.  The traditional copper malty Oktoberfest ale shall hence be known exclusively as Marzen.  To Germans, a beer known as an ‘Oktoberfest’ must have been brewed by a Munich brewery and served at the Oktoberfest event – something most of us can’t manage.  To avoid issues with the semi-appellation, the choice is for the more historical name of Marzen, or March beer (when it was traditionally brewed).
  • What is served at Oktoberfest in Germany today is NOT Marzen.  It is a much lighter style, often called Wiezen.  With some confusion already stemming from the similar names of hefe/dunkelweizen, Berlinerweisse,  weissebier, and witbier, the powers that be have decreed Festbier to be a much more descriptive name to use.  I can’t disagree with that.

Dark Lager

  • Dark American Lager renamed International Dark Lager.
  • Munich Dunkel remains the same.
  • Schwarzbier (Black Beer) naming simplified to just Schwarzbier.

Bock

  • Maibock/Helles Bock naming simplified to just Helles Bock.
  • Traditional Bock is more descriptively Dunkels Bock, as it is called in Germany.
  • Doppelbock and Eisbock remain the same.

Light Hybrid Beer

  • Cream Ale, Blonde Ale, and Kolsch remain the same
  • American Wheat or Rye Beer has been simplified to just American Wheat Beer.  Rye-centric beers are now meant to be in the Alternative Grains category (except for rye IPAs – more on that in the next post).
  • By popular demand from long-clamouring Aussies, the Australian Sparkling Ale style has been added

Amber Hybrid Beer

  • Northern German Altbier has been eliminated and subsumed into International Amber Lager – although you can probably still list it as a Descriptor.
  • California Common Beer renamed to simply California Common, reflecting current usage.
  • Dusseldorf Alt renamed simply to Alt.

In BJCP Update Part 3 – Ales and Specialty Beers later tonight, I will continue the review of the proposed changes.  Time for a beer break for me!

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BJCP Update Part 1 – History of Beer Styles

Michael Jackson’s original work into sorting the Beers of the World into categories and styles in order to be able to compare them was a groundbreaking way to look at the huge variety of beers across the western hemisphere.  It was an immensely useful discussion tool for beer-o-philes and brewers, to compare the results of different ingredients and techniques – spawning an entirely new vocabulary around beer.  It also become an indispensable crutch for the beer sales industry to describe unseen products to potential customers, finally allowing marketers to avoid the dreaded:  “it’s like ThisOther Brand, but . . .” descriptions, who then conveyed this terminology down through the tiers.  After wholesalers and retailers passed it to taphouses and servers, it rapidly got picked up by the consumers – who included a number of homebrewers, starting to organize into larger clubs and groups.  It was inevitable that the homebrewing community would latch onto this new way of looking at and describing beers.  Competitions between homebrewers were getting larger and harder to select a single Best of Show from the wide variety – many had begun to apply some of Jackson’s categories to split the large number of entries into groups, allowing beers to be more accurately judged against more similar beers.

Geeks being geeks, heated discussions arose over interpretation of which category a beer belonged in – or about which categories had been selected from the large list to sort the beers with.  From this silliness, the first inkling of what would become the Beer Judge Certification Program was born – first, to delineate and codify a standard set of styles for the purposes of consistently running homebrew competitions to the same standards and definitions – their secondary purpose was to write up a “Robert’s Rules of Order” for running competitions – and thirdly, to determine a method to certify someone as adequately knowledgeable to fairly and accurately judge a beer.  Heady list, that.

The biggest problem was that, like Imperial measurements, the categories are based on real-world observation and not consistent specifications.  By way of analogy, the Imperial measurement system (inches/feet/yards) was based on the length of feet, fingers, and strides, the height of dogs and horses, etc. – which of course, varied depending on who was doing the measuring.  (i.e. Sue and Henri measuring the same distance with their feet will get very different results, just as a Belgian and a Londoner mean very different things by ‘dark ale’.)

Most of Jackson’s beer styles were based on his own experiences, so ales from Britain and Belgium have the most differentiation.  His general preference for ales also categorized a significant number of German ales.  For example, most beers are not considered separate categories based on strength, if all else is equal, yet Scottish ales have 4-5 separately-identified strength levels, English Bitters have 3, as do Porters.  Mild, Southern Brown Ale, Northern Brown Ale, Old Ale, and Barleywine are distinguished primarily by their increasing strength and body (although there are some subtler differences).  Belgium has a bewildering array of bizarre and unusual beers that are completely different from most of the European beers’.  The sheer size of the market forced American Lagers to be split into several styles on the basis of strength and/or colour (although, compared to most beer styles worldwide, they are all pretty much the same).  Germany had some of the strictest brewing laws in the world and many styles were only permitted to be made by certain brewers or in certain locations.  In fact, many cities only made one consistent style, leading Jackson to name many styles as the locals did, simply after the name of the city:  Dusseldorfer (Alt), Bitburger (pilsner), Munchen (Marzen), Dortmunder, Einbeckisch (bock), Vienna, Cologne (Kolsch).  Many styles were also named for their traits, such as dark ale (dunkel), the black lager from Bitburger (schwarzbier), the white beer from Berlin (Berlinerweisse), the yeasty white wheat beer from Munich (hefeweizen), its crystal-clear filtered version (krystalweizen), or its dark counterpart (dunkelweizen).

Category groupings were also complicated.  British ales were essentially grouped by colours into light, brown, porter, and stout – yet the historical English arrogance still forced Jackson to separate out Irish and Scottish ales, (although the English browns of the time ranged from light and bready (like Irish reds), through smoky and malty (like Scottish ales), up to nearly as dark as porters without the roast character.  Likewise, English and Irish stouts were only slightly different in the use of roasted vs. black barley.  Belgian beers were grouped more by characteristics, grouping all of the wide array of differing sours into one group (then throwing German Berlinerweisse in with them), the abbey/monastic styles in another, and pretty much everything else between England and Germany/Austria into a third.  This last group includes the crisp-clean, cloudy Witbier, which logically, one might group with wheat beers, or perhaps white ales.  It includes the Belgian pale ale, something that describes a malty, light-coloured beer in the gravity range of a dubbel (a monastic beer from the second group) with a little less fruit than a tripel would have – and he completely ignored the in-house abbey table beers, now known as singels.  Interestingly, it also includes the Belgian/French farmhouse ales full of spices and wild grains (and often yeasts), such as saisons.  Sort of a wild card category based on the geographic area.  Yet lager styles, overall, are grouped more my colour than geographic or historic relations.

Does all this lead to a bit of a confusing mess?  You bet it does.  The Beer Judge Certification Program worked very hard to pull all of these different concepts into a usable set of categories and style descriptions, and for the most part, it has worked very well for everything from in-club competitions to the National Homebrewers’ Competition. The Brewers’ Association now has their own (expanded) set of styles and categories for use in commercial competitions, such as the Great American Beer Festival.  From the start of the ‘craft beer revolution,’ with Jim Koch educating American drinkers that there was more to beer than American light lager and cream ale, the craft beer industry has embraced the use of style definitions to market their products.  As the industry exploded in leaps and bounds, the BJCP and BA styles became totally ingrained in the language and thinking at all levels – until it became so accepted that the newest generation of brewers are rebelling against being confined by ‘the rules’ and are celebrating each and every ‘not-to-style’ brew they release.

Stay tuned for BJCP Update Part 2 – Overview and Lagers/Hybrid Styles in a short bit.