Thursday, 6 March 2008

The bjcp rules

I like to occasionally bury my boot into the bjcp's bollocks. It makes me feel good. Rather that than take my frustration out on the family.

I bring this up because you probably haven't noticed the recent comments on one of my old Porter and Stout posts. Take a look now. Yes, now. Don't think "Oh, I'll look at that later." Do it now.

Someone's stepped up do defend the bjcp. Fair enough. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. I'm prepared to argue my corner. Healthy debate is, er, healthy.

As the new comments were directed at all the participants in the discussion, I though it best to tell you. If you're one of the people who was in the discussion, that is. Feel free to respond (I do mean all of you now) , whatever your point of view.

40 comments:

Kristen England said...

Lets continue the discussion here shall we? :) I would love it for everyone to state their opinions, facts not feelings, so things can be made better. It does no good to say something is shite without trying to make it better, no?

Ron, the resources you were talking about before, are they hard to come by? Meaning can I see them somewhere? Check them out? Online? Anything. I very much agree with you that if the BJCP is going to use historic stylistic references (eg, 60,70, 80, etc) they damn well better be correct. Maybe you guys can help me make a list of things to change, things that are right adn wrong, etc etc. Make sense??

I understand a lot of you don't have a lot experience with US beers so lets just keep this to the UK and European stuff for now, cool?

I very much do appreciate a good discussion.

Ron Pattinson said...

Are you the Kristen England who is Continuing Education Director of the bjcp?

Kristen England said...

As I said in the other post, yes sir, I am.

Ron Pattinson said...

Sorry, I missed that.

Try "Scottish Ale Brewer" by W.H. Roberts, 1847 as a reference on Scottish beer. I own a reprint of it. That tells you all you need to know about the shilling system of classification. I own a reprint, which was published in the USA, I believe.

As I said before, I use old brewing manuals, brewing records, advertisements, newspaper clippings. Some are on the web, many aren't, in particular brewing records. You have to go to the archive to see those.

You can find references to and in some cases the documents themselves here:

http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/
beerale.htm

There are links to some online resources here:

http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/
links.htm#resources

Here are details of several hundred British Stouts from the 1940's and 1950's:

http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/uk/
British_Stouts.xls

How good's your German, by the way? I find the 19th century stuff printed in gothic typeface a real pain in the arse to read. There's some interesting stuff at the end of that page about German sour beers, but it's not very easy to read. I haven't had time to translate it yet.

If you want to get some idea of the books I own, you can see photos of some of them here (I'm sad, I know):

http://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/
search/label/bookcase

I don't like to boast, but I can read 10 languages. I have books about beer in all of them. I haven't got a complete list of the books I own and haven't got time to compile one now.

Take a look through my posts about beer styles. I always say what my sources were.

Alan said...

"...I don't like to boast, but I can read 10 languages..."

You are such a brain, Ron. ;-)

I think this is an excellent example how your organization of information through the informal medium of a blog assists in understanding. The only thing I regret in this life (the only one!) is that you cannot yet digitize your entire archive of primary material. Go Ron!

Mike said...

I'd like to add my own complaint about the lack of accuracy in the BJCP "style" guide. Your online guide, for example, lists, in section 16e, the following "recognised styles" (that's your phrase):

* Blond Trappist table beer
* Artisinal Blond
* Artisinal Amber
* Artisinal Brown
* Belgian-style Barleywines
* Trappist Quadrupels
* Belgian Spiced Christmas Beers
* Belgian Stout
* Belgian IPA
* Strong and/or Dark Saison
* Fruit-based Flanders Red/Brown

I am not as expert as Ron on beer history and types, however, I am an active member of Zythos, and have read on my own.

Few of the list above are styles. A "blond Trappist table beer"? I'd really like to know where that came from. Or the popular in America only (!) "Trappist Quadrupel".

But beyond that, Trappist beers, which are listed elsewhere in your "style guide", including the tripel and dubbel are not styles in the sense that you can define more than one or two beers.

I accept that the BJCP is perhaps doing the best it can with limited resources, however, I know Ron and I can guarantee that his resources are far more limited than yours (perhaps other than his ability to read texts in different languages).

The difference between Ron and the BJCP (at least until now) seems to be in motivation -- he is motivated to find the correct information while the BJCP is apparently not.

Kristen England said...

Ron,

Thanks for the start. Just ordered a few of the ones you listed, particularly the Roberts 1847. I speak decent German but the wife is fluent so she's a big help. Reading old text anything is a PITA so I feel your pain brother. I speak Swedish/Norwegian but thats not a big help in brewing. Ill look over all this stuff and get back with you.

Mike,

Firstly, there are no 'real' styles in Belgium that you can hang your hat on. They brew what they want more so than anyone on the planet I'd bet. They get very militant if you try to put their beers in any kind of order. The BJCP does its best to categorize beers on similarity, not necessarily on tradition. Blonde Trappist is relatively new. Have you ever had the Westvletrn Blonde. My favorite of their whole lineup. Westmalle Extra would fit here also. La Trappe makes a quadrupple. I can name beers for each of the things listed if you like. So its not just the US my friend although Im sure the US leads the way in asininely massive 'belgian' beers.

How can you say that the BJCP is not motivated to learn more. Am I not here? Am I arguing anyone is wrong? Or am I trying to learn as much as I can? Getting new sources of information. Talking about different beers.

BTW - what is this mysterious Zythos of which you speak? It sounds familiar.

Ron Pattinson said...

I find Swedish quite handy. I've got some excellent brewery histories in Swedish. I've posted a bit on this blog about early Swedish lager.

Google Books is an excellent resource. They have several complete 19th century brewing manuals:

http://books.google.com/
books?um=1&ct=property-revision&as_
brr=1&q=brewing&btnG=Search+Books

I'd recommend Tizzard. Black is just weird - he keeps going on about electricity and the evil effect of metal in brewing equipment. It makes it hard to take him seriously on any other topic. The 1824 Encyclopedia Brittanica has a big section on brewing. Google Books also has "The Statutes of the UK 1807 - 1869". Really handy for all the beer-related legislation.

Mike said...

Kristen:

Your comments about Belgian brewers I find quite reasonable. However, why do you see no difference between a single beer and a "style"? Yes, there is one Trappist brewery making a single beer with the brand name "Quadrupel". How then does this one beer become a style?

Also, your list does not mention a "Blond Trappist," it mentions a "Blond Trappist table beer" which is a very different type of beer, as well as a non-existent type of beer.

Motivation: how long has the BJCP existed? Why has it taken so many years for the BJCP to become interested in improving its information? It's not that I don't appreciate your being here, I just wonder why no one there seemed to care until now.

Zythos: strange that you ask about that. There's a link to it on your site.

Boak said...

I find style guides reasonably helpful when trying to copy a brew, but I do laugh when I read the guidelines for European styles, wondering how they can be so detailed ("southern" and "northern" english brown ale) and yet vague ("czech style lager").

I wouldn't get too worked up, except that I read a lot of homebrewing blogs, and it seems lots of our cousins across the pond do get worked up about exactly what style they're brewing to. You get the impression they'll consider a batch of lager ruined if it has a hint of fruity esters, regardless of whether it actually tastes nice or not.

Lachlan said...

Hey Ron, I sat the BJCP exam last weekend. Just thought you'd like to know!

Kristen - further to the discussion of European styles in the other thread, I thought I'd add my own two cents (even though I'm a LONG way from Europe).

As mentioned by someone else, I get the distinct impression with a lot of the styles that they are based on the beers that are bottled and exported to the US, rather than any first-hand experience at the source of these styles. I don't know that to be a fact, and I don't get that impression for all styles, but I perceive it to be there.

The most confusing thing for me is the choices of what gets defined as a style and what doesn't. For instance, there are three different styles for English bitter and another three for Scottish ale, yet there is only one style for the entire Czech Republic. I would think that if a rule were consistently applied you would at least have 10% and 12% světlá, plus tmavý and polotmavý styles.

The Alt and Kölsch guidelines all seem very sensible, making mention of the fact that the most authentic versions are served in the Altstadt brewpubs etc. But they completely ignore the fact that the beers are served via gravity - and after all that splashing they certainly don't have "medium to medium-high carbonation".

Munich Dunkel is a bit of an odd one. It's rather tightly defined, to the point that a 'dunkel' brewed in Franconia or the Czech Republic fall outside of the guidelines.

North German Altbier really confuses me too - why bother with a style which is effectively industrial pils coloured with Sinamar?

And in the Weizen styles, the guidelines say that "By German law, at least 50% of the grist must be malted wheat" but I've never found anything to back this up. Warner's Wheat Beer book says that it's merely a consumer expectation. And the Reinheitsgebot (or at least Ron's translation) certainly makes no mention of it.

On the flipside, I think the way Belgian styles are handled is pretty good. I certainly don't think the BJCP guidelines are the devil incarnate, but like Ron and others I do think they are a little wacky.

(Sorry for the epic post!)

Kristen England said...

Boak,

I agree that a lot of people here focus on the trees and miss the entire forest. The more experienced and educated of us are doing our best to try and nullify these mooks. As to the UK brown ale, I have to agree and disagree. The 'sweet' brown ale like Mann's is a dieing style. They have a lot of info on their site. I very much like this beer and it is very different from Newcastle and the like. I agree that the north and south moniker are misleading. If you look at the mild category there is just one. Mild. But these have a massive range of dark to light flavors. The brown ales, in my experience, are much less broad so one would think they would be combined into a single category, yes? These are all the things we will be working on for the next major revamp.

Czech lagers below...

Lachlan,

The beers are not based on only things we can get in the US. I personally made sure of that. What is necessary is that we choose beers that are widely available (in most cases) and in bottle for when possible. We need people to be able to try some without having to venture to far. I sure Ron and the other guys know that there is some spectacular UK beers made that are shipped to less that a 50mi radius of the breweries and only on cask. Despite this fact, there are some beers so good that they need to be on the 'list'.

The problem with the Eastern Europeanesque (read Czech) beers is that there are so many different interpretations on a pale lager theme. My wife is Hungarian and I just spent a month over there drinking myself silly on pale lagers. I do agree with you though. Is there anywhere inparticular that I should look about the different Czech lager styles? I know a lot of it is based on gravity but don't know specific names and such. Can you guys help me out? Where do I find this stuff.

Munich Dunkle is meant to only include those 'rotbiers' and nothing else. There are very few dark lagers that I can think of in Bavaria/Franconia being made that don't fit into munich dunkle, schwarzbier or bock(s).

The wheat thing I agree and is something that will be addressed. We didn't want to do any of the verbage on this last 'edit' but save it for the next overhaul.

The next true update, not revision, of the guidelines will deal with different lagers and probably start a new category. It will also deal with a lot of other stuff and Ill ensure it include a bibligraphy/citations/references.

We just released the new revisions in the last few weeks so if you haven't seen the new set, the examples have been completely revamped and a lot of the Belgian stuff has been updated.

Check it:
http://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/catdex.html

Anonymous said...

The Czech Republic is not in Eastern Europe, it is in Central Europe. The beers of Hungary have little in common with Czech beers.

Anonymous said...

Also most Franconian lagers(dark and light) are very bitter and very differnt from Bavarian beers.

Lachlan said...

Thanks for the response Kristen.

I can't help but wonder if a lot of my concerns would be issued if there was a statement on how a style becomes a BJCP style. Has that ever been considered? Or is there already one that I'm not aware of?

Thanks for clarifying the bit about beer distribution. I'm sure you can see that, in general, it's the more industrial and less 'authentic' brewers that are exported to the world. So whilst the BJCP guidelines state specifically state the Gueuze style denotes 'oude gueuze' and not the filtered sweetened stuff, the Altbier brewpubs are lumped together with Diebels etc., with no differentiation made between the two. I think there's an interesting philosophical question there - is tasting a beer like Diebels a help or hindrance in coming to understand the Altstadt brewpub beers if you don't have access to anything else?

I usually envision Czech lagers as a table with colour (světlý/polotmavý/tmavý/černý) on one axis and gravity (°Balling) on the other, but I'm no expert. The majority of pale beers are either 10° or 12°. Evan Rail's book might be a good start. Here's Ron's take on Czech styles - http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/czecintr.htm

With the Dunkel thing, I guess I was thinking of many of the smaller Franconian dunkels (which obviously aren't distributed much, or at all) which I've found can be quite fruity and/or hoppy/bitter, much like a darker kellerbier.

Kristen England said...

A-no-ny-mous,

I misspoke, Czech repub is central. A little more info than more bitter would be good.

Lachan,

Actually, we are in the process on putting this together right now. Here are some of the highlights, let me know what you think may need to be added, explained, etc. Its an FAQ and the topics include:

- Why we have guidelines

- why we lump beers together into certain styles

- how we come up substyles

- why you should use them ONLY as a reference

- how the commercial examples were choosen

- How did you choose the commercial examples?

- why the guidelines keep changing

- how were the data ranges determined

- why the guidelines treat styles differently

- how to suggest additional styles

- how to report errors, flaws, etc.

This will be separate from the reference page we will be coming up with but should go a long way in answering a lot of questions that we continually receive.

Anything you guys would add?

Ron Pattinson said...

Franconian Dunkles is very different from the Munich version.

Franconian Dunkles is pretty hoppy. There's quite a bit of diversity in the malt flavours and I've heard very different recipes from brewers: 100% Vienna; pilsner malt and farbmalz, pilsner malt and munich malt. I guess the Munich verion is usually made with the last of those three.

If you go back 100 years, Kulmbacher was a well-known type of beer. It seems to be the ancestor of the modern Franconian style. Heineken at one time brewed both a Culmbacher (as they called it) and a Munchener. There must have been a clear difference between the two. I've posted a little about Kulmbacher.

As for Czech styles, I would say look at my page:

http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/
czecintr.htm#stylesnow

The problem is that there are no English words to describe them. The best I could come up with as way of translation were German terms.

Evan Rail posted on the other discussion. He is probably the best person to ask about Czech beer today. I've tried to provide some sort of historical framework, but he has the firsthand experience.

There used to be a much wider range of lagers brewed in Germany. Similar, in fact, to what you see in the Czech Republic today. Pale, amber and dark lagers in a range of strengths.

Ron Pattinson said...

Brown Ale. I have quite a lot of information about Brown Ale in the period 1940-1960 from the Whitbread gravity book. You can see some of it here:

http://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/
search/label/Brown%20Ale

In all I have the OG, FG and colour of 120-odd Brown Ales. They are quite diverse, but there are definite clusters of similar beers. What makes it really valuable, is that the beers come from all over the country. Maybe I should publish the spreadsheet.

Kristen England said...

Ron,

Thanks for the Czech stuff and brown ale spreadsheet would be helpful.

Also, the FAQ I was talking about has now been posted and can be found here:

http://www.bjcp.org/bjcpfaq.html#stylefaq

Let me know what you guys think.

Ron Pattinson said...

See today's post for the Brown Ale Spreadsheet.

I also have a spreadsheet for Stouts:

http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/uk/
British_Stouts.xls

There are 300-odd entries.

Russ said...

Hey guys... I stumbled into this argument after getting all in a huff about the BA's new style guideline for Leipziger Gose (but that's another story). Anyway, as someone who occasionally enters homebrew competitions, I would argue it's important to keep in mind why the guidelines exist and why people enter competitions. I enter competitions to get critical feedback on my technique and the best way to do that is to brew with objective goals... that is, to brew according to a defined style. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy beers that aren't to style. But as I get better at brewing styles, I find I understand how various ingredients and techniques impact the characteristics of my beer. And that kind of understanding allows me to better formulate recipes and brew the beer I want, whether it's a traditional style like a Doppelbock or something I dream up like a cherry Baltic porter. Hopefully that will help some of you on the other side of the pond to understand where we're coming from.

Beyond that, the breadth of the styles would seem to be a practical matter. There are certain styles I love (e.g. Gose, Sticke Altbier) that simply aren't worth their own categories because not enough people brew them. I brewed a Franconian-style Bockbier and it was poorly judged because it was too dark and bitter. I didn't get upset; it just helped me to better understand the difference between the Bavarian-style Bocks defined by the BJCP and the Bocks I enjoyed in Bamberg. So I guess my point is that homebrewers who brew to style and BJCP folks who set up the guidelines aren't trying to re-define or ignore certain styles... We're simply trying to be better brewers, and hopefully the vast majority of us can separate some of these issues from our general ability to sit down and enjoy a beer on its own terms regardless of style guidelines.

Lachlan said...

Let me know what you guys think.


I think it's a very good development.

It still doesn't really get into many specifics though. For instance, who decided that bitters should be split into ordinary, best and ESB?

Perhaps a bibliography for each sub-style would be good. So you can say that the primary reference for style X is article Y, and people can check it out if they want.

I'd also like to see many more footnotes for some of the more interesting assertions in the Study Guide too.

And is there any mechanism for removing a style?

I guess I'm still not really sure of the philosophy of/vision for the style guidelines. Is the ultimate aim to have a category for every beer in the world? I presume that's an impossibility, so how do you decide where to stop?

And are the guidelines intended for use outside of the US? For instance, the styles cover what's being brewed in Australia quite well (plus a bunch of styles that are irrelevant) but the commercial examples aren't much help in a lot of cases. I presume the same can be said of most places outside the US too.

I'd like to see a bit more of an explanation as to why the BJCP feels competitions without styles would be "not a desirable situation". I think most people assume that competitions must be done along style lines, but I think an organisation which has such an emphasis on style guidelines should elucidate exactly why they believe there to be a need for such a thing.

Kristen England said...

Very well put Russ.

Im here to get as much info as I can. Hopefully by having the info I can ensure that the guidelines are as good as they can be with the styles we choose to use. Also, having that info will go a long way in saying why things are included or not.

The guidelines are by no means set in stone and are constantly changing. I foresee quite a prodigious rewrite on updating styles, moving things around, both adding and subtracting. One for sure I very much dislike is the 2C. Classic American Pilsner. NO ONE makes it other than home brewers. it should go the way of the historic beers. There are plenty of other beers out there, especially pale lagers, that would do better with their own spot. Same to be said for Vienna lager. There are no true historic examples left...mostly stuff from Mexico. However, making an Amber lager category could then encompass those beers as well as the Czech ambers and other varieties. It just makes sense.

The most important thing about the guidelines are for whatever styles we choose to have there must be commercial examples readily available. There is no point in having an exercise in education if you can't actually taste a beer thats brewed to that style. Make sense?

Tandleman said...

Interesting stuff Ron. I like styles to some extent as they provide parameters. Bearing in mind most Yanks that use them do so to home brew beer fopr competitions, it seems fair enough to me to have guidelines as does the promise of a review. Kirsten seems an open minded sort of chap for a Swedish speaking Yankee! maybe he'll sort outb the anomolies,such as Northern and Southern brown ales.

Mike said...

Kirsten,

I am rather disappointed that you seem uninterested in cleaning up the Belgian beer styles.

You wrote, and I agreed, "Firstly, there are no 'real' styles in Belgium that you can hang your hat on. They brew what they want more so than anyone on the planet I'd bet."

And yet, the BJCP seems to publish something quite the opposite.

I would very much like to hear your explanation of the "Trappist quadrupel" after I explained that it is the name of one beer.

The "Blond Trappist table beer" is very likely a misunderstanding by someone who has mixed up tafelbier and patersbier.

If you insist on including fictional styles, I really think you need to include a disclaimer explaining that these are not actual styles but are merely presented as an exercise.

I don't quite understand why you can't carry out your "mission", using accurate information instead of what you now offer.

Kristen England said...

Mike,

You are talking about cat 16E which is the 'catch all' for Belgian beer styles that aren't included specifically in the guidelines. Things listed are examples of beers that wouldn't fit in other styles that we have seen the most. Its not, by any means, meant to be an exhaustive list.

Yes, we put Belgian beers into styles as we have everything else. They can call their beers whatever they like. However, as with other styles, we group similar beers into a bunch and assign then a substyle. Would you not agree that Cat 18 all represent Belgian 'styles' quite well??

Quadrupple is a name of La Trappes beer. Yes I agree that was the original. However there have been many breweries around the world adopting that moniker.

I completely agree with you that patersbier is not tafelbier. Would you be happy if it said 'Blond Trappist beer'? Westv 6 (green), Westmalle Extra, La Trappe Blonde, Orval Petite Orval all are Trappist and all are 'blonde'.

Enough with the fictional style bollucks. Mistakes are made and missed no matter how many times these things are gone over.

And for your comment about the 'mission' are you being serious or are you taking a piss? Do you honestly think we would put things up that are wrong on purpose? You have two problems with the Belgian catch-all style, that are easily fixed/explained and you accuse use of making things up.

Ask Ron how much difference it makes when different people translate different bodies of work. A single word can change absolutely everything. Misunderstandings happen. What's important is the effort that goes into fixing them and not just taking pot shots from the gallery.

Mike said...

Kirsten,

Let me first look at the bjcp from the "big picture" then from the specific.

I (as well as some of the others here) see that you attempt to fit beers into easy-to-understand categories whether these categories exist or not (example: quadrupel). You also seem to attempt to identify very obscure beers (example: Blond Trappist table beers).

Furthermore, you seem to use "examples" in place of references (from brewing records, historical documents, etc.), which makes your use of these labels highly questionable.

Let's look at the alleged Trappist Quadrupels. You wrote: "Quadrupple is a name of La Trappes beer. Yes I agree that was the original. However there have been many breweries around the world adopting that moniker."

Many breweries around the world? Using Ratebeer I found a grand total of 2 not in the US: 1 in Canada (from 2005) and 1 in Denmark.

Secondly, Rochefort, another Trappist brewery, makes a similar beer (Rochefort 10), as does Westvleteren (Westvleteren 12˚). All three are Trappist ales, dark, malty, 10-11 percent alcohol.

Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium, probably the most authoritative English-language book on the subject (I highly recommend you read and use his "style guide") calls these beers barley wines.

The use of the term "quadrupel" by the American brewers has always struck me as a marketing gimmick. The thinking seems to be: if a tripel has high alcohol, then a quadrupel has even more.

If you disagree with the facts given above, please be so kind as to provide references that show what is wrong.

You asked me: "Would you not agree that Cat 18 all represent Belgian 'styles' quite well??" No I would not agree. Take "Belgian Dark Strong Ale", for example. Under history, you write: "Most versions are unique in character reflecting characteristics of individual breweries."

I don't call that history and furthermore it is a made-up style, or to put it in a more positive way: it is a style recognised only by the bjcp (and it's fans, I should add).

Kirsten, I could go on with this.
You also wrote: "Mistakes are made and missed no matter how many times these things are gone over...
Do you honestly think we would put things up that are wrong on purpose?"

I would like to think the answer to your last question is "no". However, by the same token, you don't seem too eager to change things -- more interested in explaining your view of things.

This tafelbier/patersbier is a good example. You wrote: 16E "is the 'catch all' for Belgian beer styles that aren't included specifically in the guidelines. Things listed are examples of beers that wouldn't fit in other styles that we have seen the most. Its not, by any means, meant to be an exhaustive list."

The problem is not that it isn't "exhaustive", the problem is that you don't research properly and so come up with information that is either incomplete or incorrect. This is not meant as a personal attack on you as, I assume, the style guide is the work of a committee, not an individual.

As others here have pointed out, there are also problems with British, Czech and German "style guides". Sadly, and, I hope, not for much longer, the bjcp "style guides" are not as accurate as they could be.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Mike,

I was among those who read over the guidelines and should have caught the Trappist blond table error. Time to quit slagging Kristen on the error, figure it will be corrected and move on.

I'm curious what you would do with Westy 8 and 12, Rochefort 8 and 10, St. Bernardus Abt 12, Cuvee de Keizer, Victory 12 and (cringe) LaTrappe Quad. Would you agree it that it would be suitable to judge these beers together were they all entered in a competition? Is your objection only the name, which clearly isn't a style, or something else?

Matt said...

One of the probabably unavoidable issue with the bjcp is that people get hung up about the name of a style, particularly when it is nationalistic or geographic in nature.

For example "Scottish ale". Ron has done a great job of documenting the variety of ales brewed in Scotland yet also showing there probably is something to a distinct style (recognizing that not all ales brewed in Scotland would be classified as Scottish ale). Maybe the style needs a different name.

Brown ale is another example - Ron has shown there is not a North/South divide but there probably are clusters of beers that taken together could be lumped together by style but describing it in geographic terms is probably misguided.

Style guidelines have their place primarily for competitions possibly to give the consumer a rough idea of what they are drinking.

Does BJCP come across as to USA-centric?

I think some micros brew CAP's don't they? But I can't think of one off hand . . .

Mike said...

Stan,

Sorry, but I don't agree with your "Time to quit slagging Kristen on the error, figure it will be corrected and move on." Where did Kristen agree that it was an error? Didn't he write: "Blonde Trappist is relatively new. Have you ever had the Westvletrn Blonde..."?

Then you asked: "I'm curious what you would do with Westy 8 and 12, Rochefort 8 and 10, St. Bernardus Abt 12, Cuvee de Keizer, Victory 12 and (cringe) LaTrappe Quad."

I'd probably drink them.

I'm not a home brewer and I'm not very sympathetic to the sort of home brewing exercises involving the bjcp that I have read about.

So, I am not sure how to answer your question. Frankly, in this part of the world, beer style is a subject that is largely unknown. People here are much more likely to say "I had a really delicious new beer today" than "I had a really delicious new quadrupel today."

I would also point out that very few (if any) Dutch, Belgian or German brewers started their careers doing home brewing in the American method (brewing competitions based on bjcp-like style guides) and yet, they've managed to make some pretty tasty beers.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Mike,

When Kristen wrote, "I completely agree with you that patersbier is not tafelbier" I took that to mean it will be changed.

I'll be glad to offer my input that it should be.

As to the rest, it would seem we are at a cultural divide.

And I agree the best thing to do with those beers is drink them.

Mike said...

Stan,

You wrote: "When Kristen wrote, "I completely agree with you that patersbier is not tafelbier" I took that to mean it will be changed."

I just had a beverage (I'll let you guess which kind) with Ron and we discussed this. I believe there are as many as four patersbiers brewed by Dutch and Belgian monasteries, Ron thinks there are only three. Nevertheless, we both agree that only one (Chimay) is light-coloured (though not actually blond).

So, once again, the bjcp will come up with an entire style based on one single beer. Good work, bjcp!

You then wrote: "As to the rest, it would seem we are at a cultural divide."

I don't really believe it is cultural. I have this crazy notion that if you do something, you should try to do it right. Do you disagree with that?

You described the "blond Trappist table beer" as an "error". To me, an error is spelling the famed Trappist beer "Westvletrn", for example.

I would imagine that putting the style guide together is a pretty involved procedure. I imagine someone suggests a style, there is discussion, perhaps research, perhaps more discussion, etc. Finally, a decision is made, a document is written and, as a final step, it is put in the bjcp publications and website.

The fact that they went through all this and it still came out wrong is not an "error", rather it is a flawed process. This is not, I believe, a cultural divide.

If this were an isolated incident, it wouldn't be good, but maybe it would be easier to overlook. However, it is not an isolated incident, it is a pattern.

Ron and some others here have pointed out errors in the British, Czech and German beers. In the Belgian beers, "dark strong ale" is a bjcp-only style, both the descriptions as well as the names of Flanders Brown Ale and Flanders Red Ale are substantially incorrect, I would guess that at least half the styles listed in the "catch-all category" in style 16 are fantasy and many of the genuine styles contain incomplete or inaccurate information.

This is a pattern and not something I see as a cultural difference.

You wrote: "And I agree the best thing to do with those beers is drink them."

Well, there is certainly no cultural divide there!

Stan Hieronymus said...

Mike,

I can't believe I'm responding, but . . .

To throw in another light colored beer brewed for consumption by the monks, Westmalle Extra(10 EBC vs. 16 EBC for Chimay).

Cultural divide was not a reference to the style guidelines but to the value of homebrewing. Pretty important here given that we were down to basically (anything else being almost impossible to find) one style of beer in the United States in the 1970s before homebrewing was legalized.

Mike said...

Stan,

I don't know what you meant by "I can't believe I'm responding, but . . . ", but I take it as an offensive comment. If that was not the intent, please explain.

Secondly, I would have hoped that if you have further information you would, like Ron, include references. Why not?

Thirdly, of all the errors I pointed out, this is your only response? So, somehow it is acceptable that the bjcp declare a "style" because there are not one, but two similar beers?

Well, let me respond to that, with references.

From "In het Spoor van de Trappisten" by Geert van Lierde, et al, page 35: Westmalle Extra "is brewed only once or twice per year and has a rather experimental character. The taste, therefore, can be extremely variable depending on the ingredients."

Right. Now how do you stick a style on that?

Out of curiosity, how often does Westmalle Extra pop up in the US? Considering it's not for sale, not distributed and rarely leaves the monastery grounds, I'd guess not too often, huh?

Thanks for your explanation of your use of cultural divide. I didn't know that about the US.

And to close on the bjcp, I stand by every statement I have made about them, regardless of whether there is one or two blonde Trappist whatever.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Hi Mike,

Sorry, I meant no offense.

I just meant that I didn't want to get caught up in a style debate. There are only so many hours in a day and some of them must be spent drinking.

At to a source on the color of the Westmalle Extra: "Brew Like a Monk" (which I happened to write). The beers was analyzed at De Proef.

I was told by Philippe Van Assche, the general manager at Westmalle, that it is always brewed only with pilsner malt and Saaz hops (no sugar). Brother Thomas targeted a beer of about 5% abv and in the low 30s in EBU. (Noting that his first beer at Achel was not quite as strong but was hoppier.)

That conversation took place Dec. 27, 2004.

In April of 2006 I had a conversation with Westmalle brewery Jan Adriaensens, who was judging at the World Beer Cup and speaking on a panel with other brewers, and he said that he continued to brew the Extra the same as Brother Thomas had.

From those two conversations I was under the impression the beer - which I think is terrific - was brewed the same each time. That doesn't guarantee that I'm right, but those seem like good sources to me.

Mike said...

Stan,

Thanks for the explanation.

I don't think the question of whether the Westmalle Extra is made the same or differently each time is the key to question.

As I'm sure you're aware, there is no such thing as a Trappist "style" (Tim Webb, "Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland," page 52, not to mention years of tasting Trappist beers). Yet, despite what Webb says, despite all the empirical evidence, the bjcp thinks that one or two Trappist beers alone comprise a style. (And, they pick beers that are virtually impossible to taste, particularly if you are part of their regular constituency.)

Hopefully, after all this you are beginning to get some idea of why many of us have so little respect for the bjcp.

Some guy named Bill said...

Interesting debate. First a point of disclosure: I'm a BJCP judge and teach my homebrewing club’s BJCP classes. That being said, I have huge reservations about "styles" as a general rule (whether it's beer, wine, food, music, literature, etc.). The biggest problem I see with tightly defined "styles" is that it pushes too many people into ridiculous statements like "it's a good beer but not too style." If it's a good beer, it's a good beer. Nothing worse than someone who only brews to style and wants to evaluate everything they taste in life by some restrictive set of rules.

The first thing I tell people when teaching a BJCP exam prep class is that styles are a necessary evil when you're trying to judge a homebrew competition. You have to have some benchmark that you can apply to the various beers you're attempting to evaluate. They're guidelines for judging a homebrew competition, not for judging every beer you drink.

There are things in the BJCP guidelines that drive me wild, like the idea that Biere de Garde should have a musty, corked quality to it (sounds like somebody had some old, corked-like-a-bad-wine examples and thought they should taste that way). But, as a general rule, they have gotten better with each iteration. It's interesting to me that Belgian Specialty (16E) is one of the most harped upon examples of how bad the BJCP guidelines are. Prior to the 2004 revision, this category was much more restrictive (it was essentially a category for Orval clones). Now it's a free for all/catch all, and is a better reflection of the true style-free nature of Belgian brewing. Though the guidelines for 16E may list example “styles” that some dismiss as “made up,” it’s a clear improvement over the pre-2004 definition of Belgian Specialty (which could only be light; dark beers weren’t allowed).

Are there historical inaccuracies and errors? Doubtless. Is there an American bias? I think so. But it is an attempt to classify a wide variety of beers into manageable categories for organizing and judging homebrew competitions. It may be more "factual" or "historically correct" to divide beers into 100+ major styles with subcategories below those, but it's not practical.

I'm not making apologies for mistakes and inaccuracies in the BJCP guidelines, but I understand that the guidelines are an attempt to create some kind of manageable order out of a complex subject. Devising style guidelines and assigning labels is always a compromise. The BJCP guidelines are no different. It’d be nice to have more accurate historical references, etc., but not’s not lose sight of the fact that these are guidelines designed to be benchmarks for judging homebrew competitions, not an absolute set of rules to be applied to every beer everywhere.

My two cents. Pummel away.

Mike said...

Bill, I am very sorry if I disappoint you, but I'm afraid I will be unable to pummel you as I agree with many of the things you wrote.

Here, you have put your finger on the biggest problem with the bjcp concept: "styles are a necessary evil when you're trying to judge a homebrew competition."

Since when did brewing (or home-brewing) become a competitive sport?

I was invited once to a meeting of a home-brewing club and all that happened was people would walk around with bottles offering samples to other people at the meeting. No one ever said "this is a imperial stout" or any other style, they said: "this is a clone of Aventinus" or something like that.

By turning a hobby into a competition, the bjcp (or whoever was responsible for doing this) has replaced fun with work, enjoyment with disappointment (sometimes) and cooperation with selfishness.

Secondly, you wrote: let's "not lose sight of the fact that these are guidelines designed to be benchmarks for judging homebrew competitions, not an absolute set of rules to be applied to every beer everywhere."

Oh, if only this were true! I don't blame the bjcp (completely) for this, but American home-brewers who think the bjcp is a deity, have created an influential website (beeradvocate.com) and have nearly ruined Wikipedia with mis-information from the bjcp, not to mention influencing journalists who may know little or nothing about beer and in this ignorance, they believe the bjcp is authoritative.

The bjcp site has a page of links which is described as "Links to related sites". I'm not sure what "related" is supposed to mean, but the bjcp likes to describe foreign beer organisations as "The Guild is more or less the equivalent to the BJCP for England and Wales."

I belong to Zythos, which is the Belgian beer consumers organisation. The bjcp described it as similar to what they do. This is not even close. This is like calling a football team a balloon club because both deal in circular objects.

My point here is that the bjcp is trying to give itself some legitimacy by claiming that there are other organisations that do the same thing or, even better, use the bjcp style guides. This is self-promotion that, I believe, offers some evidence that the bjcp would like to see itself as much more than an American home-brew organisation.

And finally, I can't comment on your belief that the bjcp style guides have gotten better because the beers that I know best are still seriously mis-represented in the bjcp style guide.

Mike said...

Just a quick thought based on something you (Bill) wrote: If I understand correctly, a boring beer that meets the bjcp style requirement would be consider "better" than a delicious beer that fails to meet these requirements?

If this is correct, this demonstrates why the bjcp concept is a failure for beer consumers.

Some Guy named Bill said...

Mike, you bring up a great point. Unfortunately, you're correct and you do get situations where a beer would do better in a different category. As I judge I make a major point of pointing that out in the written comments. A good example would be an American pale ale entered as IPA's. It could be flawless as far as brewing technique and execution, but it might not have the more aggressive hop profile and bigger body dictated by the guidleines. So it could be a 45 point Pale Ale, but only 35 as an IPA. That's just a hypothetical example. So if an entrant's idea of a "style" differs from the BJCP's it could score poorly even though it's a great beer. In one competition, I was stuck judging fruit beers, where the entrant has to declare the underlying style (raspberry Amercian wheat, cherry porter, etc.). Something had gotten mislabeled someplace (either by the entrant or by the organizer) and we had a cherry lambic that we were told was cherry stout. What to do? Ask the orgainzer if the entry is in fact correct. He double checked the entry number, etc and said, that's what it was entered as. So we had to judge an incredible kriek as a cherry stout. Needless to say, it scored poorly: bad color (way too light), no roastiness, not enough bitterness, plus it was infected. What a horrible situation all the way around. You feel like a heel, because you know it's not fair but your hands are tied as far as a judge. I wrote really long comments saying I knew it was a mix up and that I thought it was an amazing kriek, but alas, we were forced to judge it incorrectly.

The big strength of the BJCP for me isn't the classifications of styles. It's the fact that they're trying to teach people to taste beer more critically, and more importantly, give them a lexicon to describe it. Raising beer literacy can only help craft beer everywhere. The wine industry has done very well in trying to educate consumers on how to talk about wine. My commitment as a BJCP judge and teacher, isn't to pound styles into people's heads. It's to teach them to discuss beer flavors intelligently. Food is another big hobby for me and I'd love to see the fine dining world take beer more seriously. It's starting, but it's got a long way to go. In the US, it's 25 years behind the wine industry. Teaching people to talk about beer in a fine dining context is an important step. But I absolutely want to avoid "this Girardin Gueueze seems a little off for the style because the carbonation is a little light." I also don't want a bunch of moronic clones going around who only want to buy what some critic in a beer magazine rates well. I was in the wine business for many years and people wanted to buy things that rated 90+ points. Not interested if it's only 89 points. I'd rather see people to taste for themselves, but you need to teach them the basic skills first. Although the average consumer may not take a BJCP prep class, beer enthusiasts will, and eventually the idea of that beer is every bit as complex and incredible as wine gets out to the public.