Change in beer judging rules could mean better selection

EDMONTON – For the first time since 2008, the organization that certifies beer judges for competitions will be updating their guidelines to incorporate new styles and adapt to the ever-changing and unstoppable market of fermented suds.
And according to local judge and beer blogger Jason Foster, the new guidelines could result in a wider selection of lesser-known styles on store shelves.
“Part of it is just the weight of the pure numbers of unbelievable talent, skill and experience of the people doing it,” Foster said. “These are people who are respected in the world of beer. So when they extend their expertise when trying to define styles and describe styles, that gets taken seriously.“
While the Beer Judge Certification Program’s stringent rules don’t directly impact the market, their guidelines are a reflection of changes in the types of beer being brewed by both home and commercial brewers.
And the group’s new guide could potentially allow for more brewing innovation.
“Since the last change six years ago, the industry has really changed,” says Greg Zeschuk, president of the Alberta Small Brewers Association and co-founder of Edmonton video game company BioWare. “The changes will improve the chances of people who make unusual beers … to win awards.”
The changing market meant that in some categories, the previous guidelines had strong-flavoured beers being judged against lighter beers, BJCP president Gordon Strong said. The lighter beers fared worse not because they failed at representing the style, but because they had a harder time standing out on a judge’s overwhelmed pallet.
The new guidelines shift toward geographical organization: “beers with a similar geographic history or origin are grouped together even if their taste profiles are different,” Foster says.
One example of a potentially detrimental change is the categorization of the new Czech lagers, which includes both a Czech Pilsner and a Czech Dark Lager. While these beers have a similar origin and feel, the maltiness of the darker lager can overshadow the delicate profile of Pilsners and other light-flavoured varieties.
But according to Zeschuk, all the guidelines really do is set a framework for discussion of innovation in the industry. So the consumer won’t see any real effect of the guidelines overnight.
“It gives people the language to talk about beer in a comprehensive manner,” Zeschuck says. “Many brewers don’t even look at the guidelines — they just make what they want to make and enter into a competition and kind of retrofit it.”
However, Foster argues that it is this discussion that will bring new styles out of the woodwork.
“What the BJCP does, is it creates a group of consumers who know what you mean when you produce a Munich Helles,” Foster says. “It creates room and space for brewers to be able to use those names, where in the past they probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do it.”
In Alberta, beer selection nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013 fiscal years, while sales increased by only four per cent.
According to a report by the Alberta Gaming and Lottery Commission, the number of beer available in the province nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013, while sales increased by only four per cent.

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