Monday, April 16, 2012

Problems with the BJCP Guidelines

I often gripe about issues I see with the BJCP guidelines. So I decided to put my feelings on the guidelines here: I actually credit some fault in many homebrew competitions to the BJCP for including some styles that I personally deem (in all my omniscient wisdom) to be too obscure and rare or undefined-in-their-home-country to be appropriate for judging. Other styles should be merged, I think. And some styles should have a better spot than Category 23. I also have some other issues with the guidelines. Among them:

Northern German Altbier and Düsseldorf Altbier: "Northern German Altbier" is exceedingly rare and basically fits within parameters of Düsseldorf Altbier, so the styles should be merged. And despite what the guidelines say, I do not believe anything called "altbier" in Germany is made with a bottom-fermenting yeast. Then again, if a brewer submitted a beer fermented with a lager yeast, no one would be able to tell that it wasn't a German Ale yeast fermented extra cool.

Scottish 60/-, 70/-, and 80/-: all three Scottish session ales should be a single style, IMO, or included with bitters since, in Scotland, that is how they are treated; and they are RARE in Scotland, as the hoppier "bitter" style has dominated the draught ale market for the past 30+ years.

Southern English Brown Ale: there is only one such beer brewed in England (Mann's Original Brown Ale) and it is pasteurized, never-cask-conditioned crap, which is not CAMRA-approved and not exported to the USA. Just fold this one into Northern English Brown Ale and call it "English Brown Ale."

Brown Porter and Robust Porter: should just be a single category since they can be fairly judged against each other and are so similar

Foreign Extra Stout and American Stout: should be merged into a single, "Extra Stout" category since any foreign extra stout fully fits within the guidelines of an American stout and the difference implies an American Stout needs a C-hop aroma which muddies judges' perceptions and causes judging errors.

English IPA: should be treated as a style of bitter, since that is how it is treated in England and cask ales almost NEVER exceed 6% ABV (most beers called IPA are under 5% ABV in Britain), the recent brewers who do English IPA's that fit within the style guidelines were inspired by American beers and usually use imported American hops - so they are really just brewing American IPA. My point being, the idea of a maltier-than-American-IPA 6.5% ABV hoppy ale brewed with British hops existing in any form in Britain is unfounded. If anything, splitting the American IPA into the styles of "East Coast IPA" and "West Coast IPA" makes more sense since both styles actually exist on a large scale, but I would just drop English IPA and fold it into bitters.

Belgian Pale Ale: while I appreciate the BJCP trying to create a style for De Koninck-style beers, the truth is that only De Koninck and Palm truly fit this style. Anyone who has tasted a fresh De Koninck in Antwerp and subsequently tasted a Rare Vos in upstate New York will tell you the two beers couldn't be further apart, stylistically. While I very much like De Koninck and Palm, there are too many Belgian Styles as is, and many more common styles in Belgium (like the modern trend of hoppy Blond Ales or the widely-seen style of "Red Ales" that are essentially toned-down Dubbels) are kept out of the guidelines. This is why there is a specific "Belgian Specialty Ale" category. In my opinion, this category should absorb "Belgian Pale Ale"

Sour Ale: while this style is basically well put-together, there is no "other sour ale" or "specialty sour" subcategory, despite the fact that 99% of homebrewed sours do not fit within the guidelines of the existing categories and end up overloading the Belgian Specialty Ale category as well as Category 23 with sours (which inevitably leads to especially bad apples-oranges problems for judges).

Strong Ale: I just don't see a reason for the distinction between Old Ale and English Barleywine.

If it were up to me, the guidelines would be shorter and probably with more "other ________" or "specialty ________" subcategories, but since these guidelines are what we have, they will define styles (and do - I have seen pro breweries in the US brew the BJCP "English IPA" as though the style was really English and not just a way for the brewery to sell an "IPA" brewed with fewer and cheaper hops like Willamette and Nugget. Regardless, I am glad the BJCP exists, despite its flaws, because these competitions would be hell if there were no universal guidelines.