November 14, 2019

The BJCP in Israel: Serious beer judging and what it means

If there is one standard in the world to which all good and true craft beers can repair, it is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Begun in the U.S. in 1985 but now accepted and adhered to internationally, the BJCP seeks to ensure that all beers are judged by the same style criteria no matter where they are brewed.  A prize-winning IPA in California, for example, should finish in the money in Tokyo.  And a stout brewed in Cape Town which matches the flavor profile of one made in Tel Aviv, should score about the same in competition.

Today in Israel, almost all of the home-brew competitions adhere to the BJCP guidelines and use BJCP judges -- Mevshalim, B'tsisa, BeerYamina and Isra-Brew, to name a few.  To handle this task, and others, Israel now boasts about 40 home-grown BJCP judges.

Back when he was brewing with Basha-Flom,
Omer Basha (left) shared some of
his beers with the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The one person most responsible for bringing the program to Israel is Omer Basha of Beersheva, former partner (along with Dvir Flom) in what was the Basha-Flom Brewery, and a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics.

Omer was recently awarded the highest rank in the BJCP -- a Master Judge.  There are only about 160 of such in the entire world!

"We were able to get the BJCP to send two proctors to Israel in 2017 to give the first exam," explains Omer, sharing the credit with fellow brewer Ephraim Greenblatt.

The old blogger tries to make a point
while Omer Basha explains the details
of the BJCP program in Israel.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"In February 2017, the first exam was given in Israel to 18 persons, and most of them were certified."

In order to become a BJCP judge you have to contend with not one, but three examinations.  The first is the online entrance exam, where you have to answer 180 questions in 60 minutes.

Then comes the tasting exam -- 90 minutes during which you have to taste and judge six beers, while filling out score sheets.

The final written exam is 90 minutes and consists of 20 true-or-false questions and five essays.

Only 160 in the world:
Omer Basha's Master Beer Judge certificate.
Omer explains:  "The examiners are looking for your abilities in perception, description, and feedback on how to improve the beer.  They also score your evaluation skills and completeness in answering."

Whew!  This is obviously not a test you can breeze by.  It takes studying and memorizing a vast amount of material; Topics such as beer styles, characteristics and ingredients; BJCP ethics and procedures; recipes, brewing processes and trouble shooting.

Here are some examples of questions you might come up against:

True or false:  Light malt sweetness is part of the flavor profile of Belgian Blond Ale.
                       Diacetyl in a British Brown Ale is acceptable due to the yeast strain.

The hops most appropriate for a Strong Bitter are:
a) Kent Goldings and Fuggles
b) Styrian Goldings and Saaz
c) Cascade
d) Hallertauer and Tettnanger
e) Any low alpha acid varieties

How did you do?

Certified beer judges judging, vs. . . . 
Omer continues:  "The judging rank you get is determined by your grade.  To become a Recognized Judge, you have to get a score of at least 60 in the tasting exam, and it's enough to take the entrance exam and the tasting exam.  If you get at least 70 in the tasting exam plus five experience points (you get a half-point each time you participate in a judging), you become a Certified Judge.   

"Scoring over 80 as a composite score in the tasting and written exams gets you the rank of a National Judge, and over 90 makes you a Master."

 . . . amateur beer tasters tasting.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
The 40 or so BJCP judges in Israel are in high demand for local competitions, and some even get invited to judge in overseas competitions.  I asked Omer if personal tastes can interfere with beer judging.  For example, I pointed out, a critic can give a movie or a restaurant a glowing review, while another person with different tastes can find them atrocious.

"It's not the same as judging," Omer answered.  "We evaluate a beer by the way it adheres to its style guidelines, not by our personal tastes.  I may love a beer that's called an amber ale, for example, but if its color, aroma, taste and/or some other characteristics are not what an amber ale should be, I have to take  off points and give it a lower score."

In the Israeli and foreign competitions that accept the BJCP guidelines, each beer entry is tasted and scored by two to four judges.

The BJCP Beer Score Sheet:
Not an easy task!
"Then we discuss the beer and explain our scoring," adds Omer.  "All the scores have to be within a certain number of points of each other to be valid.  It's normally three, five or seven points, depending on the competition.  If the spread is greater than that, the judges discuss it until they reach an agreement.  They almost always do this without difficulty."

What is difficult is the judging itself.  As Omer puts it: "It's hard work to break down a beverage and evaluate each of its aroma and flavor attributes -- and do it again and again!  We call this 'palate fatigue.'"

My take-away from all of this is that beer judges, whether BJCP-certified or not, are very dedicated volunteers who are working for the good of the "craft beer community," if you can call it that.  The judging sessions can easily stretch into hours, involving dozens of beers.  You have to stay focused, you have to treat each beer like it was the first, and you have to fill out the score sheet so it has value to the brewer who gets to read it.

This, Omer emphasizes, is perhaps the most important element in certified beer judging: Giving the brewer a chance to read what expert judges have to say about his or her beer and how to make it better suited to the style guidelines.  "In the long run," says Omer, "it is this feedback that will result in the overall improvement of craft beer in Israel.  This includes home-brewers as well as commercial micro-breweries.  Everybody benefits from expert and fair judging."


  1. Wow! I hope you'll still accept me without formal certification.

  2. Anonymous11/14/2019

    A good summary of the BJCP judging in Israel and the process of becoming a beer judge.
    Cheers to Omer for making all of this possible in this country. He keeps on giving and planing to the Israeli branch and lately to the Europian branches.
    Much respect.
    (National BJCP Judge)

  3. ZSharon11/14/2019

    Kudos Omer


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