I’m relatively new to the beer competition scene and have only helped out at a couple. It’s mostly been to help with sorting or getting beers out to people when I’m stewarding. Until I judged for the BecauseBeer homebrew competition I was under the impression that only BJCP judges (or people with a BJCP ID) can actually sit down and judge beers. Turns out that’s not the case whatsoever and I found it a pretty interesting view into what is going on when judging happens.
If you’ve ever done any kind of breakdown and analysis of beer you are probably a fine candidate to sit in as a judge. I myself have been focusing solely on beer for the last six months since starting the brewmaster program at Niagara College. This has forced me to further develop my palate and more importantly — broaden my vocabulary for the various flavours and aromas you can get from beer. This semester also marked the beginning of learning all the 2015 BJCP styles as well as how to score and provide useful feedback.
Taking scoring from an academic to an applied setting at a competition was pretty easy, and I was generally on point with the certified judges I was paired up with. Giving feedback is the harder part of judging, and something that becomes even more so once you need to get through flights relatively quickly. As an inexperienced judge, I was often the last one to finish my scoring and feedback (which I still felt was lack lustre).
Scoring and writing “feedback” is something that can easily be done in the comfort of your own home using commercial beers. Rate Beer is an alright site for seeing how your rating compares but there doesn’t appear to be a way to see ratings by judges and the feedback people write is somewhat limited. It’s a decent starting point though since their rating scale is based around the BJCPs scoring. Simply working on your feedback and what you are tasting is probably fine, since most people are really looking for an unbiased opinion of their beers when they enter.
If you are working towards your BJCP you are probably practicing writing and tasting already. At your next local competition sign up to steward and say that you can judge as well. Let the organizer know how much experience you have with BJCP scoring and you might get to sit down for a couple of flights to judge. This of course depends on how the judging scene is in your area, since Canada seems to be starving for certified judges. Try your best to give as much feedback and perhaps make a some suggestions to show that even though you aren’t certified, your interpretation of the style and senses are just as good as someone who is.