I got a great question via email from Brad F. the other day. He wrote:
On page 79 [of the Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone® Exam], under Belgian Dark Strong Ale you say that "these are not Belgian barleywines, quads, or spiced holiday beers..." I know the quad is more of an American spin and not actually a style, but when I look up "quads" they are all listed as Belgian Dark Strongs [in the 2015 BJCP Guidelines]. Where would u put a quad? Thanks. Book is great!
Awesome! This is how you learn, by challenging your teachers and studying so effectively that you find questions and errors in the study material. I have a feeling Brad is going to pass the CC! My answer to Brad's question is simple, but it actually brings into focus the whole point of the BJCP Guidelines, so read on!
The 2008 BJCP Guidelines for Belgian Dark Strong notes: "Comments: ... Barleywine-type beers (e.g., Scaldis/Bush, La Trappe Quadrupel, Weyerbacher QUAD) and Spiced/Christmas-type beers (e.g., N’ice Chouffe, Affligem Nöel) should be entered in the Belgian Specialty Ale category (16E), not this category..."
The 2015 BJCP Guidelines for Belgian Dark Strong states: "Comments: ... Sometimes known as a Trappist Quadruple, most are simply known by their strength or color designation."
So that's a good eye Brad has got! I read through the 2015 Guidelines but hadn't noticed that change to include Quads in the BDS category. The change to the style's definition makes sense though, there was never much difference between most BDS and Quad beers beyond a little extra ABV. That said, there is an upper limit for ABV in this category. For the 2015 Guidelines it was bumped it up by 1% to an allowable ABV of 8-12% (in the 2008 BJCP Guidelines it was 8-11%). The BJCP likely made that change specifically to bring most commercial "Quads" into the BDS category. Anything bigger than 12% would still need to be entered as a "specialty beer" in a homebrew competition, as would a holiday spiced version of this beer.
And that's something worth pointing out - never forget that the BJCP Guidelines have been developed as a tool for categorizing and judging homebrew. Yes, they are the best style guidelines out there, hands down, but they weren't made for the Cicerone program or for judging commercial beer comps (the Brewer's Association produces their own guidelines for judging the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), that's the only real alternative). Commercial brewers generally don't care about the BJCP Guidelines or "brewing to style," they care about selling beer. The BJCP Guidelines are an awesome resource for folks who want to understand beer and styles. It is incredibly well-researched, but there is inevitably fuzziness around the margins of the definitions of a "style." Styles are not static.
That makes the job of picking exact cutoffs for the quantitative numbers (ABV, SRM, and IBU) for styles difficult. Some styles are more straightforward because they haven't evolved much recently, like German Weissbier, or because there is really only one major commercial example to consider, like with Cali Common and Anchor Steam. Others are more difficult to pin down, for instance trends in American IPA evolve and change yearly (Cascadian Dark IPA! Northeast IPA! TIPA! Session IPA! Vermont IPA! Etc. etc. etc.). Belgian styles are squirrelly because those brewers tend to brew with less regard to "style" than brewers from other beer cultures (I'm speaking very generally there). On top of that, the mostly American folks who create the BJCP Guidelines are definitely more familiar with certain regional styles than others. For instance, over time it became clear that the 2008 Guidelines contained serious omissions and some incorrect info. That was cleared up for the 2015 update, plus they added loads of new styles and data for Eastern European styles they just hadn't understood that well previously...but guess what...because we continue to learn more about beer and styles evolve, the 2015 BJCP Guidelines are going to seem full of incorrect info by 2024.
So yeah, where to draw lines...is the term "Quad" an American invention or the whole time was it really just about where we drew an arbitrary definitional line for Belgian Dark Strong that forced us to come up with a name for the bigger versions of Belgian Dark Strongs? I don't know the answer to that, but I think it made a lot of sense to draw those very similar Quad beers into the BDS category in the newer BJCP Guidelines, don't you?
Thanks for the question, Brad, that was fun to geek out on! Good luck with your studies and good luck on the Cert Cicerone exam! Cheers, Chris
P.S. Check out this FAQ on the BJCP website: "Questions about the BJCP Style Guidelines"