What to do if you can’t find BJCP listed commercial examples of classic styles

certified cicerone Jan 25, 2023



Here's the TLDR. Find more info & context in the article below:

  1. Everyone faces this issue. All beer scenes are very regional. You're not alone in struggling to find BJCP listed beers, especially fresh versions!
  2. Beware, brewers label their beers however they want and generally do not "brew to style." US style craft beers are often (but not always) much bolder than the classic versions they're named after or labeled as. 
  3. Talk to local Certified Cicerones® (or higher level!) to ask which local breweries and beers are similar to BJCP listed classic commercial examples, they will know. Find them at top level breweries, taprooms, or check the Cicerone directory.
  4. Taste local beers that claim to be classic versions in a focused manner, while reading the BJCP Guidelines. Note where the beer matches what the BJCP says and/or how they're different. This is a great way to study and learn! 


Dmitry T asked what to do if you can't find the exact commercial examples listed in the BJCP Guidelines: 

Hi Chris, I'm enjoying your course and getting ready for my Certified Cicerone exam. I have a question about commercial examples of beer styles for my written exam essays and the tasting exam. I live in Austin, TX, and am pretty familiar with the local craft scene. Do you think brews from local breweries like Jester King, Live Oak, Celis, Real Ale, Zilker, and other relatively small breweries are valid commercial examples of BJCP listed beer styles? I can't find many of the more widely recognized brands in TX?

Advanced Cicerone®, Nat’l BJCP judge, & Beer Scholar® founder Chris Cohen’s answer:

 Everyone faces these difficulties when they're prepping for the CC exam, it can be difficult or impossible to get some of the "classic examples" listed in the BJCP Style Guidelines. Heck, it can be impossible to find any examples of some of those styles, especially fresh versions. If you’re in the US, good luck getting fresh classic examples for styles of Tropical Stout, Czech lagers, English Bitters, Scottish Ales, & German Altbier, among others.

Ideally, when you’re studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, try to get your hands on the classics listed by the BJCP, however, the Cicerone Program is aware that many people do not have access to all styles. They also purchase beer for their exams in the area of the exam for convenience. If you can't get Lion Tropical Stout in your area, you are unlikely to see it on your exam. The proctors don't fly cases of beer down from Chicago with them for tasting exams!

Here's an important bit of advice though - never try to guess what the proctors are using on an exam! Never use outside information in a blind tasting. Focus only on the aroma and flavor of the beer that's in front of you and nothing else. Going to the local shops to see what’s available will not help you on the test, at all.

All that said, the BJCP folks can't list EVERY beer on Earth that could be considered classic for each style in the Style Guidelines. If they did; 1) they’d spend all their time testing commercial examples for inclusion; and 2) the Guidelines would be MUCH longer! So, if you think local craft examples of classic style work for learning from because they are themselves very classic, then absolutely go for it. My warning is that many American versions labeled as certain styles are typically NOT at all classic. For instance, I've NEVER had an American produced Schwarzbier that was appropriately mild in flavor, roast, and hop bitterness. I'm sure someone in the US has tried to replicate the real thing, but every US craft version I've had has been more like the famed Moonlight Brewing's Death & Taxes (previously called a Schwarzbier, it’s now labeled as a “San Francisco style black lager” 🤷🏼‍♂️). It's a lovely beer, but it's a bitter and roasty American Stout fermented with lager yeast. That is totally unlike the classic Köstritzer Schwarzbier, which is practically a poolside Summer crusher. The classic Schwarzbier is like a pilsner but with a handful of toasty specialty malt tossed in for darker color and a whisper of toast and caramel.

So, you get my vibe - be careful about assuming American craft versions are classic - use the BJCP Guidelines to guide you when you're tasting locally made beers. See how they compare to what the BJCP Guidelines claim the style should be like. I’m currently in Portland, OR and don’t have access to beer from almost any producers in Austin, TX besides the occasional Jester King drop. I know Celis Brewing in Austin area makes a BJCP listed classic version of witbier. As we all know, beer scenes are super regional, so I can't help folks much when they ask questions like this, except by giving this lecture about sussing it out for yourself! 

Here's a another tidbit - when it comes to the essays on the Certified Cicerone written exam, when you're asked to write about a style, it's great to know the names of a couple classics examples to drop in the essay. Know one from the country of the style’s origin, as well as one produced elsewhere. Knowing and describing the flavor profiles of specific local examples where appropriate on the exam is always appreciated by the graders when you’re writing about beer styles or food & beer pairings.

Finally - find some Certified Cicerones (or higher!) in your area and ask them which beers you should be using to prep for the exam with! They'll be plugged in and should be able to provide some great advice. Take notes. 

certified cicerone