What should you do if you can’t find the BJCP listed “commercial examples” of classic beer styles?

certified cicerone Jan 25, 2023

Beer Scholar received a great question from Dmitriy T. He asks:

Hi Chris, I'm enjoying your course and getting ready for my CC exam. I have a question about commercial examples of beer styles for my written exam essays and for 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 (on the international scale) would be counted as valid commercial examples of BJCP listed beer styles or should I memorize more widely recognized brands, which can be challenging to find in TX? Thanks!

Adv Cicerone, Nat’l BJCP judge, & Beer Scholar creator 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 like Tropical Stout, many of the Czech lagers, the English Bitters, Scottish Ales, or German Altbier, among many others.

Ideally, if you’re prepping for the Certified Cicerone exam, you should try to get your hands on the classics listed by the BJCP when you’re learning, however, keep in mind that 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 cannot get Lion Tropical Stout in your area, you won't see it on the 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 another 40 pages longer! So, if you think you've got some local craft examples of the classics that 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 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” 🤷🏼‍♂️). That quite lovely beer is essentially a bitter and roasty American Stout, but fermented with lager yeast. That is totally unlike the classic Köstritzer Schwarzbier, which is practically a poolside Summer crusher. The classic Schwarzbier is essentially a pilsner but with a handful of toasty specialty malt tossed into the mash for darker color and a whisper of toast and caramel.

So, you get my meaning, just be careful about assuming American craft versions are classic - use the BJCP Guidelines to guide you when you're tasting locally made beers to see how they compare to what the 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 Jester King. I’m sad to see that Real Ale Brewing doesn’t make a single English style ale despite their name. Celis Brewing, on the other hand, absolutely makes a BJCP listed classic version of witbier. Celis Brewing was founded by Christine Celis, the daughter of Pierre Celis. Pierre is the person responsible for saving the witbier style from extinction many decades ago. His original brewery in the Belgian town of Hoegaarden was purchased by ABI after it burned down in 1985 (they still make Hoegaarden). The Celis story is whacky, but the family in Texas still make a classic witbier to this day out of their newer Celis Brewing!

When it comes to the essays on the written exam, when you're asked to write about one or more styles it's great to know the names of a couple classics examples 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 styles or about food and beer pairings.

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