Where can you find BJCP training when studying for the Cert Cicerone or AC exam?Mar 14, 2017
I get this question via email frequently. It generally goes like this: "Where can I find BJCP training?! I've looked around online and don't see any courses offered and I don't know where to find one locally."
Yep, it's a real challenge to find decent sensory analysis/beer judging/BJCP type classes, online or IRL. That is a fact. There used to be one or two companies that offered great live courses online that took place once per week for eight or ten weeks. I recommended one of them in my Beer Scholar Study Guide for the CC Exam. Those companies have all disappeared. When it comes to getting in-person training, that's generally only something you'll find in areas that have strong homebrew communities and you'll likely only find out about the courses if you're an active member in your local homebrew club. Some clubs do these classes about once per year, but organizing and teaching them is a TON of work (I know, I've helped with several here in San Francisco for the club I founded, the SF Homebrewers Guild). BJCP classes also generally require National or Master level judges to run them, which are in short supply in most areas. Many clubs don't have BJCP classes at all, or at most only every few years.
Seats in homebrew club-led BJCP training classes are generally limited, with only active members invited to participate. That's partly because those receiving the training are likely prepping for the BJCP exam. The BJCP exam is *not* something you should take unless you're truly an active member of the homebrew community who plans to judge lots of homebrew competitions for that community (which you probably are not if you're seeking out the course to help you prep for a Cicerone exam). Why do I say this? The BJCP is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization and giving/grading exams is a TON of work for the volunteers that make the BJCP work. Also, exam seats are extremely limited. Don't take an exam seat and have volunteers grade your exam if you're not doing it to *really* become a judge in that community. Don't think of becoming a BJCP judge as a resume builder, that's not cool (besides, that's what the Cicerone Certification Program is for). All that said, you should absolutely feel welcome to contact local clubs to ask about BJCP training courses. Be sure to let them know that you're not interested in taking the BJCP exam, you just want to take the course with them. Homebrew clubs can be tight knit, but the members are almost always very nice and are happy to help folks in the beer community out, so being honest with them about your intentions can only help get you a seat in the class. Who knows, maybe you'll make some great new friends, too!
So, what can you do if you're unable to find an online course and after reaching out to your local homebrew clubs you find out there aren't any local trainings happening anytime soon? Good question. Essentially, there is only one thing you can do and it's pretty obvious really. This is it, and frankly it's similar to what you'd do in a BJCP training course - get a copy of the BJCP Style Guidelines and sample beers of every style while reading about that style. Do this systematically for each style over the course of a couple months. Do some obvious things like sampling similar styles next to each other to understand how they're different. Fill out some BJCP scoresheets (available on the BJCP website) to get a feel for how to properly describe beer you're tasting blind. It's actually pretty straightforward. Get some friends together and have fun with it. Give each other beers blind to test each others' knowledge and descriptive abilities, give the person 5 minutes to taste it and describe it to you. Boom! You've created your own BJCP course! Of course it'd be ideal to taste with experts who can guide you, but you may just have to get the ball rolling on your own. Don't sit around and wait on account of the fact that no one else is doing it for you.
P.S. Here's a little secret. I'm working on several Beer Scholar video lecture series, one of which will be geared to BJCP training. The bulk of my BJCP-focused videos will be made free online in the spirit of the BJCP and the openness of the homebrew community. Don't hold your breath and please don't email me to ask when they'll be ready. My priority is to complete series for the Cicerone exams first. I expect to release all these video lecture series by the end of 2017. It's my big Beer Scholar project for the year and I'm really excited about it! It's also a massive undertaking, so again, don't expect a miracle. It's on the way!