Every few years, the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) issues its Bible: a collection of beer style guidelines that inform homebrew competitions. They’re also sometimes used to judge professional brewing competitions, and to generally set a framework for a style. Like the Bible, these guidelines are taken as honest truth by some, while others choose to interpret them as they see fit. Without wading too far into that debate, we can say that the issuing of revised guidelines always reflects the beer world at its current time. The last revision came in 2008; seven years later, the BJCP officers have released a guide with notable additions and changes. Here are some major take-aways:
Specialty IPAs get some clarification. Oh, how times have changed: In 2008, any IPA that wasn’t an imperial IPA, a classic American or a classic English IPA was classified as a specialty IPA. To reflect the era of red, white, rye and Belgian IPAs, the 2015 guidelines offer expanded descriptions of specialty IPA beers.
Expanded American wild ale category! Seeking to shed light on the broad and sometimes misunderstood umbrella of American wild ales, the 2015 guidelines break them out and parse them into three camps: Brett beer, mixed-fermentation sour beer and wild specialty beer. The 2008 guidelines felt Euro-centric with categories for lambics and Flanders red ales, but no specific place for American wild ales to live.
There’s renewed interest in historical beers. “When we started revising the guidelines, no one was making goses. Now it’s the flavor of the week,” says BJCP president Gordon Strong. To reflect a growing interest in historical styles like gose, lichtenhainer and sahti, these beers are now spelled out as subcategories.
It’s no longer all about U.S. imports. The 2008 guidelines generally reflected the international beer scene as it appeared to Americans through the lens of imported beers. The 2015 version takes into account other countries’ beer landscapes as they appear on their shores, with the introduction of the international lager category and European sour ale category. “We’re trying to account for more styles that don’t necessarily get exported, because the BJCP is a worldwide organization and we have groups all over trying to use the guidelines,” Strong says. ” I think it’s a more fair representation of modern craft and worldwide styles.”
There are certainly other changes that devoted drinkers will want to comb through—shoutout to the Australian sparkling ale subcategory!—but these seem to be the largest changes that mark a departure from the 2008 guidelines and ground this new version firmly in the world beer as it currently stands.