Going Global: International Growth of the BJCP
International growth of the BJCP is at the forefront, with efforts underway to address growing global interest in beer, mead, and cider judging worldwide
Jeff Sanders, Assistant Communication Director
> The BJCP has seen growth in countries other than the U.S., and Board Members and Officers have visited many of these countries, including Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Belgium, Germany, France, Argentina, Chile
> The BJCP Board appointed North East Regional Representative Ali Kocho-Williams to represent all countries outside of the United States and Canada
> Gordon Strong, Scott Bickham, Ali Kocho-Williams and other members of the board have been focusing on putting into place systems and resources to grow the program internationally, to address the same challenges faced within the U.S. and new ones

While the BJCP originated in the U.S. and has traditionally focused upon the United States, international growth of the BJCP has come to the forefront recently. If you've been to the BJCP web site in the last couple of years, you've likely noticed an "International Resources" section, including resources for 19 other countries, and seen listings for competitions worldwide. The BJCP's Northeast Representative, Ali Kocho-Williams, who lives in Great Britain, represents program members within the Northeastern United States, but also all countries worldwide.

The BJCP has been experiencing record exponential growth over the past few years. That growth in new judges, stewards, organizers, educators, and graders hasn't been limited to U.S. or North America, however. International growth presents various challenges, not the least of which are simple language barriers.

Ali Kocho-Williams, Scott Bickham, and Gordon Strong are three BJCP Board Members whose recent efforts are helping to set the direction for international growth of the BJCP. Ali, Scott, and Gordon have worked with others in the BJCP to:

  • translate the style guidelines, study materials, grading resources and exam proctoring resources into non-English languages
  • assist in, proctor, and grade exams in non-English languages
  • engage in international training and recruiting efforts for graders
  • make several international trips representing the BJCP and promote its growth

I recently interviewed the group on the BJCP's international affairs, and learned a lot about the global program the BJCP is becoming.


First thanks for agreeing to an interview. I mentioned some of the efforts towards growing the BJCP outside of the U.S., but which ones did I miss?

Strong: Those are the important ones, but I think I'd also add:

  • helping establish beer judging infrastructure, including showing how to run competitions and exams
  • identifying in-country leaders to assist with answering local questions and advising us on local issues; basically people who can represent the BJCP for that country. To be in this position, it's important that they can speak English fairly well, have good judging skills, and be seen as a leader in the local community (basically, National rank-potential judges).


So fermented beverages, such as beer, have been traced as far back as 7,000 years ago in Sumeria. But the BJCP has seen international growth rapidly accelerate only in somewhat recent years. Why do you think this is?

Strong: Craft Beer is emerging in many of these countries and homebrewing seems to go hand-in-hand with that growth. I think a component of the growth is also locals becoming aware of the BJCP and what it can provide to support local beer judging efforts, including all the free materials we provide. I'd like to think that that awareness due to our outreach efforts and reputation in those countries where we are established.

Bickham: One thing I would add is that the growth of craft brewing in Brazil has enabled homebrewers to obtain quality European and North American malts at process comparable to what we pay in the United States.


Has the BJCP's overall philosophy shifted any as a result of international differences in cultural, language, way of life? If so, how?

Strong: Philosophy? Overall, no. The BJCP still has the same core values and goals, but I do think we've become more aware of some of the tactical issues in other countries. So, it's more a matter of how we apply our philosophy in these new areas than changing the philosophy itself.

Bickham: The globalization of the BJCP was a factor in our decision to implement the online Entrance exam, since that approach gives us a platform that can easily be extended to other languages.

Strong: Our interaction with other countries has opened our eyes a bit, especially on how beer styles are described, perceived and used. That has led to the latest revision being less a representation of beer as it is available in the US import market and more of how it is represented globally and in local markets.

The BJCP has become more accommodating to the challenges in locations where there is not a well-developed BJCP or beer judging infrastructure. We're more likely to allow an exam to be scheduled or have a higher seat limit in an area where it is difficult to hold an exam, for instance. I see us as less likely to try to apply one-size-fits-all solutions to these areas, which is a good thing.

Kocho-Williams There has, perhaps, been a change in philosophy the other way. While the BJCP's overall philosophy hasn't changed, the philosophy of individuals and groups around the world does seem to have changed, with the BJCP being seen as more progressive in the world of craft beer than some of the more traditional judging setups. For example, in the UK, some styles of beers that are seen commonly in competitions and in the market are lumped into specialty categories by the more traditional organisations like CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) and SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers), and that has led people to embrace the BJCP.


Judging beer, mead, and cider oftentimes involves learning a vocabulary unto itself. What challenges have you run into surrounding language? How have they been overcome?

Strong: Challenges for us? Not that many. For locals, quite a few. I've had several questions on specific terms, and the use of colloquialisms, phrases, cultural references, etc. Also, surprisingly, on ingredients. For instance, I had someone in Brazil ask me about using the term 'apricot' -- apparently, this is not a fruit that is known to them. Likewise, I also had people in Argentina ask about the term 'crisp', and what it implied in beer. We had to go through a lot of back-and-forth before the concept could be expressed properly in Spanish. I also had people in Chile complain about the amount of room available on a scoresheet for comments. Apparently, where an American might say 'orangey' or 'orange-like', someone in Chile would say 'has the flavor of an orange'. The challenge for them was to adopt a less formal writing style and perhaps inventing some new words (like 'narajosa') to fit that situation. It's still very much a work in progress, but the BJCP tries to be supportive of those who are looking to improve the ability of local judges to provide quality descriptions and feedback using words that brewers will understand. About all we can do in these situations is be available as resources for those locals who are stepping up to create the judge materials in local languages.


Do you find that those who speak multiple languages have a better vocabulary when judging beer or taking an exam?

Strong: Not necessarily; my experience is that a better vocabulary is more tied to intelligence, education, and experience. Studying additional languages typically requires those skills, but isn't necessarily the cause of them.

I love judging with people who are multi-lingual. I do often hear unusual or unique descriptions, which are sometimes amusing if not that universally descriptive. While judging with a Chilean, I heard the phrases 'wet dog' and 'sad Christmas' used. Not sure about that last one, but I'm pretty sure I don't want my beer to be like that.


Obviously studying for a tasting exam involves locating commercial examples of the beer by which to set a watermark. Have you found that those outside of the U.S. have any difficulties tracking down the examples? Are there as many study groups outside the U.S. as there are within?

Strong: Yes, those outside the US can have difficulties tracking down examples, but some in the US can have problems with some European examples too. Finding a bottle of beer is one thing; having it be a fresh and representative example is another. I think craft beer examples can help fill in the gap, and the style guidelines can describe what they might be missing too.

I think I've seen about as many study groups. They tend to be organized around an exam, or major competitions, or perhaps as part of a club activity -- that's pretty much what we'd see in the US. So while the absolute number of study groups might be low, I think the ratio to activities is likely about the same.

Kocho-Williams It's not that big an issue in Europe (in fact Europeans probably enjoy better access to some of the European styles), as there are plenty of imports. But there are also plenty of beers being brewed that hit the mark of styles, and on which regional judges can give advice to those studying. I have found that while you may not be able to get X, someone may have tried it, and can explain why Y is or isn't a good substitute or example of the style. It's all about working with what you've got and seeking out viable solutions.


How many different languages is the Entrance exam currently offered in? What are the plans to make it available in more and when?

Strong: Currently, the online exam is offered in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. I'm not aware of any plans to translate them to additional languages, but it really depends on the demand and on the availability of knowledgeable, trustworthy local members who can lead that effort.

With the major revision to the style guidelines coming soon, I think the first order of business will be to revise the online question pool (and our other exams) to incorporate the changes. After that is complete, we can think about what other translations might be needed. The existing translations will have to be revised once the English language pool has been updated, of course.

Bickham: There really has not been that much demand for the BJCP exam in regions where other languages would be required. We have had a handful of isolated inquiries from homebrewers in France, Italy and Germany, but these are far from the critical mass needed to devote hundreds of hours into translations.

Kocho-Williams We have identified some Catalans who intend to work on a translation.


Computers aren't as ubiquitous in all countries as they are in the United States, nor often as powerful. The BJCP Online Entrance exam is also run by servers hosted in the United States. Has U.S. hosting of the electronic study materials or the entrance exam had any noticeable affect on the number taking the entrance exam or the scores?

Strong: I don't know that the statement about technology is true, at least when dealing with the population of people who are interested in the BJCP. I haven't heard of any problems related to availability of computing infrastructure.

Bickham: I am not aware of any issues from participants taking the online exam. We occasionally get requests to restart an exam due to internet connectivity issues, but these tend to be from judges in the United States.


How are tasting and written exams proctored outside of the U.S.? Are they held in English, the native language or both?

Strong: Both. We typically leave it up to the local exam organizer to request an English exam or a local language exam. If the exam is held in a language other than English, we have required that the locals pay for a translation of the exams into English so they can be graded. We have granted allowances to local exams if the examinees are writing in English, but it is not their native language; typically, we have allowed them some additional time.

The English-only policy for grading had been in effect for a long time, ever since we attempted an exam in French given in Quebec. The results were not very encouraging, so we had required translations. This approach has worked well, although it does add significant time and expense to the process.

Earlier this year, Scott announced that the Exam Directorate is prepared to grade exams given in some native languages, primarily Spanish, Italian and German. The addition of Agatha Feltus as an Associate Exam Director gave us many new options, since she speaks at least five languages. Scott is fluent in several as well, so the review process can be done. We have identified graders for these exams, including some National-ranked graders in Argentina and Brazil. As we continue to advance BJCP members through the ranks, I would expect this program to expand. It's very encouraging and a true sign that growth in some non-English speaking countries is reaching a self-sustaining critical mass.

Bickham: As a rule of thumb, we need the graders and the Associate Exam Director to be fluent in the language, and the Exam Director should also have some competency at reading the language.


The BJCP recently raised the quotas on the number of tasting exam sites that are allowed per month, as well as support of large exam sites. Is the demand for tasting and written exams as high outside the U.S. as it is within?

Strong: The demand is high everywhere. People all around the world are interested in becoming BJCP judges. I don't know the relative interest, but there is a strong demand for exams in Europe and South America. We've been established longer in Australia and South Africa; those countries continue to hold exams on a regular basis and seem to be well-attended.

Bickham: The demand for the Written exam is currently low in South America, but we expect that to change as more judges achieve the qualifying score on the Beer Judging Exam and accrue the required 10 judging experience points.

Kocho-Williams Demand outside the US is certainly high, but there are challenges with there being enough demand in one area to merit an exam there. In my International role, I get contacted by people from all parts of the world looking to take exams, but it isn't really feasible for two people somewhere to take an exam on their own. What we've tried to push towards is large exam sites that people can travel to, and which possibly tie in with other craft beer events (Dublin in February 2014 was a good example of this, with examinees from Ireland, Germany, Poland, and Italy taking the exam). Of course, these have their challenges, not least in finding people who are able to proctor them and in candidates being willing to travel to take the exam.


The Exam Directorate is constantly working on efforts to reduce the amount of time required to get tasting or written exam results back. Is the time period about the same for returning exam results back outside of the U.S.? What are the other challenges that come into play when grading non-U.S. exams?

Strong: No, but we have specific plans for improvement. Physically mailing exam sets around the world adds time and expense, so we typically ask the administrator to email us scanned exams. If the exams are given in a non-English language, we've had translation delays. But we are starting up the electronic routing of exam materials, which should reduce the mailing times. We've already discussed the improvements possible if non-English exams can be graded without being translated first.

Kocho-Williams I've sent and graded electronic exam sets from the UK. As someone outside of the US it makes so much sense in terms of speed and expense.


Gordon, you've traveled to South America and Ireland representing the BJCP. Can you expand on those trips, what you experienced regarding interest in the BJCP, and what you learned? What made you choose South America and Ireland?

Strong: Since I've been in the BJCP, I've been to the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Some of those have been for work, some for personal vacation, some to speak at brewing conferences, and some to give exams. Regardless of why I'm there, I like to think I'm representing the BJCP every time I do something beer-related. People will make the association anyway.

I choose to visit other countries for the same reason most beer people do; to see the sights, meet the people, try the local beers, do some beer-related research, and have a fun time. Those are the reasons for ones I choose for vacation. When I went to Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, I was invited to speak at brewing conferences because people had read my books or articles, heard me on podcasts, or knew me from my homebrewing achievements. I wasn't there on BJCP business, but in each case, I managed to meet with local judges, judge in competitions, hold exams, or give training classes -- similar to what I do when I go to different places in the US. In all those situations, the local organizers paid for the trips, not the BJCP.

The recent Ireland trip was a bit different. Ali was organizing an exam and needed a high-ranked proctor. The locals offered to pay for most of the trip, but they needed someone to go. I offered it to the BJCP board and staff, expecting someone to jump at the chance. After about 2 weeks, I checked with Ali and no one had stepped up. So I volunteered to go. It was a short-notice trip in the middle of the winter, so that likely had something to do with it. In this case, since it was specifically to give a BJCP exam, the locals requested some financial support.

To address the need for high-ranked exam proctors to travel to remote locations, the Board recently passed an Exam Proctor Reimbursement Policy that gives authority to authorize subsidies up to $500 to the Exam Directors. We had been operating under these guidelines for the last several years, but never had formally written them down. The policy formalized what we had been doing in practice.

In cases where we must travel to proctor an exam, it seems the typical arrangement is that locals provide most of the funding, the BJCP subsidizes the funds, and the proctor kicks in some of their own money. I know that was the case of my Ireland trip, and it's likely been the same for other proctors that have traveled for exams as well.

So, to answer your question, for those countries where I wasn't there for work or vacation, I didn't choose those countries -- they had events and chose me. I think that's pretty typical. We don't plan BJCP trips around visiting specific countries; we support local events that need and request our help. Beyond that, we try to take advantage of every opportunity where we are in another country for another purpose, and add some BJCP content to it. That's helped a huge amount with the development of the new style guidelines, for instance.


Scott, you've traveled to South Africa and Brazil representing the BJCP. Same questions.

Bickham: I’ve actually also represented the BJCP in Berlin, Germany, where I led a group of local brewers through an off-flavor tasting using our BJCP flavor kit. The base beer was Budvar, which seemed like a shame to adulterate, but it did have an impact on our perception of some of the flavors compared to using a more bland American Lite Lager. I worked this visit into a European business trip, but my travels to South Africa and Brazil were primarily driven by my desire to do some outreach for the BJCP and provide proctoring and administrative support for local exams. I think the brewers in these regions realize that scheduling the exams in conjunction with beer festivals will not only help them recruit more participants for the exams, but increase the probability that a high-ranking judge from the US will be able to travel to the exam.

In my case, it also helps being creative in merging my business travel with BJCP activities. For example, I was able to add some business meetings to the agenda for my recent trip to Brazil, and this enabled me to get the Visa paperwork covered by my company. I’ve always integrated beer hunting and tasting into my work travel, and in our effort to globalize the BJCP, I’m now making more of an effort to get in touch with brewers and educate them about the BJCP.


Ali, you live outside the U.S. and represent program members worldwide. Have you noticed differences as a result of the BJCP being a traditionally U.S.-focused organization?

Kocho-Williams The biggest difference is in terms of scale and numbers of judges. In the US, there are lots of active BJCP members and many more competitions being run, but that isn't the case elsewhere (although we're working on that). This presented some challenges, not least as there is a need to have people able to proctor attend exams, but with more judges on the ground around the world that will start to ease.

There have been some murmurings about the BJCP being traditionally American based, but these are mostly surrounding the notion that what is available on the US import market might not always be that indicative of regional styles. But that is being overcome with the current style revisions (I was present with Gordon in Dublin this spring, while we hashed through a large number of European styles which a group of Europeans from the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Poland, and identified where some key adjustments were needed), and the BJCP is clearly being seen to be paying attention to this as it develops. My sense is that some time ago the BJCP was seen as a bastion of Americans, but that perception is changing on that issue. One of the great things about being involved in the international side of things for the BJCP is seeing the evolution taking place. And I think that having more non-US based members will allow that evolution to continue as we move forward.


Right now the BJCP lists resources for 19 countries on its web site. Where are the other countries you expect to see grow over the next year, five years, and ten years?

Strong: I think Ali is the best person to answer this question, since we've appointed him to be the BJCP's international focal point.

From my observations, I think there might be additional interest in other countries in Europe and South America, but most growth will come from expanding in the countries where we are either already established or at least have a few members.

Kocho-Williams In the next few years I expect that we will expand where we have footholds of judges, perhaps logically. In the short- to mid-term, based on those who contact me, I'd expect to see growth across Europe, in Russia, India, Japan and in South America. Some of this will be driven by expats and who've come into contact with the BJCP elsewhere, but there's plenty of interest from people in their home countries as the craft beer movement gathers pace.


Lastly, I'm curious about the roadmap for international growth. What are the plans for the next 5 years to ensure that the BJCP sees the same success and commitment to quality worldwide that it has in the U.S.?

Strong: We don't have formal roadmaps for growth; as a certifying organization, we respond to the demand we see. I think we have more of a roadmap to better support services to members in international locations. That said, I think we're going to be doing some more detailed planning this coming year since Ali has had some time in his new position and has a better understanding of what is being requested. That was one of the marching orders for that job; maintain a dialog with members and potential members in our international locations and understand their needs so we can incorporate them into our normal planning process.

I think rolling out new guidelines that have more of an international focus will help, as will continued translation of program materials into new languages.

Kocho-Williams The main focus at the moment is to maintain links with key individuals in other countries, and find out what they need. Some of this is support of things they are already doing, some of it is giving advice (and sometimes translating certain aspects of the documentation) and some of this is talking with them about how they might prepare as a group for an exam. One of the important things to keep sight of, is what do they want out of the BJCP and how do they feel it fits into the broader context of craft beer and home brewing in their region in order to better understand how the BJCP can best work for them. The other key aspect of development is being able to point people to others in their region who are also interested in the BJCP, and so maintaining a log of who is interested is proving to be useful - most recently I was able to connect someone prepping for an exam with the only other judge in their country, whom it turned out lived only five minutes drive away.

In the longer term, we'll need to plan for exams, and relieving some of the pressures of exams in areas where we don't have a developed foothold (availability of seats, and the long lead-times for getting an exam booked being the two biggest obstacles). These are part of the general aspect of planning, and so not unique to the international development, and the board has already made steps to address some of these challenges. Allowing large exam sites to run outside the US has been a significant step in developing membership. I think we'll also need to give attention to regional support of the CEP initiatives, which again is something that the board has been discussing.

Finally, as part of the BJCP becoming more international, we need to remember that there's a great opportunity for the flow of information to better understand global beer styles, and to connect with judges and brewers around the world. This is already taking place, and it's something we mustn't lose site of, and need to maintain. And we should support the exchange of information within the program and its members.



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