• A memoir of the earliest days of the BJCP

    As you read in the history, the BJCP began in 1985. Here's an account of those earliest days by someone who was there.

    The BJCP's Birth Revisited

    by Patrick Baker

    Few people know the details about the start of the BJCP. Here's the straight scoop from one of its founders.

    Where was the first exam? When was it given? How many people took it? Who was there? You may know that the BJCP began in the mid-80s, and that it was jointly sponsored by the AHA (American Homebrewers Association) and the HWBTA (Home Wine & Beer Trade Association), although today it is completely independent.

    For the record, and the benefit of BJCP history freaks, here's the story.

    The first BJCP exam was given on May 31, 1985 at the AHA conference in Estes Park, Colorado. That conference was sort of a disaster for the AHA. The hotel was great and the scenery was wonderful, but it was a long way from anywhere. Attendance was low. There were no pubs around to explore, and if you weren't into hiking or mountain climbing, there wasn't much to do. Maybe that's why so many people signed up for the exam. The Estes Park exam was the biggest exam ever given by the BJCP. Fifty-one people took it!

    The exam itself wasn't much different from those we give today. Obviously, there was no BJCP question, but the weighting between brewing and style questions was fifty-fifty, like it is today. Rather than ten equally weighted questions, there were twelve questions of varying weight. The type of question was what you are familiar with now; rather simple, allowing lots of room for demonstration of beer literacy and depth of knowledge.

    For example, "Name two Trappist beers and describe the style." was worth five points. "List the AHA style categories and subcategories, and state two commercial examples of each subcategory." was worth 30 points.

    You could say that trickiness started with the first exam. "What is the difference between a Märzen, Oktoberfest and a Vienna style beer?" The gist of the desired answer was "Not much." People like to say that exams were easier in the old days. Not true! There were no 90s on the first exam, and nine takers failed. The score curve for the BJCP exam has remained strikingly constant over the years. In the first two years of the program, 153 people took the exam. 31 failed (21%) and 11 (7%) got nineties. The high fail rate was due to there being no study guide at the time. The high ninety rate was because many experienced brewers took the test. The first ten years of the program saw an average of 15% failures and 3% nineties on the exam.

    Who was there at the first exam? Ted Whippie was first in the door. Ted lived in Newtown, Connecticut at the time and was a member of the Underground Brewers. He didn't get a 90 on the first exam, but he did later and became one of the early Master judges. Jim Homer was number two. Jim was a long time AHA stalwart, and served as the AHA Co-Director of the program for seven years.

    A number of people who became commercial brewers are on the list for the first exam, including Terry Dennis, David Norton, John Maier, Roger Gribble, Marty Velas, Ron Downer, James Klisch, and Peter Caddoo. Dave Welker, long time organizer of the AHA National Homebrew Competition also took it.

    Estes Park was the first exam, but how and when did the program get started? Lots of people have good ideas. I am sure I wasn't the only one in the early eighties to think that it would be nice to have "legitimate" judges to evaluate home brews and pronounce that they were good. We were having competitions and were putting commercial "ringers" in the flights. It was great when Guinness came in third behind two homebrews, but did the judges know anything?

    I was involved with the HWBTA, and thought that perhaps if the HWBTA and AHA joined forces behind a judge certification program, it might give beer judging some credibility. I wrote up a plan, and discussed the idea with Charlie Papazian at the AHA Mini-conference in October 1984. Charlie's response was cool; "Do you really think people will pay money to take an exam?" But he agreed to go along with it if I would do the work.

    Estes Park was the next step and when fifty-one people* came through the door, we knew we had something meaningful. Lots of people have made major contributions to make the program what it is today. I am pleased to have been involved at the start, and proud to see what we have all achieved.

    *Editor's note: As of January, 2007, nine of the original 51 examinees are still active in the BJCP. One is a Master Beer Judge; the other eight are National Beer Judges.

    Patrick Baker lives in Westmoreland, NH. He was the HWBTA-appointed Co-Director of the BJCP from its start until August 1995. During his term as Co-Director, 2,034 people took the BJCP exam.