There has been quite a bit of back and forth in the BJCP Forums lately about how to create a Master level score sheet. I’ve discussed that exam a couple of times in the blog, once in July 2012 and again in November 2012. I still get people who want to blaze their own path and IMO that is a recipe for disaster. So let’s briefly go through what you should and should not do.
It’s simple, leave no blank lines. When you are writing try to write phrases of useful content, not simply a single word or lines of BS. Instead of saying fruity, ester, or fruity ester, say fruity pear ester. Now the grader can instantly realize the ester and which fruit you meant and you filled up white space.
Fill it in. Nothing could be simpler.
Attributes on Left Side
Tick the boxes as appropriate for the beer being evaluated. The box may be for a positive or negative, but be sure to tick it is applicable. The descriptions are not present on the exam score sheet so familiarize yourself using a standard competition score sheet.
When making comments in aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel (AAFM) be sure to avoid making any notation about style. Simply write down what you smell, see, taste and feel in the appropriate section. I think of aroma as an onion and I peel back layer after layer until there is nothing left to peel. Then you can begin to talk about things which are not present in the aroma like DMS or diacetyl. If you are good with your descriptions there will be no white space remaining and you will never have to talk about what is not present. For appearance get a little creative with the verbiage and rather than just saying something like dense head, make it dense everlasting moussy head which lasted for days. I call that the white space eliminator. For flavor I think of it as a filing cabinet. At the front of the cabinet are the flavors which immediately greet the palate and as you work your way back the last file is the aftertaste. So I basically describe from start to finish, then discuss bitterness and balance and generally I have run out of room. For mouthfeel be sure to hit the listed topics and be more descriptive than just calling the body medium. This is one of the more difficult sections to completely fill in for most people. A few extra words here and there can work magic. So instead of stating simply no astringency, throw in another word to make it no perceived astringency or no astringency present. With practice it will be a cinch.
This is where you must shine and the only place IMO to speak about style. The ability to fill this in correctly is something you have to learn. I find it easiest to hone in on something which was a flaw or something which would make the beer better emulate style and discuss that topic. If the head was impaired discuss ways to improve it, if the bitterness mid-palate was lacking discuss ways to improve flavor hops, if diacetyl was present discuss ways to eliminate. You don’t need to write a dissertation on it, but cover it. Now if the flaw was minor you may need to cover multiple flaws or ways to better meet style. Just be sure to not go too crazy with what you do. I recently saw where someone suggested all sorts of specialty malt additions to improve the exam beers. You must be careful, there are purists out there, like myself, who believe darn near every beer in the world could be made using five malts or less. Also don’t guess what a person did, sometimes it may be better to simply state what needs to change. Something like, the beer needs more mid-palate hop flavor, generally hop flavor can be increased by adding hops 30 minutes into the boil. That example is a little verbose, but you get the picture.
Score the beer according to how it meets style and the flaws presented. This can be a challenge and a bit of a crapshoot IMO, but do the best you can. Also be sure you add the values correctly for the total.
So now you need to practice. I suggest you take one of the score sheets above and practice filling in the white space each and every time you have a beer. You can always use an application to help out, but nothing beats good old paper. If in doubt about an aroma of a commercial brew, check out the beer rating sites and someone there has probably described the aroma so it will help you develop your taste memory. Which brings me to my final suggestion for the day. Don’t use odd singular taste memories on the exam. If I were to say my grandmother’s fried apple pies you would have no idea what that tasted like. Were they all cinnamon, doughy, crunchy, what exactly? So find something more widely tasted, a McDonald’s apple pie would probably cover it if indeed that is what you were tasting.
I hope that helps some of the budding BJCP judges who have passed the online entrance exam and are waiting to take the taste exam or who need to retake the taste and just cannot figure out how to get over the hump to create an excellent exam score sheet. It just takes strategy and preparation and the beautiful thing is most of the preparation involves drinking beer! 😉