By Nick Holt.
As a club we have spent a lot of time in mini-comps talking about how to fill in a scoresheet, and I have previously written about the importance of understanding how to do this as part of my preparation to become a BJCP judge. However, thinking back to when I first joined the club it dawned on me that I had some fairly negative reactions to scoresheets on my beers from our club comp/QABC etc. Knowing what I know now, these reactions were based on a false understanding the process a judge goes through when analysing and writing about a beer. So, I thought it would be good to write an article on how to read a scoresheet to help members understand where the comments come from and what they mean.
The first thing is to save a bottle of your beer, ideally in the same condition as what was entered (i.e bottled at the same time if kegging), to drink while you are reading your scoresheet. I have found it is very helpful understanding more about the judge’s comments when you can taste and read together. You might find you will smell or taste your beer differently than before. You can see whether you perceive the same as the judge did.
The second thing is to read the BJCP guidelines against your scoresheet. When writing a score sheet, a judge is writing about what they perceive in a beer. Whereas to accurately assess your score, they are looking at how close is what the perceive to what they should perceive in the BJCP guidelines. As an example, a judge might note on a scoresheet than there was no hop aroma detectable. On the surface this may seem like a negative comment, however when reading the style guidelines, if it says there should low to no hop aroma (such as a Dark Mild), the judges comment is actually positive and this ought to be reflected in the score.
I have found that for fine tuning beers, judges tend not to write what they don’t detect unless it is fundamental to the style. Again, using a Dark Mild as an example, a judge may note the beer has a sweet toffee flavour. This on its own is a good indicator of the style but a well made one could also have nuttiness or some dark fruit flavours. These added elements may not be commented on by a judge, but their lack of comments gives you information that these may be missing. This may be the difference between a 35+ score and a 40+ score.
Finally, after reading your scoresheet, BJCP guidelines and comparing your these you are still bewildered by the score or how to improve your beer, reach out to the judge and ask some more questions. Alternatively bring your beer and the scoresheet along to BABBs and ask a judge to have a look with you. You can talk through your process and identify why the beer is like it is.
While entering competitions is fun to compete against fellow brewers, it is also the best place to get unbiased feedback about your beer. It can be disheartening to get a score that you think was lower than warranted. Try to use the feedback given in the scoresheet to critically analyse your recipe, process and what style it was entered under and try to take the feedback onboard to make the next version of that beer even better.