The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), an American program dedicated to promoting of beer, cider and mead styles, tastings and judging, has now become the standard for most homebrew competitions across the world, including Canada. The program certifies and ranks judges through an examination and monitoring process, sanction competitions and provide education resources for current and future judges. However, a look through the style guidelines shows no mention of any Canadian styles, besides the inclusion of Sleeman’s Cream Ale as a classic example of 1C: Cream Ale, and McAuslan Brewing’s St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout as a classic example of 16B: Oatmeal Stout. But this is something that Victor North is interested in seeing changed.
North is the Brewmaster Support Liaison at Niagara College for their Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management, and it’s his third year running The Niagara College Brewing Competition. “I imagine everyone who runs competitions…want to do something a little special. One of the ideas we kicked around was highlighting certain styles to be able to have a flight of those, which is something that we don’t always have the opportunity. You make an interesting style and the chances are it’s going to be collapsed into some other category, which is fine. But it’d be interesting to have a whole flight of say, Kentucky Common, or something a little more obscure.”
Then inspiration hit North. “Instead of picking something like Kentucky Common, which is a less common style, but very much not our domestic style, why not pick a few styles that are? We’re not void of brewing culture here. We have plenty of culture. Why not define a few? Because it’s one thing to say, brew me a Rousse. Okay. But what does that mean to you? You kind of have to define it so you have baselines for judging. So that’s what I did.”
North put together four Canadian styles that were open for entries at the 2018 Niagara College Brewing Competition:
- Ontario Pale Ale, a pale ale style with “less hop character and bitterness than American Pale Ales and less yeast character than English Pales Ales”, with crystal malts providing “as much of the colour and flavour for which this is known, but caramel maltiness should remain reasonably balanced with C-typehop character”.
- Quebecoise Rousse, a pale ale style known for the “use of roasted malts and barley, which provide much of the distinctive colour for which this style is named” without overwhelming the profile and with emphasis on sessionability.
- Biere D’epinette/ Spruce Beer, an amber ale spiced with “powerful evergreen flavours and aromas” from the addition of evergreen trees or shrubs, or even non-evergreens, such as birch.
- Canadian Ice Beer, a pale lager beer which has “undergone some kind of freezing process, superficially similar to German Eisbock”.
“There’s very little Canada in the [BJCP] guidelines,” lamented North, “But since creating this, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. I’ve actually sent it on to the BJCP to see what they think about it. No answers yet, but it would be great to have some inclusions of the Canadian styles in the guidelines.”
With Canada being so spread out and diverse, North is aware that the styles he picked may not be representative of all Canadian styles. “It’s hard to define our culture. We are a very diverse group, I think to our benefit. That is a strength, but it does make it challenging if you’re trying to celebrate a single culture. We don’t have that. We’re all products of where we are and where we’re from. I picked styles I’m familiar with, that maybe wouldn’t be familiar to everybody.
North points out that the lack of Canadian representation in the BJCP style guidelines is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I’ve heard several Canadian brewers tell me that Canada has no domestic styles…They’ll point to the [BJCP] guidelines and say there’s nothing in here that’s uniquely Canadian. People often misunderstand what they are. They’re not an attempt to define which styles are legitimate and true and worthy of attention. It was a document to establish guidelines for the most common styles being enter into homebrew competitions so they could be judged consistently on the same standards and fairly. How can we expect some American authors creating an American document for American homebrewers to talk about our local styles if we’re not going to talk about them?
“We don’t have to wait for an official guideline. If we want a Canadian appendix, we can just author the document. There’s no reason why we can’t do that, and that’s what I did. Write your style, share that with your homebrew club, hold a competition where you highlight it and celebrate your domestic style.”
There was a decent showing of the provisional styles at this year’s Niagara College Brewing Competition, with 11 entries in the Rousse category, five entries each for the Ontario Pale Ale and Spruce beer categories, though not enough Ice Beer entries for a stand alone category judging. Andrew Cook, a second semester student at Niagara College’s Brew Master program from Mississauga, ON, submitted the category winning entry in the Ontario Pale Ale entry. “I was familiar with the Ontario Pale Ale as Mill Street’s Tank House was a stepping stone for me to getting into craft beer many years ago. [It’s] a beer I have always enjoyed and was excited for the oppourtunity to have my OPA judged at a BJCP competition.”
Header photo courtesy of Eli Willms