Rick August is a National ranked BJCP judge based out of Regina, SK.
CHA: When did you first hear about the BJCP, and why did you decide to get involved?
RA: I started homebrewing in the mid-1990s, pretty much on my own, with mostly frustrating results—this was the proto-internet era, and there was not much out there at the time for information other than [Charlie] Papazian’s book [The Complete Joy of Homebrewing]. Homebrewing still had a pretty small reach at that time.
I connected eventually with my local homebrew club, the Ale & Lager Enthusiasts of Saskatchewan (ALES), and began to learn more from experienced homebrewers. I’ve got competition medals on my wall from 1999, so I guess by then I had a better grasp.
I started stewarding in 2003 or 2004, which let me see the beer judging process in action. I became aware about that time that there was an organization that managed beer judge testing and credentialing.
One of the ALES club members booked an exam for spring of 2008 and organized a sort-of self-study group over that winter. I really had not done any judging at that point, but I signed up and took part.
CHA: What was the BJCP test like when you took it? Were there a lot of resources at that point of time? How did you study for that test?
RA: Our study group was a bit ragged, with spotty attendance and some drop-outs before the exam, but it gave us a chance to talk about beer and share experience. We were all expected to research and present on different topics, which is decent approach if everybody carries his or her share.
We were mostly still relying on print sources at that time, but at least there were more of them available. That stuff—Palmer, Noonan, Daniels, etc.—still fills part of my library. As always, learning results depended on how much effort you put into it.
The exam we wrote was the legacy exam, with the tasting and essay portions done back to back. If you set aside the online pre-qualifier that now exists, it was not much different than stacking together today’s tasting and written exams. It was a harrowing few hours, but it was all done in one day.
It took a long time to get the results, but I remember being very impressed with the thoroughness of the grader’s comments. There were two of us in that group who scratched our way into National-level scores. The other one is running a brewery today.
It took me a while to get my judging points up, so I did not get my National standing until 2013. I’ve tried to get a wider base of judging experience since then, away from my home club, and I’ve expanded into tasting exam grading, mostly as a service to the judging community.
CHA: How long have you been an assistant BJCP rep for the North, and what does that position entail?
RA: The assistant BJCP representative is a relatively new role in BJCP; as the name suggests, the idea is to support the work of the regional reps, many of whom, like ours, have large areas to serve.
I was head judge for the ALES Open in April 2017, which Brian Joas, the Northern district BJCP rep, attended. After some conversations I was recommended to the BJCP board a few months later as the assistant. My scope is still being refined, but it is basically western Canada, probably excluding B.C.
My grading experience has helped me understand the tasting exam better, and I have used that to develop a Powerpoint deck on how to succeed on that exam. I can take that to any club that is interested.
My main priority so far has been to try to get more National-eligible judges in the region to complete their credential. National status opens doors to, among other things, offering more local exams, which in turn should expand the pool of qualified judges.
We are very short in this area of people qualified to administer the exam—you have to be National rank and an exam grader right now. I did organize a written exam very recently in Swift Current. While only four people wrote, I hope this helps a bit.
As to future priorities, I guess we’ll see what develops. I hope to get out to more regional competitions in the next year or so.
Cover photo courtesy of Jeff Hamon
The Canadian Homebrewers Association is a non-profit dedicated to promoting and advancing the hobby of homebrewing in Canada. Established in 2018, it currently has more than 330 members across most of Canada's provinces and territories.