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BJCP Study Group: Category 22

by Rob Friesel

Category 22. Strong American Ale. That was study group #12.

“Looks like a light crew tonight.”

“Well, more for us.”

“I don’t think this is a category where that statement equates to a good idea.”

Category 22 Beers

No guest judges tonight. Just straight into the strong beers.

Category 22: Strong American Ale

The BJCP style guidelines sum up this category pretty succinctly (emphasis mine):

This category includes modern American strong ales with a varying balance of malt and hops. The category is defined mostly by alcohol strength and a lack of roast.

In other words:

  • Big beers
  • Distinctly American hop profiles
  • Not insubstantial malt
  • No roast
22A. Double IPA 22B. American Strong Ale 22C. American Barleywine 22D. Wheatwine
60 – 120 IBU 50 – 100 IBU 50 – 100 IBU 30 – 60 IBU
1.065 – 1.085 O.G. 1.062 – 1.090 O.G. 1.080 – 1.120 O.G. 1.080 – 1.120 O.G.
1.008 – 1.018 F.G. 1.014 – 1.024 F.G. 1.016 – 1.030 F.G. 1.016 – 1.030 F.G.
7.5 – 10.0% ABV 6.3 – 10.0% ABV 8.0 – 12.0% ABV 8.0 – 12.0% ABV

To break it down: these are the “double” and/or “imperial” and/or “-wine” versions of (most of the other) American styles. They should lack a roast character, but otherwise they should (generally speaking) balance toward bold American hop aromas and flavors. “American hoppy.” Significant bitterness, but not out-of-balance.

Category 22

And so…

  1. 22B. American Strong Ale. Stone Arrogant Bastard. Scored. Very tight score clustering; 3 × 40 point scores, and one 43. For the most part, we all agreed that the “minor ding” was on hop balance — that there was a strong hoppy nose, but that it didn’t come across on the palate. We also discussed at some length about how the bitterness of this beer really flirts with the edge of “too much” — that it’s very bitter which, while appropriate for style, could still make it unpleasant (and that matters!) and/but/so in this case it doesn’t quite get that far. We also had an interesting sidebar about how the alcoholic character presented, and how to some it was “obvious, though mild” while others “had to dig for it”.
  2. Triangle test. Probably the most fun exercise of its kind that we’ve done so far. Three cups, all 22A. Double IPAs — the question: which is the odd one out? and what made it different?
    Triangle Test Notes

    Five of us took the triangle test. One abstained (as proctor); one was unsure; and the other three each came to different conclusions (blue, red, turquoise). I’m pleased to report that I (“Definitely the turquoise!”) correctly identified the odd beer out. That said, I correctly identified the brewer of the odd beer out (The Alchemist) though the “correct” beer was my second choice (Heady Topper) and not my first (Focal Banger). Meanwhile, the two “same beers” I’d guessed were either Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, or BBCO’s Wizard; however, they turned out to be… a 2 month old batch of Heady Topper. How could I tell them apart? The fresher one had a fuller, more creamy mouthfeel, better head retention, and a “dank weed” impression on the palate that the others did not.

  3. 22C. American Barleywine. Rock Art Vermonster. Scored. “Ridge Runner’s Big Brother.” Our scores were fairly well-clustere in the mid-30s; 33-37. Around the table, most of us agreed: it wasn’t an unpleasant beer, just that the flavors etc. did not all marry well. As one put it: “It’s like a mosh pit where everyone is there and bumping into each other but not all at the same time, and not gently at all.” The mouthfeel felt too thin for the style, and the hops seemed oriented to bittering rather than aroma/flavor. Oh, and it had some sediment.
  4. Bonus beers. Erin, our study coordinator for the evening, had brought in a couple of his own “aged” (10 and 8 years old, respectively) barleywines. The older of the two was an all extract beer, and surprised us all with how good it was. The younger was an example of a not-unpleasant-but… infected (“wild”) barleywine. A takeaway here: these “big” styles, especially when sufficiently aged, can gracefully absorb many missteps.


  1. Spend less time on aroma. I’ve noted this before. Aromas can be so fleeting and delicate, and yet they account for 24% of the total score. It’s a big deal. You want to get it right. But there’s also a threshold where you need to cut yourself off.
  2. Palate fatigue! Also previously noted. But a triangle test with Heady Toppers will really drive this one home.

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day. Science fiction writer by night. Weekend homebrewer, beer educator at Black Flannel, and Certified Cicerone. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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