100 Belgium Beers

100 Belgian Beers To Try Before You Die: Tim Webb & Joris Pattyn (CAMRA Books: ISBN: 978-1-85249-248-9)

Another beer ticker book, a list of one hundred (or actually just over, but we will get to that later) beers to try. This one I actually have more time for than most. In part because of its focus. Belgium is bloody tiny, and despite the impressive brewery to landmass ratio it makes for a more manageable book than most. At a hundred beers selected you have a good chance of one of the beers tickling your memory if you encounter it on the move, and the thin size and light weight of the book means you can easily slip it in a satchel for double checking on the move. Perfect for when holidaying around Belgium. Similarly the Belgium focus gets around my issue with 300 beers to try before you die, that being that it focuses too heavily on one region for what was meant to be a world covering book.

The book also takes full advantage of this limited focus to give a map detailing the various breweries locations, brewery tour details, US and UK import details, and in the case of tap only beers, indications of where you may be able to find them. It goes out of its way to not only tell you what you should drink, but also the oft forgotten step of telling you how you can drink them as well.

The beers themselves are listed in a one per page style, with some atmospheric photo shots splitting up the pages. There is a lot of white space and images to make it easy on the eye. Despite the smaller size they are still keeping to the easy to read look rather than the stripped down pocket carry look.

However I am dancing around the core issue of any book like this. The beers themselves. The range listed is varied, both geographically and in style with a mix of the well known (Trappist beers, Cantillon) and the less (Walrave). Similarly the old and the new mix with De Struise and beers brewed under contract at De Proef. Now some of you will be thinking, rightly, that those are not that new. However the book, like any book, runs into issue with time since publication (in this case 2008 for my version). A lot of the most recent breweries and beers in Belgium are therefore not covered, but despite that it does cover a good amount of ground.

The inclusion of two writers seems a well chosen number. Their comments on each others picks reveals their preferences and disagreements allowing for more insight into the beer, the biases, and also allows for a wider range of selected beer without compromising the benefit of being able to recognise a reviewer’s style and compare it to your own. There are preferences revealed, towards the more dry and challenging of beers, and away from the more commercial style. A heavy favour for slight sourness and a dislike for excessive spices. Again due to the inclusion of two reviewers we get that benefit without the excessive bias of selection a single reviewer book can get.

It succeeds for me in beer selection in that many beers caught my interest and made me wish to try them for the enjoyment rather than to just tick boxes. From pale ale and lambic mixed beers, beers with figs in the mash, highly hopped Belgium ales, or highly praised abbey ales to compare with the trappists. With the mix of selection and description they made them seem like a joy to collect rather than a chore. A few, tap only beers, promise to be the subject of a hunt if I am ever in the area. The descriptions in the tasting notes benefit from a glossary of terms at the start which allows them to use precise wording without leaving the more casual reader confused. Also they show good balance between reputation, respect and honesty. For example they heap praise on Westvleteren beers, while noting that, in their opinion, they do not rate as greatest in style unlike their high reputation. A good balance without elevating or denigrating unnecessarily, though the Westvleteren example does give a gentle ribbing at the resulting rush for beers from the monastery.

Finally the book benefits from a final section, and a few extra beers listed over the 100 Belgium beers, in a look at Belgium inspired beers from the USA and Italy. A nice note that acknowledges the influence Belgium beers have had around the world and the quality beers that have sprung up from it.

Usually I am not a huge fan of “Beer Ticker” books , but I have ended up with many as gifts and I would consider this one of the better of the style. It is not perfect. I personally would have preferred some of the white space to either be used expanding the notes, or removed and the book shrunk further to allow for even easier carry. However as I hope I have explained above, it does the job that a beer hunting book should do admirably. Provides a list that excites attention, is easy to keep in mind during beer hunting, and has its views and biases accountable and with counterpoint where appropriate.

I would be happy if more X beers to try books followed its example.

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