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AUG/SEP 2006 | REGIONAL | INTERNATIONAL

Good Beer Guide to Germany : Don’t Visit Deutschland Without It
By Don Scheidt

There seems to be something in the water in the U.K., at least when it comes to producing some great beer guides. The CAMRA Good Beer Guide is well-known as a comprehensive guide to British pubs and breweries, updated annually by the Campaign for Real Ale, the British consumerist beer-drinkers’ organization that has been championing the cause of British beer and pub culture for three and a half decades.

CAMRA’s reach extends beyond the U.K., as Tim Webb’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium first showed in 1992; the current edition of the GBG Belgium continues to be an indispensable reference for planning beer tours to Belgium, with its all-encompassing listings of Belgian breweries and the best places to savor Belgian beers in all their glory.

Webb and co-author Chris “Podge” Pollard, together with Belgian beer judge and expert Joris Pattyn, are also the authors of Lambicland, a small volume with a big heart, dedicated to the preservation and presentation of what remains of Belgium’s unique lambic beer style. There may be some small irony in British writers producing some of the best volumes currently in print on Belgian beer (see the current edition of Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium for further evidence), but they remain indispensable references and guides.

As a reference for beer-touring Germany, the Good Beer Guide to Germany stands apart.

This year, CAMRA has issued a milestone with the Good Beer Guide to Germany. This isn’t the first guide to German beer to come out of the U.K.; John Conen published his Bamberg and Franconia guide just a few years ago, and it’s still recommended as a great introduction to the beers and culture of this sparkling gem in Germany’s beer crown. The new Good Beer Guide to Germany, authored and edited by Steve Thomas, doesn’t stop at one region in Germany.

It’s all-encompassing, with sections on German pubs and customs, Oktoberfest, the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law) and more, before it gives way to pages and pages listing every German brewery in business at the time of publication (April 2006) — a daunting task that took five years to accomplish. There are small maps after the brewery listings to correlate locations with breweries listed, but they’re a bit hard to use; the only indicators on the maps are the numbers corresponding to each entry, and a road atlas of Germany is a necessary co-reference.

After the maps, several of Germany’s great beer cities get their own write-ups. Familiar names of proud beer cities like Bamberg, Munich, Cologne/Köln and Düsseldorf join Berlin, Leipzig, Stuttgart and others for a solid overview of good beer venues in Germany’s great brewing cities. Not all of the largest brewing cities and towns get this treatment, though, partly because, in some cases, their best days are behind them; Dortmund is down to just a couple of big breweries and a few brewpubs, and Kulmbach has seen its commercial breweries consolidate into a single brewing entity. German brewing has also become subject to globalization, so well-known names like Spaten, Löwenbräu, Dinkelacker, Diebels and Beck’s are now no longer German-owned.

Trends in German beer consumption are also noted; over the last few years, the overall trend has been steady decline. Compared with Americans and Canadians, Germans still drink an extraordinary amount of beer, at 115 liters per capita, but that’s paltry compared with 150 liters per capita, Germany’s consumption average 20 years ago. In spite of this, Germany still manages to support more than 1,250 breweries, a figure exceeded only by the United States due to the emergence of American craft brewing.

The Good Beer Guide to Germany may seem a weighty tome, running at well over 500 pages — necessary to capture the sheer volume of data it contains. It might be an effort to carry around, but as a reference for beer-touring Germany, it stands apart. It’s currently available from CAMRA’s Web site as well as from popular online booksellers like Amazon.com.

Don Scheidt all too rarely updates the Northwest BrewPage at nwbrewpage.com. He also writes about beer for the Seattle Weekly. He can be reached via e-mail at dgs1300@hotmail.com.

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