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/// BOOK REVIEWS
 
DECEMBER 2008/JANUARY 2009
 
 
 
100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die!
Authors: Tim Webb/Joris Pattyn
Publisher: CAMRA Books
Pages: 320 pages (Softcover)
Price: £12.99 (£10.99 for CAMRA members); $27.95
Purchase: camra.org.uk
 
100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die!

Hey! I’ve just found the perfect Christmas gift for your hard-to-buy-for beer-loving brother-in-law. You know, the one who has everything and has tried every beer. 100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die! is a challenge to anyone who thinks that they’ve sampled all the different styles of Belgian beers. This is a fun book because even the most jaded beer aficionado will find something new here. Some of the beers will challenge the taste buds, because this book looks at the new avant-garde breweries as well as the old traditional ones.

The authors are well known Belgian beer experts. Tim Webb has been writing about Belgian breweries for over 20 years and is best known for his Good Beer Guide to Belgium, published by CAMRA U.K. Joris Pattyn is Flemish and is a well-respected beer judge at national brewing competitions around the world.

The introductory sections are very brief, so this is not a book for the novice Belgian beer drinker. You won’t find many of your old favourites here — which is, of course, the point of the book. Otherwise it would have to have been called 1,000 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die! The book is well illustrated throughout, with images of beers, breweries, Belgian beer bars and some of the people involved in Belgian brewing.

Each beer is described on one page. The basic data at the top describes the beer’s style and abv, the available bottle sizes and whether it is served on draught. British and U.S. importers are listed, and details of the importers are in the back of the book. There are tasting notes followed by the personal verdicts of the authors. Contact information is given for each brewery, along with opening times and details of brewery taps.

This book is also a challenge in that some of the beers are going to be hard to find. One-quarter of them are not available in the U.S., and six of them (Achelse Kluis Trappist 5 Blond, Girardin Oude Lambic, Rodenbach Oud Belegen Foederbier, Walgrave Pick-up Pils, Westmalle Extra Trappist, and Trappist Westvleteren 8) are not ever expected to be available outside Belgium.

It should be noted that only 95 of the beers are sold in Belgium. At the end of the book, in a section titled “Beyond Belgian,” one Italian and four U.S. beers are listed as being worthy of review.

I especially enjoyed the rapport that the authors had with each other. There is some good-natured joshing, but they obviously respect each other’s opinions. For example, they include Westmalle Extra Trappist, a light (5.5% abv!) ale occasionally brewed for the brothers and lay staff of the monastery. Webb writes: “As JPP is the only regular drinker of this beer not in a retreat, he could in fact write whatsoever he wants without much fear of contradiction. A pinch of salt may be required.” Further on, Pattyn says: “Why include a beer you cannot find anywhere unless you take Holy Orders?…

Because this is the ultimate Belgian session beer, bearing witness as none other that Belgian top quality does not necessarily equate to lethal alcohol content.” To which Webb adds: “The idea that the ultimate session beer is found hidden behind cloistered walls for none but the most devout is one of the main reasons I love Belgium.”

To which one can only add: Hear, hear!

 
 
Christmas Beer
The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Beers

Author: Dan Russell
Publisher: Rizzoli/Universe, Cloth
Pages: 280 pages
Price: $19.95
 
Christmas Beer
The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews

In his new book, Christmas Beer, Don Russell, the “Joe Sixpack” of the popular weekly beer column in the Philadelphia Daily News, chooses The Mad Elf from Tröegs Brewing Company in nearby Harrisburg at the top of his list of the World’s 50 Best Christmas Beers. If that shows a tad of Homerism, make the most of it.

Nobody who reads this charming and informative treatise — the first comprehensive collection ever of information about the worldwide tradition of brewing festive beers for the winter holidays — is going to feel that Russell is misleading them or playing favorites. “I know of no other beer like Mad Elf, and I thought that earned it the honor,” he told me in a recent sit-down.

For Russell’s purposes, Christmas beer translates to winter warmers across the board, and he covers 150 of them. The next five beers in the top 50, indicative of the eclectic nature of the selections, are Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux, Eggenberg Samichlaus, De Dolle Still Nacht, Anchor Our Special Ale and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

The book includes recipes for a Christmas homebrew, eggnog, wassail and lots more, plus tasting and style notes and even places to purchase these popular brews. The man is a lifelong journalist who writes in an appealing readable and often humorous style, filling in the pages with lots of side notes and unusual facts. Buy it for yourself or as a holiday gift; at 7.5 x 5.25 inches, Christmas Beer is definitely stocking-stuffer-worthy.

 
 
The Curiosities of Ale and Beer
Author: John Bickerdyke
Publisher: Reprinted by BeerBooks.com, 2008
Cleveland, Ohio
(from the 1889 first edition)
Pages: 450 pages
Price: $24.45
 
The Curiosities of Ale and Beer

A compendium of all things beery from a time long past but nonetheless important and delightful to behold some 120 years later. Verse and prose are intertwined with woodcuts and engravings of the period, conjuring a time when ale played a life-enhancing role in song and literature.

From Chapter IV: “Then long may here the ale-charged Tankards shine, Long may the Hop plant triumph o’er the Vine” [Initial caps theirs]. I have two copies — reprints published in 1965. I am delighted that BeerBooks.com has made this curiously compelling reference volume available once again to the beer-literati.

This is a book required for the über–beer geek and a great gift as well. Best read by the fireplace with an old ale in hand. Tankard optional.

 
 
Good Beer Guide
Prague & the Czech Republic

Author: Evan Rail
Publisher: CAMRA Books,
Independent Publishers Group
Chicago, Illinois
Pages: 224 pages
Price: $25.95
 
Good Beer Guide
Prague & the Czech Republic

The Czechs consume more beer per capita than any other country. A bewildering array of labels and breweries in a diacritically imbued language greets the traveler, but how to winnow out the treasures from the ordinaire? CAMRA’s Evan Rail knows the country and its beers and provides a unique service in that regard.

His comprehensive guide includes reviews of significant pubs, brewpubs and breweries; a handy pronunciation guide (a definite plus); a glossary of beer terms; and travel and lodging suggestions, along with extensive reviews of the beers themselves. Your first walk down from the thousand-year-old Prague Castle across the Charles Bridge and into Old Prague need not be a bewildering affair.

Come armed with this knowledgeable guide and reference and enjoy the world’s foremost producers of pilsner beer.

 
 
Great Beers of Belgium
Sixth Edition, 2008

Author: Michael Jackson
Publisher: Brewers Publications,
Boulder, Colorado
Pages: 508 pages
Price: $36.95
 
Great Beers of Belgium
Sixth Edition, 2008

The sixth edition of this phenomenal treatise on Belgian beer represents a substantial addition to the previous U.S. printing published in 1998. Michael Jackson, the famed “Beer Hunter,” who died August 30, 2007, made extensive additions and corrections to his earlier work, and some 300 new photos were added, making this the “must have” reference and guide to the treasures of Belgian beer.

There was, however, a fifth edition of this book published in Belgium in English. If you have that book, you will find the differences between the fifth and sixth editions to be subtle. If you have not read Jackson on his most passionate subject — the treasures and romance to be found in the appreciation of the great Belgian brewing traditions — this book is required and is the perfect gift for your Belgian beer-loving friends.

Jackson’s prose puts you in the brewery and re-creates the author’s tasting experiences. The color photography is beautifully reproduced on quality coated-stock paper.

 

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