We all know that Belgium is a country renowned for its beer culture, from ales brewed for centuries by Trappist monks to certain well-known lagers and everything in between. The CAMRA Good Beer Guide Belgium (now in its eighth edition) aims to give tourists, ex-pats and Belgians alike a comprehensive guide to the plethora of breweries and the crème de la crème of the nation’s bars and beer cafés. A recent trip to Brussels seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the new book to the test.
The opening few pages tell of the proliferation of new breweries in the four years since the last version, and it seems that the Belgian beer scene shares many parallels with our own: people go out less often and drink less when they do, yet the choice available is improving as drinkers become more discerning. A general introduction to what makes Belgian beer so special follows, with some fascinating information on the myriad beer styles and the unique methods employed in the making of beers such as saisons and lambics. This not only helps to set the scene, but truly whets the appetite and leaves you longing to get trying some beers.
Almost 250 breweries – from huge household names to tiny brew-pubs – are included, along with a comprehensive guide to each brewery’s core range. Every beer is given a star rating out of five, although I couldn’t find anything less than two given even for beers that definitely deserve it! Around 90% of the beers I encountered in Brussels were included in these listings, which were extremely useful when many bars have several pages of beers to choose from.
The second half of the book is devoted to a city-by-city guide to the best beer cafés and places to stay. I would guess that this is probably the bit that most people buying the book are really interested in; with so much choice available then knowing where to get the best beer really is essential if you have limited time. In Brussels city centre alone there are around 30 recommendations, with about half of these given a full write-up, telling us how many beers are available on tap and in bottles, along with a general description of the venue. I wasn’t disappointed with any of the places I visited from the book, and will definitely be taking it on my next trip to Belgium.
For those who can’t make the journey, the last chapter features a guide to where to find the best Belgian beers in the UK (and many other countries for foreign readers). Unfortunately, the Steel City doesn’t get a mention, but we’ve got enough good beer of our own anyway! The Good Beer Guide Belgium is currently available from the CAMRA bookshop (shop.camra.org.uk/books.html), with a £3 discount for CAMRA members.