Review: Good Beer Guide Belgium

The first time I went to Brugge I took a piece of card with me, on which were scribbled the names of ten beers that the tourist guides told me I should try. Those beers changed my life. The next time I go back to Belgium, I'm taking something more substantial... and it could be life changing all over again.

For nearly two decades, Tim Webb has been compiling the Good Beer Guide Belgium (GBGB) for CAMRA. Now in its sixth edition, it's widely regarded as an indispensable book for even the most casual of Belgian beer lovers. I'd have liked to put GBGB to a fit and proper test - a weekend away in Belgium with venues and beer choices shaped by the guide. That'll have to wait until next year; for now I'd suffice with a few random Belgian bottles and a steaming plate of moules frites. There's a chapter about food... I wonder what Tim Webb thinks of this classic dish?

"The cartoon version of Belgian cuisine has it that the national dish is mussels and chips..". Whoops. Still, later on in the excellent chapter, he mentions that mussels go well with an amber ale so I was forced to open up a bottle of PALM Speciale. And it was indeed a worthy pairing, the first time I'd tried the beer and found it to be clean malted and very sessionable.

Back to the book. Given that Tim Webb has produced a guide to over a thousand beers and six hundred places to drink them in, it still reads like a personable travel guide rather than a beer almanac. The book splits roughly into thirds - a detailed listing of specialist beer bars by province, an alphabetical overview of the breweries with their regular commercial beers and a heap of advice and guidance on beer styles, Belgian brewing and travel. The bar and brewery reviews are concise, pithy and not without a dose of dry humour. For some, the occasionally world-weary sarcasm may wear thin quickly, but Tim's approach makes GBGB a travelogue experience rather than a dry encyclopaedic tome.

There's also a selection of introductory articles that take a fresh look at contemporary Belgian beer issues, by the likes of brewer Frank Boon and historian Ron Pattinson. This approach, along with Tim's masterful handling of style discussion and an excellent chapter on the "art and science of creating beer" make the GBGB stand out as a truly entertaining and informative book. It's well illustrated, clearly set out, compact enough for travelling with yet still comprehensive enough to be of use.

If you're planning a trip to Belgium and want to end up drinking somewhere that doesn't just offer buckets of Jupiler, this is the book for you.

Thanks to for the review copy and a few beers to get me in a Belgique mood. They've put together a classy mixed case of Belgian beer (including the likes of Chimay, Orval and Rochefort) along with a glass and a copy of the Good Beer Guide Belgium. That'd be a great Christmas present for someone beery in your life - or even to yourself. Go on, you're worth it!