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Michael Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium

I first came across Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium about 20 years ago.

Great Beers of BelgiumI had just started my long affectionate acquaintance with the country and I took the book to heart. To me, it was almost a gospel, explaining the glories of a beer scene that was so radically different to the one I had grown up with in the UK.

Of course, I’m not the only one to whom Michael’s inspirational book has introduced this remarkable beer country. We’re now into a second generation of beer lovers who delve into its pages for an explanation of what Trappists, lambics, wits and saisons are all about, and this latest edition will enlighten yet more drinkers.

This is, in fact, edition number six, but one that has more resonance than any since the first edition, given the author’s untimely death in 2007. Once all the tributes had been rightly paid, thoughts turned to Michael’s legacy and there was a determination that such an important and influential reference work as this should not be allowed to slip away, too.

In the USA, the Brewers Association undertook to publish the work. The finished product is something, I’m quite sure, Michael would have been proud of.

The full-colour book is heavily illustrated with pictures old and new, and divided into more than 20 sections. Some delve into the basics of ingredients or where you can find the finished beers, but most focus on Belgium’s astonishing array of beer styles – where they are from, how they are made, what are the best examples and what they taste like.

What shines through most, however, is Michael’s sense of wonder at his discoveries. He writes like a visitor to a long-forgotten land, cherishing the rare insights he is being given, be they centuries-old brewing traditions or a streak of innovation in the brewhouse.

People populate his narrative. The story is as much about the makers as it is the beer, and through such encounters you learn so much more about Belgian beer than you will ever do sitting at home opening bottles ordered from the internet.

Although the legion of beer writers has grown significantly in recent years, the combination of style and substance developed by the man who blazed the trail for the rest of us has not been equalled. The informative, humanistic prose of Great Beers of Belgium again underlines what we are missing.

If you can’t get to Belgium, this book is the next best thing. If you can go, make sure you read it first. You’ll understand so much better why this little country has a special place in the heart of so many beer lovers.

Sixth edition (2008)

516-page paperback (Brewers Publications)

£25.00/US $36.95

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