Soft cover, $24.95, 160 pages
There’s a good reason that an odd number of judges sit at “best of show” tables in beer competitions—that way there are no ties. When two, rather than one or three, authors set out to identify the best beers in a country known for uncompromising beers, compromising choices might result. Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn don’t have that problem, as Webb explains in the introduction: “We now know each other well enough to disagree.”
They also know how to present differing views in a way that’s useful to readers. Consider their “verdict” (each beer gets its own) on the Chimay Grande Reserve: “The reputation of Chimay beers have taken quite a pummeling in recent years, which is a shame because they are well-meaning brewers. This is now their best beer, though their Chimay Blanche on draught can be good. TW finds their regular beers more obvious and unrefined than they were. JPP’s view is that this is a great beer that was once a magnificent one.”
Not surprisingly, they are more enthusiastic about most of the other 99 beers they chose for this book. Webb is author of the constantly updated Good Beer Guide to Belgium, and he and Pattyn collaborated on LambicLand as well. They know the territory, compiling a list that has old favorites (Duvel, Saison Dupont) as well as newcomers (Brasserie de la Senne, brewed at De Ranke when the book was published but now a stand-alone brewery).
The decision to include three beers from the tiny Brouwerij Kerkom, compared to one from Chimay, illustrates that the final choices are uncompromising. And what they write about Kerkomse Tripel indicates the character of the beers they settled on: “One for those who want to learn the difference between a well-hopped beer and a highly hopped beer. This is the former.”
Beyond the obviously expert opinions, 100 Belgian Beers To Try Before You Die includes all of the important information about each beer as well as the breweries that make them, and the cafes where they may be enjoyed. It is light in weight but substantial, printed on sturdy paper stock and illustrated by outstanding photos from Katherine Longly. The title may conjure up visions of beer “tickers,” but the book embodies the beer culture it’s about.