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Belgian, Trappist and Abbey Beers: Truly Divine (Book Review)

Belgian, Trappist and Abbey Beers book cover
A small indulgence of my last birthday was the purchase of a most beautiful coffee table book about Belgian beer (because I’m a fan of the Belgian quadrupel ringing in from 9.1%-14.2% ABV). This dead tree indulgence is called Belgian, Trappist and Abbey Beers: Truly Divine by Jef Van Den Steen with the beautiful photography throughout by food and wine photographer Andrew Verschetze. At the exorbitant price that I paid it’s saying something that I am more than happy with the quality of the product. Heavy, hard cover, exquisitely designed with voluptuous photographs of the abbeys, breweries, gardens and beers that continue to make Belgium a unique destination for beer nerds (and lovers of their wonderful beer culture).

Because we need to appreciate that this idea we have in Australia, Britain and the United States about a beer style isn’t august reality. A porter is a definition agreed upon for competition purposes, but the lines between these styles are smudged and blurred over centuries. We argue about the difference between stout and a porter, the line between pale ale and IPA; but these are merely constructs that enable people in the industry to compete and market their beer in ways that form agreement and competitive edge in the mind of consumers. And if people think that the beer you made is a lager, but it hasn’t been lagered and it was made using an ale yeast… is it a lager? And does it even matter? The Belgians don’t get hung up by this pointless splitting of hairs that we’re accustomed to in our beer culture.

This is a book that takes you to the heart of Belgium’s Abbey beers, starting with the six Trappist beers (Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Rochefort, Orval and Archel) through to another 22 Abbey beers and six non-certified Abbey beers. This is a book of mouth watering photography that sits somewhere between a homage to Belgian brewing history and tradition and a handbook for the Belgian beer tourist serious about that affinity with Belgian beer.

I seriously could not recommend this book enough. Yes, I’ve got another book in my brewing library about how to make Belgian beer. Yes, that particular other book discusses at length the technical issues around making these beers. But this book takes a particular interest in capturing the spirit of the breweries and the beer.

I’m a big fan of Belgian beer, I love to brew with Belgian yeast strains, and I’m a long-time appreciator of grand old books for my bookcase. This one stands among the best. I’d also have to add to brewers… if you want to make great Belgian beer then you should spend a bit of time contemplating the spirit that runs through them. It’s not about styles in the sense that we think about them in our beer culture. They often refer to a beer’s digestibility, for example. Whereas we’re caught up in the IBU or the colour or the measurable quantifiable idea that a beer needs to be something rather specific and defined in terms of style.

The real question has and should always be: Is this beer a good beer? Nothing more, nothing less. This book is really about that idea of Belgian beer and what it means to make beer to that simple criteria. There is no doubting that the Belgian beer culture is a landscape far departed from our own.

If you have the cash I’d highly recommend Belgian, Trappist and Abbey Beers. A coffee table experience worth every penny.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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