Earlier this year I made my first trip to Brussels. I didn't have a guidebook, although fellow ICBers had made some great suggestions that I had fully intended following up. As it turns out, I ended up having the next best thing to a guide book: Joe Stange. Joe agreed to meet me while he was literally in the process of taking photos to finish the book he co-wrote with Belgian brewer Yvan de Baets, Around Brussels in 80 Beers. Joe took me on a whirlwind tour of some of the places the book mentions, so I thought I'd be well prepared to use these visits as a benchmark for what is described in the book.
Around Brussels in 80 Beers? Given the massive beer culture of Belgium it doesn't seem like a lot, but this book isn't quite just the beers. It's a guide to a careful selection of bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels, beer stores or basically any kind of establishment that serves decent beers and is an interesting place in itself. Each location is generally described on a single page, with a few notable exceptions such as Cantillon getting a little more space. Key information is provided, such as opening times, phone numbers (as opening times are by no means guaranteed), bus and metro routes and an indication of whether food is served and how many beers are on the menu. Important stuff. The pages are populated with a concise and entertaining introduction to the place itself and the authors' choice of one of the beers available at that location. So, yes, you can do their tour of 80 places with 80 beers.
But where to start? They thoughtfully provide eight short tours, each involving five or so locations, grouped by city area: around Grand-Place; a lambic morning around Marollais; or the music bars of Saint-Géry, for example. There is also a suggested "grand day out by tram" which covers a wider area and encompasses eight of the locations in the book. If you are going to be spending a few days in Brussels, I would imagine this is a great way of breaking the city into manageable chunks for beer exploration, and also for general sight-seeing.
To help Brussels virgins, there is a brief introduction to the city, its languages and transport system, and despite an early disclaimer that the modern beer dude no longer talks about styles, there is an overview of the types of traditional beers -- in good high-level terms -- that one is likely to find on your tour of the city, tempered with the advice that if you stick to beers of identifiable styles, you could miss on some treats. I especially liked the quote from Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned", which gives an idea of the tone of some parts of the book.
No space is wasted in this attractively produced, slim volume, and the guys get straight to the point while also managing to slip in nuggets of history and trivia. As a travel companion in Brussels, I think this is a great guide, and if travelling around Belgium in general, it makes a great companion to the Good Beer Guide Belgium and Around Bruges in 80 Beers.
About the authors:
Joe Stange is a freelance writer from Missouri who has been living in Brussels for a number of years. He concentrates mainly on beer writing, and you can find his blog here.
Yvan de Baets is Bruxellois and is one of the partners behind Brasserie de la Senne, makers of some very interesting beers, in my humble opinion. Yvan is also behind the Bruxellensis festival of craft beers amongst other beery activities.
Around Brussels in 80 Beers, and related titles, can be purchased directly from booksaboutbeer.com.