Veteran beer writer Tim Webb has been publishing a guide to Belgian beer and pubs since 1992. This and the previous edition in 2014 were co-edited by the Europe-based American writer Joe Stange. A short essay by Webb at the front of the book charts the origin of the guide and announces his retirement from it. That means the next one will have a different feel to the current edition, because this is not simply a list of Belgian pubs and breweries, but rather a series of personal observations. This unusual approach really captures the idiosyncracies of Belgium's beer culture.
It does work perfectly well as a guidebook too. Every brewery in the country is listed alphabetically and given a short description with noteworthy beers highlighted, and then there's a couple of hundred pages of pub listings by region. Where it really shines is how it takes you off the beaten track, including the landmark bars of course, but offering plenty of alternatives too. One criticism, from some field-testing during my last trip to Belgium, is that by separating the breweries from the pubs you don't get an at-a-glance guide to wherever you are. Looking for places to drink in Mechelen, for example, there are six recommended pubs on the page dedicated to the city, but no mention of the Het Anker Brewery, one of the highlights -- it's covered elsewhere.
As well as the listings there are articles on Belgian beer history and culture, as well as the inevitable piece on food. There's also a fun, if not exactly helpful, guide to identifying client brewers from the real thing: "If the person fronting the business has a marketing-team smile, beware". A run-down of the annual festival calendar rounds it off. The tone throughout is cheery and enthusiastic, if a little snarky at times, and reflects well the authors' genuine affection for Belgium.
Overall, it's a well-pitched book: easy to follow for the newcomer exploring Belgium and its beer for the first time, while also having plenty of new perspectives and ideas for the seasoned Belgophile.
CAMRA's Good Beer Guide: Belgium, 8th edition, 2018, is published by CAMRA Books and the cover price is £14.99.