Hmm... it's subtitled "The Secret of Lambic." I was a bit concerned before I got past the cover that this would be a book about one secret. Happily, as I worked my way through this book, I realized it was more part of a slightly troubled translation than the actual promise of what lay between the covers. But I am getting ahead of myself. Before I get into that sort of thing let me say right from the top that this book is one of the best examples of beer porn that I have ever seen. Photographer Andrew Verschetze gets credit in at least three spots for his work but he really should be given equal credit on the cover with Van den Steen given the degree to which his fine work illustrates and bolsters the subject matter. It is quite remarkable in that respect. I can only think of Jackson's The English Pub as its stablemate... if beer porn was measured by the stable. OK. Where am I? Jumping around a bit. Yes. I did have a few concerns when I first opened the book today. This Monday was that newish great annual provincial holiday, dubbed somewhat brainlessly Family Day, that sees Federally regulated employees, like postal delivery folk, on the job as goofs like me sit around the wi-fi router with the kids. So the book was delivered. Initial concerns:
♦ First, the binding was not as strong as I might have liked. A few pages came loose as soon as I opened the book. Unfortunate but nothing I can't fix with a deft bit of gluemanship. Just be careful.
♦ Then, there was all this tiny wee font. I know I am getting old but the size of the font is a bit miserable. It is at its worst at the "tips" section of every brewery and blender where a faux handwritten note is supposed to give a hint as to where each producer's brews can be found. Not quite Egyptian hieroglyphs but you can see them from here.
♦ Next, and honestly more in line with the trouble of translation in the title, is the overuse of exclamation marks. "No single beer in the world can boast such a long tradition!" we are told on page 13. Except maybe Belgian white beer and maybe a lot of other beers if there was any comparative analysis provided. These things are proclaimed, however, so one need not worry that much. The function of this book is to enthuse.
♦ Finally, there is no index. This is a curse to any book and one that is simply too easy to provide. Silly waste of a small bit of extra work.
That's it. Otherwise, the book really comes in two parts. There is a 37 opening section on the nature of lambic beers which is quite interesting. Good strong theory on the source of the word "lambic" coming to us presumably from dark ages Arabic through scientific via a device called the alambic or still. That sort of general information chunk of the book is followed by 184 pages on the family business histories of the brewers and blenders who make this lovely stuff. While I am pretty clear that I did not want another style guide with a list of all beers made in this part of Belgium, I am also not sure I really care to know that two of the nine great-uncles or great-aunts of the current brothers running Girardin died in youth in the later end of the 1800s as I am told on page 90. But, on the other hand, facts like these are combined with pages and pages of other family histories to create a landscape around a small tenacious form of brewing and blending that has lived on through smaller farming operations around Brussels over the last 200 or so years. Layer over these stories Verschetze's slightly obsessive pictures of old buildings, countryside and brewing equipment of various eras and the effect is very satisfying. Note if you will, as befits a set of photos by a true beer nerd, not one tree is shown in leaf. These beers are still not best brewed in summer. Who in their right mind would travel then?
The lack of beer reviews is refreshing. Others have done that. New perspectives like this are most welcome. I expect that the book will be a particularly useful counterpoint to Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium, each offering to add to the other. I expect to have them each propped up before me when I next pop a cork or two from this region of the beery world. Too bad they didn't deliver the mail on Sunday.