For someone who doesn’t read nearly as much as I’d like to, I sure do have a helluva lot of books. While the occasional novel or work of fiction slips its way in, a majority of my collection naturally focuses on three of my favorite things. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of friends ask me to recommend books about food, beer, and wine, sometimes for themselves and sometimes for gift giving. Whatever the reason, I am always happy to oblige.
Certain books have and always will stand out for me, because they represent exhaustive research, extreme dedication to one’s craft, and a lighthearted tone that is both witty and educational. While the author’s passion is evident, it never leans toward overbearing obsession, and the aim is obviously to instruct and introduce rather than put down the reader for not knowing as much as the writer.
Michael Jackson — the late, great beer writer — was a master at not only evaluating beers, but telling a wonderful story about each brew, as well as the story behind it. In his epic tome, Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium, Jackson takes you to some of the world’s oldest and most revered breweries, offering a unique combination of sensory experience, historical background, as well as a touch of humor and lore that is both engaging and entertaining.
Rich with photos of celebrated beers, brewers, and breweries, Great Beers of Belgium is just as visually appealing as it is informative and profound.
For me, the most exciting thing about the holidays is the onslaught of Christmas beers. No, not the six-pack your bright-red Uncle Gus used to down just before the gift exchange — I’m talking big, hearty, Belgian holiday ales. Most are characterized by a strong, dark malty sweetness offset by a heavy dose of baking spice flavors and heightened alcohol content to help you stay all warm and toasted toasty. There are variations, of course, not to mention a wonderful world of British “winter warmers” and American holiday beers waiting to be consumed, but that will have to be for some other post. (If you’re particularly curious, I highly recommend delving into Don Russell’s epic tome, Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews.)
And while you just may not be able to attend the 15th Annual Christmas Beer Festival being held in Essen, Belgium this weekend, there are plenty of great Christmas ales you can try in the comfort of your own drinking hole. I’ve selected my five favorite Christmas beers — Belgian only, in the spirit of this weekend’s Kerstbierfestival.