Mikey likes it; will America follow?
September 22, 1998
By Kurt Epps
The setting was the Belgian Consul's elegant residence on Fifth Avenue
across from NYC's Central Park. The assemblage was a mixture of
dignitaries, Belgian brewers, publishers, editors and distributors. Also
on hand was the delightfully ubiquitous Brewers' Priest Fr. Larry
McCormick who regularly blesses beer, those who make it and now those who
write about it (who says in heaven there is no beer?). And -- oh yes, a few
very lucky beerwriters were there, too.
The event was the official launching of beer guru Michael Jacksonıs
newest US release, The Great Beers of Belgium. But this was no ordinary
cocktail party/book hype, partly because the affable and accomplished Mr.
Jackson has achieved such fame in his field that he hardly needs the
It was special also because some of the greatest beers in the world were
on hand in the understated elegance of Her Excellency Mrs. I.
Kristoffersonıs home. The hospitable and gracious hostess, here just two
weeks prior to offering her place for the event, spoke of the fierce
pride she and fellow Belgians take in their beer.
Because Belgians consider beer to be more than just beer; to them it is a
way of life. Beer is to Belgium what wine is to France apparently, and
they consider themselves unabashedly the best brewers in the world. When
Ben Vinken, co-publisher of Jacksonıs book, made the remark, there was no
trace of haughtiness or hubris in his tone -- just a simple statement of
fact. The beers on hand, already thoroughly sampled by the assembly, were
typical examples of this countryıs ancient commitment to the brewing
arts, and no one in the house thought Vinken was exaggerating.
The Great One himself makes no bones about his favorite beer country
being Belgium, nestled as it is in the cradle of the great grain growing
regions of Europe, and he's been saying so for nearly 20 years. In
fact, this book (the only book about the beer of one single country) is
actually the third edition of The Great Beers of Belgium, but itıs the
first time it's been launched with such purpose in the US.
"America's beer drinkers are becoming more educated and ready to take the
next step in beer drinking," said Vinken. Jackson, who admires the
exceptional quality and individualism associated with Belgian beer,
Still it remains to be seen if the beer drinkers of America are willing
to be wooed to the more than five hundred varieties of Belgian beer.
Certainly the target market is not that of the BudMillerCoors mainstream.
Instead, the thrust seems to be toward those beer enthusiasts, probably
less than five percent of the beer-drinking population, who are seeking more
flavor and style in the beer. They are the craft beer lovers who have
helped keep the microbrew industry afloat. Vinken is unfazed.
"We will always stay small," he says.
It may not be an easy task to turn an occasional raspberry wheat beer
drinker into a devotee of Affligem (sometimes called "God in a glass"),
Hapkin, Corsendonk or Kwak. The American palate may not yet be so
conditioned and discriminating.
Fortunately, that problem can be solved through education -- which is
what Jackson's book purports to do. But while education will
help, nothing will turn heads in Belgiumıs direction like a direct
sampling of its fare.
Belgian beer, though, is meant to be sampled with more than just the
palate. The eye and the nose play critical roles in helping people
appreciate the Belgian brewer's craft. Indeed, the variety of glassware
designed expressly for the various aspects of Belgian brews presents a
cornucopia of art forms. In sum, if you like craft brews, you owe it to
yourself to experience the Belgian approach to beer.
Like the Belgian beers he loves, Michael Jacksonıs book is not meant to
be guzzled in one sitting either. As autumn and winter approach, snuggle
up in your favorite easy chair with Jackson's colorful, informative
tribute to Belgian beer. Pour yourself a Karmeliet, a Petrus or a Duvel.
Or maybe sample some of the more curious names like Lucifer, Scotch Silly
or even Delirium Tremens.
Savor the whole experience of your Belgian beer as you digest the book,
and youıll be surprised at how much brighter the Darker Seasons get.
If you're a craft brew lover, it's difficult to imagine an evening better
The Great Beers of Belgium Third Edition
by Michael Jackson
Published by Running Press
125 South 22nd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103-4399
®Kurt E. Epps 1998 All Rights Reserved