Beaumont's beery magic carpet ride
Added: Friday, April 27th 2018
Will Travel for Beer by Stephen Beaumont (Mitchell Beazley, £14.99)
Stephen Beaumont’s new book is a joyous romp through the beers, bars and pubs of the world. It will encourage you to remove your nose from the pint in your local pub and plan trips to some of the exotic drinking places described in tempting detail in these pages.
For a hardback book running to 224 pages, it’s a good price and the author has been well served by his editors and designers. It opened for me on page 131 with a full-page photo of a snowy Anchorage
in Alaska, which stages an annual jamboree in the depths of winter called the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival. Barley wine is part of the survival kit in this part of world: Stephen advises “a lot of warm clothing...and for those inclined a lot of very strong beer”. There is a downside to such a festival and the writer does advise a visitor to “pace oneself [and] give a wide berth to those not pacing themselves”. We’ve all bumped into those drinkers at beer festivals!
The book begins on familiar territory in Britain. Stephen takes in the Great British Beer Festival in London dedicated to cask ale before heading off to other watering holes in the capital. He includes such historic taverns as the Blackfriar, the George in Southwark and the Olde Cheshire Cheese before tackling six modern craft breweries offering their delights along the Bermondsey Mile.
Stephen covers Scotland and Ireland but first takes in the beery pleasures of Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. Then he’s off on his world tour, starting in the beer gardens of Munich. I agree with him about the special delights of the gardens and recall my first visit to the Englischer Garten and wallowing in the juicy pleasures of a pale Helles lager poured straight from an oak barrel.
From Munich, Stephen heads north to tackle Cologne and its Kölsch beer and Düsseldorf’s altbier, with both styles served in magnificent bars, some with their own brewing kits on display. In reborn Berlin, he visits the sumptuous sprawl of the new Stone Brewing beer house and gardens before talking in some of the smaller bars offering both local weisse beers as well as smaller bars offering a more cosmopolitan range.
Belgium, of course, has to feature in a book about world beers. Even though I have visited this beery paradise for around 40 years, Stephen’s mellifluous words and the fine photos sent me to the Eurostar website to book the first train to Brussels. He takes in Cantillon in the capital, a shrine to lambic beer, before going to Antwerp with its feast of beer bars, Bruges with such age-old delights as Bruges Bertje and the Halve Maan brewery-cum-bar-cum-restaurant. Stephen wanders the wonders of the Rodenbach “sour beer” brewery in Roeslare before finally detailing the fascinating history and superb beers of the country’s six Trappist monasteries.
The book shows there are many surprisingly beery delights to be found in Paris before heading for the great bars of Amsterdam and then introducing the amazing beer revolution in Italy. I’m pleased he has included two brilliant bars I discovered in the same street in Rome, Via Benedetta, that offer a good range of Italian craft beers. One bar, Bir & Fud, requires no knowledge of Italian, the other is more challenging. I was told that Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà means What the **** Are You Doing Here but someone may have been pulling my leg instead of a beer.
Perhaps the Czech Republic deserves more than just two pages and there’s no mention of Pilsner Urquell: the brewery may be owned by a global giant today but it remains a place of historic importance as the birthplace of the first golden lager.
After a tour of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, Stephen heads for home territory. He’s a Canadian and he waxes lyrical about the beer revolution in his home base and the fine beers and bars to be found from British Columbia to Quebec, Ontario and Toronto. I was fascinated to see a large photo of a beer festival in Toronto called Cask Days that’s devoted to real ale. Stephen thinks it’s the biggest cask ale festival in the world after the British GBBF.
South of the border, a substantial section of the book is devoted to the United States, a country once dominated by the fizzy likes of Budweiser and Miller but which today is home to 5,000 independent breweries producing just about every beer style known to personkind. As well as detailing many of the breweries and their beers, Stephen covers beer festivals, including the key Great American in Denver, he visits the hop fields of the Yakima Valley in the north and the warm embrace of New Orleans in the deep south.
South America, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are given ample coverage before a no doubt exhausted and satiated Stephen heads home to Toronto. He has produced a splendid and enticing book and proves, as I know from our several get-togethers, that he’s good man to share a beer with.