Paul Walsh is the editor and publisher of a new magazine, Belgian Beer & Food, and kindly sent us an electronic copy of the first issue, out now.
Every now and then, someone asks, ‘Why isn’t there a decent beer magazine?’ Though BB&F has a very specific remit, could it be the publication everyone has been hoping for?
First impressions: it looks like one of those Borsetshire Life type society magazines aimed at people with ‘lifestyles’ — the kind you find in hotel rooms and in first class lounges. The typography and layout is tasteful, while the photography is downright gorgeous, but there is little immediate evidence of the cobwebs and character we associate with Belgian beer. It’s not very brown, in short.
The articles, however, are more imaginatively conceived than the rather glossy look of the magazine led us to expect, and we took the inclusion of Joe ‘Thirsty Pilgrim’ Stange’s name on the credits page as a sign of good things to come. His contribution is a solid, very readable guide to drinking in Brussels — one to cut out and keep.
There are also good pieces by writers we don’t know. We particularly enjoyed Emma Beddington’s consideration of women in the world of Belgian beer. She is not a beer drinker — her boyfriend smuggles gin into beer festivals on her behalf — which gives her tasting notes a certain refreshing originality.
Another highlight is the opening piece by Alan Hope, ‘Beer Without Borders’, which is an illuminating investigation of what beer culture means in Belgium, and the significance of beer as a kind of glue which binds an otherwise fragmented, fragile nation.
Less exciting, though readable enough after the manner of in-flight magazine copy, are uncritical pieces on various breweries and bars. We asked Mr Walsh if any of the articles were sponsored and he confirmed that three pieces (on Mort Subite, Bosteels and a restaurant called Bed Van Napoleon) were written as part of a package with paid advertising in the magazine. In future editions, arrangements like this really ought to be flagged.
Individual issues cost €6 while a year’s subscription (four issues) costs €14 (including UK delivery). We have decided to subscribe — there’s enough meat here to justify £3 a copy, and the glorious photography offers a cheaper alternative to a trip on Eurostar — but this is not the One Beer Magazine to Rule Them All.