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Magazine Review: Belgian Beer & Food

Cantillon Bio Gueuze, 2007.
One of our Belgian beer photos — the photography in Belgian Beer & Food is much nicer.

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.

Belgian Beer & Food Issue 1Every 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.

10 replies on “Magazine Review: Belgian Beer & Food”

Sounds like a good – if slightly niche – mag. I heard Beers of the World was coming back, but haven’t seen a copy yet. I know publishing is a tough market, but I would have thought now would be as good a time as any for a UK beer mag.

Sounds like a very readable magazine. I agree advertorials should be labeled as such, but when done right can actually add to the magazine in a positive way.

Shortlist and stylist magazines do this very well, with advertising features generally offering something interesting to the reader rather than just a sales message. This mixing of advertising and editorial content can work amazingly well if done correctly, but it is all about transparency whilst ensuring brands genuinely strive to write editorial content of value to the reader.

Just look at the meteoric rise of buzzfeed, which earn money through the mixing of advertising content and original editorial. The lines are clear but because the paid-for (by the brand) and none paid-for content are often equally good, to a reader it makes little difference.

I used to work for a magazine that was distributed free. The editorial was basically there to fill the gaps between the ads, and as a result editorial/advertising packages were absolutely standard practice – although we did try not to make the editorial too uncritical of the advertiser, for our own self-respect if nothing else. But that was a freebie – it wasn’t even controlled circulation, we just bunged it out to a mailing list (which may or may not have been accurate – we had no real incentive to find out). Charging the punter to read copy that’s already been paid for does strike me as a bit naughty.

It’s an excellent magazine, very professionally done. A friend I’ve known from school is the chief photographic editor and took most of the superb pictures therein. I was fortunate enough to be consulted on the format from the beginning and even though I don’t think it is quite right just yet they have listened to the feedback and I expect the next one to be even better.
Whilst we’re on the subject I’d also highly recommend the Belgian Beer Discoveries website advertised on the back cover too.

Guys I’m embarrassed. I started out last year with pure motives, but ended up promising editorial to paying advertisers, as a way to get it off the ground.
I figured a slightly compromised magazine was better than no magazine. I also hoped (and still hope) that as it became better-known, I’d be able to say no to these types of demands.
So, yes, you are paying for editorial that’s already been paid for (three articles). On the other hand at 14 Euro for four issues you’re really just covering postage, and for that you get some nice untainted articles too. And the paid-for articles are decent, but I don’t writing quality is the issue, more credibility.
As you mention, paid for articles should be flagged, and maybe I’ll do that in future editions, but I’m not promising anything.
In the meantime, thanks for your comments

It’s a difficult one – the sad fact is that advertisers will ask for this kind of treatment! For the time being perhaps you could put in a disclaimer somewhere – “we acknowledge the assistance of” type of thing?

at 14 Euro for four issues you’re really just covering postage


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