Belgian beers were my first love, a story that I’ve told here before. It took me a long time after enjoying beer to start brewing beer. Then it took me longer still to want to brew a Belgian. When I finally decided I wanted to brew one I had to read Stan Heironymous’ Brew Like A Monk first.
This book is a bit more history than it is recipes and instructions, but you have to know the history to understand these beers. The history, well the whole book actually, focuses on Trappist breweries and beers. So the book begins with a history of the Trappist monastic tradition and each of the Trappist breweries. There isn’t much brewing info in this section; just tidbits dropped here and there. There are lots of interesting bits about the size and output of the breweries like that Rochefort only makes 15,000 barrels of beer a year. For a local comparison, MadTree is on pace to produce 25,000 barrels this year. Brew Like A Monk also helps explain why Westvleteren is so rare; they only brew 70 times a year. For a local comparison, MadTree brews three to four times a day.
After covering some non-Trappist breweries in Belgium, the book takes us across the pond to cover a few American brewers of Belgian-inspired styles. As before there are tidbits about brewing, showing how each brewery does it slightly differently, but not giving away anyone breweries entire recipe and process. The closest we get to a full recipe is for Russian River’s Damnation.
Now, about half way through the book, we get deep into brewing territory. The second half begins with general guidelines across all Belgian styles. It breaks down how different grains and sugars will impact the finished product followed by a much shorter section on hops. Which makes sense, the flavors and aroma of these beers are mainly yeast derived, followed by malt, possibly spices, and hops last. The author dedicates an entire chapter to yeast covering how they operate, fermentation temperatures from various breweries, and information about Belgian yeast strains from Wyeast and White Labs.
The book finishes with a quick breakdown of the different Belgian styles. That’s followed up by what many folks may have bought the book for, recipes and instructions. But I think using the book that way misses the point of Brew Like A Monk and misses Stan Heironymous’ intentions. The idea here wasn’t for you to clone these beers, but for you to make them your own way. Each section of the book is different, but together it leaves me with one overwhelming thought: There is no right way to brew a Belgian beer. The only wrong way is to use too many spices or the wrong yeast. Other than that, have fun and be yourself!
If you’re thinking about brewing a Belgian inspired beer, I have not found any better resource than this book, so I strongly urge you to buy it on Amazon.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I reached out to the publisher who was kind enough to hook me up with a free copy. To our readers, and any companies interested in sending me stuff, giving me free stuff impacts the review in only two ways. That I WILL review it, and that and I WILL write a blog post about it. Giving me free stuff does not guarantee you a favorable review or that I will tell everyone to buy it.