I recently finished Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus, one of the books I picked up at the amazing Powell's Books in Portland, the largest independent book store in the world. Belgian-style beers are increasingly becoming an interest of mine and I bought this book hoping to learn something about Trappist and Abbey-style beers, which are a section of the Belgian brewing tradition I know next to nothing about.
He starts his book off in interesting fashion, talking about the tendency of the consumer to put beer brewed under the direction of the Trappist monks on a pedestal, and how this high praise may be becoming less and less deserved by some of the monasteries as they become increasingly profit driven. Already I liked the critical eye displayed in the book and I had only read the introduction. Hieronymus goes on to talk about each of the original six Trappist breweries and what exactly it is that defines a Trappist beer, that is one that is brewed on the grounds of a Trappist monastery, and from which the majority of the profits go to charitable causes. These beers are distinct from Abbey Ales, which he also discusses, beers that simply have some connection to a monastery, this connection being often a very limited one.
After discussing Belgium, he turns to America, where numerous breweries are producing beer based on the Belgian Abbey tradition, but often with new twists. Great breweries are discussed such as Russian River, Ommegang, and Jolly Pumpkin, as well as the beers they produce. The quality of these products is often very high, and many of these beers regularly beat their Belgian counterparts in world beer competitions.
The final section of the book is dedicated to the homebrewer, with tips, methods and recipes for creating your own Abbey beers. Throughout the book Hieronymus includes recipes for the beers he discusses, often taken directly from talking to the brewmasters of the beers in question.
Although I would have liked some discussion of the new phenomenon of Belgian breweries making beer for the American market, overall this book is a fantastic read. It will be fasinating to anyone who has any interest in the subject, whether its homebrewing, the history of the styles, or simply the different products available. For the beer geek this is almost a must read as it really gets into the nitty-gritty of the subject, without ever becoming uninteresting. If you see this book around pick it up, or order it online, or just borrow mine, that works too.