Lonely Planet's Global Beer Tour: A Missed Opportunity
The first time I left the United States, I went all in. No afternoon across the border for me: in September of 1988, I touched down in Bangkok for a 16-hour layover on the way to India, where I would spend the next five months. This was an era before the internet, before credit cards, before even instant communication. It literally took letters a month to arrive from the US, and there were so few public phones you had to queue up and wait hours for a timed, three-minute phone call home. If you lost your wallet or found yourself wandering some unknown street, you were on your own. That's why to travelers of a certain generation, the most important possession after a passport and travelers checks was a Lonely Planet guidebook.
Lonely Planet served a niche other companies ignored: their guides covered parts of the world where they were actually needed (Asia, the Middle East, Central America), and they were pitched to budget travelers, not the Michelin-star set. Most importantly, they didn't just tell you where to eat and bunk, but how to engage a foreign culture. Lonely Planet assumed you wanted to understand India, not just snap a selfie at the Taj Mahal. The guides were written by travelers and augmented with updates from scores of readers, all of which got rolled into new editions.
So you can understand why I was excited to get a review copy of their new title, Global Beer Tour. Using beer and breweries as a lens through which to see other cultures is something I've been doing the last half-decade, and I couldn't imagine anyone doing this better than Lonely Planet. When I talk to people about beer style, I often find myself telling a story about a place. So many of the world's beers can't be fully appreciated or even understood until you've sat in the village they were made drinking them with the people they were made for. I even harbored some hope that the old spirit of Lonely Planet might have led intrepid writers to follow Lars Garshol to Norway to see a Norwegian såinn (malt kiln), or to Cusco, Peru on the chicha trail, or to South Africa for traditional utwala.
Hoo-boy, was that wishful thinking.
It turns out Global Beer Tour contains the most cursory listings of breweries, just a few from each country, selected, apparently, at random. Italy gets nine listings, the Czech Republic three. Of the dozens of gems to visit in Belgium, this is the selection Lonely Planet offers: Cantillon, En Stoemelings, Brussels Beer Project, Gruut, Ter Dolen, Drie Fonteinen, and Westvleteren. If you visit Seattle, try either Pike or Populuxe, suggests the guide. It further recommends two breweries in Hood River, one in Bend. Herein you will find listings for breweries to visit in Portugal, Slovakia, and Hungary, but none in Spain, Poland, or Austria. Ireland yes, Scotland no.
There is very little mention of the breweries' lineages, the countries' culture, or even how to tour the brewery should you wish to do so. (Sitting in the pub sates the hunger of these Facebooking beer tourists.) If you visit the country of Germany, Lonely Planet has ten recommendations, none of which is Schneider or Augstiner, but one of which is this:
This is a typical entry:
There is a gorgeous book to be written that guides travelers through the world's different cultures on the seat of a barstool. This is not that book.
Global Beer Tour
Lonely Planet, 267 pages
$19.99 / £14.99