Café Briljant, Haarlem.

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Haarlem is a small city to the west of Amsterdam. Far more than just a satellite town, Haarlem has an important history itself, and provided the name for a suburb in New York. The heyday of beer brewing in Haarlem goes back to the 15th century, when there were no fewer than 100 breweries in the city. And it’s twinned with Derby, England.

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There are a good number of cosy and warm Dutch pubs (brown bars), and a jewel in the crown is Café Briljant. They stock around 50 beers, with a heavy Dutch and Belgian prevalence;  offer 5 changing taps; and 29 whiskies. They also offer a real community vibe, nestled as it is in a quaint suburb. There is  great window seat to watch people go by (above) or an equally appealing alcove seat at the back.

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Venue: 8/10

A relaxing venue, and perfect for gathering some energy after a wander around some very pleasant suburbs.

Beer: 7/10

A good range with 5 changing taps to keep you interested.

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Café Belgique, Gravenstraat.

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Café Belgique hides in plain sight- amidst chain retail outlets, it’s easy to not notice this gem of a beer warren.

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One of the smallest bars in Amsterdam, you’ll find yourself wondering, “How can this be one of the smallest?!”. Unbelievably, they host live music. I’m not sure how, or why- as appealing as music is to some, it won’t make this one-room cubby-hole any bigger, so it’s not like they can pay the DJ off the back of increased customer revenue- it’s always full. And heed that advice- turn up very shortly after opening (3pm) and you might get a seat.

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In truth, it thinks it’s way cooler than it is. And by ‘it’, I partly mean the clientele. If this were London, we’d call them scenesters. The website states “It’s frequently visited by a varied public of locals, expats, musicians, artists and dj’s”. See what I mean? Who cares if artists go there? Do I feel better about my Orval because the guy with an unkempt beard sat too-closely next to me sticks wires through books encased in styrofoam and calls it “A Critque on the Abandonment of Western Values”, and his dreadlocked girlfriend photographs litter blowing in the wind for her forthcoming exhibition in a disused plastic bag making factory? No, I do not.

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For the size, the beer choice is broad- 50 bottles and 8 taps, but even this is too many as evidenced by the foul taste of the Floreffe Blonde.

Venue: 9/10

The only real criticism is the size, but that’s also part of the atmosphere. And when you do finally get that corner seat by the window, boy does it feel cool.

Beer: 6/10

Decent range, but unfortunately not all the taps are very well maintained (I’m looking at you Floreffe Blonde).

Café Gollem

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Café Gollem was the first to bring good beer back to Amsterdam. And is still the best.

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Around since 1974, Gollem is a beer institution famous in Amsterdam and the world. Originally, the proprietor hired a car, drove to Belgium and filled up. These beers sold quickly.

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Gollem probably looked old when it was new. The bar has an ambience breaks down social barriers and patrons chat freely. Maybe also because it is tiny.

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Venue: 9/10

The only criticism is the size, but that’s also part of the atmosphere. So really I’m just complaining that it’s hard to get a seat, which is kinda like complaining because it is too good.

Beer: 10/10

It’s hard to imagine a better beer list. There are 14 taps to choose from (7 regulars, 7 guest) and ~250 bottles covering local breweries here in Amsterdam, craft brewers around the Netherlands and all the big and small players from Belgium.

In De Wildeman

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Over 250 bottles, 18 taps and cheese and chutney pie: welcome to beervana. Typically, there is a German and an English tap, Guinness and a token well-beer, with the rest changeable.

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Trappist beers are, blessedly, becoming quite common. Much rarer, is a barman asking if you want a room temperature or cold Orval, who then expertly pours the bottle into two glasses (above) so that you can enrich to your tastes. Brilliant. Even better, you can marry your Orval with some Trappist cheese or a soft, melting cheese and chutney pie.

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The decor is wood, beer and dust. There are some old, rare bottles and glasses, and old books. An entrance tucked away beside the bar leads to a second room, where one can find space at peak times, and solitude at others. All this charm comes at a price, and the beers are expensive, even for Amsterdam.

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Venue: 9/10

An abundance of character, charm and atmosphere.

Beer: 10/10

Stunning range, incredibly well kept and knowledgable staff.

Proeflokaal Arendsnest

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The heart of Amsterdam’s UNESCO Heritage canal rings is home to a very special place. There is a bar that celebrates everything Dutch by serving exclusively native beers.

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The beer garden is the Herengracht canal.

There are 30 taps at ‘t Arendsnest, ensuring some healthy competition, and another ~100 bottles. The beer culture in the Netherlands is enjoying a welcome renaissance: there are more than 50 breweries that aren’t Heineken, and ‘t Arendsnest showcases the finest and rarest.

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Thirsty?

Venue: 8/10

Classy brassy. The beer garden is the most beautiful canal in Amsterdam.

Beer: 9/10

Dutch beer is so much more than just Heineken and Amstel (both are actually the same thing too). There are 30 beautiful brass taps here and they are all very well maintained.

Café Katoen

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Arriving in Amsterdam by train usually precedes a walk down the Damrak into the centre. Much of this walk is saddled with crap bars, dirty hotels and deep-fried fast food. At the bottom, near the Rokin and Rembrandtplein, one can seek refuge in Café Katoen. It is a blissfully unassuming bar that doesn’t try too hard to be ‘brown’ or hip; where regulars of all walks meet and strangers chat freely.

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Venue: 6/10

Not extraordinary by any means, it definitely achieves of a decor of indifference, rather than a try-hard ‘rustic’ feel attempted, and missed, by many London bars.

Beer: 5/10

They don’t try to be a beer-centric bar, but they are not ignorant either and prove this by taking supplies from the excellent Brouwerij’t Ij down the road. Overall, a sorry miss from Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers.

The best bar in Amsterdam…?

Biercafé Gollem, De Pijp, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Trappist beer cheese.

Trappist beer cheese.

Until very recently, Biercafé Gollem and the original, Café Gollem near Spuistraat in the centre, were closed for business. Their third venture, Gollem’s Proeflokaal on the Overtoom in Oud West, was the sole survivor. The public feared the end of an era: Gollem was the first to import quality ales from Belgium, back in the 70s, and helped to reinvigorate the craft beer traditions of the Netherlands. Gollem’s Proeflokaal persevered through the tough economic climate and the financially draining infighting within the tri-chain, and a few months ago Amsterdam celebrated the re-opening of Café and Biercafé Gollem.

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The decor enjoyed a lick of paint and the beer list benefitted from some very enthusiastic and competent staff to bring Biercafé Gollem into the small elite of Amsterdam brown bars.

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Venue: 7/10

A decent bar length for solo drinking, a mezzanine nook for privacy and vertical drinking outside offer a variety of ways to drink beer. Biercafé Gollem lies in the heart of the vibrant De Pijp area of town, so there is a real buzz around this bar and plenty of alternatives for afters. And there is a Scrabble set should you feel like displaying your vocabulary-based prowess.

Beer: 10/10

It’s hard to imagine a better beer list. Sure, it might be a little light on imports from the States or further, but beers lose their quality over those distances. There are 14 taps to choose from (7 regulars, 7 guest) and >150 bottles covering local breweries here in Amsterdam, craft brewers around the Netherlands and all the big and small players from Belgium.

Brouwerij’t Ij

It’s a windmill and a bar. Nirvana.

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The entire range is strictly organic, unfiltered, unpasteurised and brilliant.

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The walls are adorned with beer bottles from the world over, however you will only find Ij Brewery output on sale. Which is no bad thing. They were at the forefront of the craft brewery resurgence in the Netherlands and have casually swatted off emerging competition.

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As of writing, they produced a limited batch of IPA which is already sold out at source, and can only be found in dwindling supplies at stockists around town. So try it very, very soon, because if they don’t make this again, then you will miss out on an exceptional attempt at the style.

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Venue: 9/10

Slightly outside the centre, so it cannot offer splendid views of 17th century canal houses (instead some messy 60s and 80s housing blocks). But there is a windmill to look at, so it’s swings and roundabouts. The interior is genuinely classy: the old washroom tiles provide continuity in style, if a little sterile; the old beer bottles tone this sterility down and add some warmth.

Beer: 9/10

The Ij brewery have got a lot right. There is history in their craft and this comes through in the enthusiasm. Obviously though, I cannot give this a 10, as that would imply there are no beers better than those produced at the Ij.

 

Café de Engelbewaarder

Café de Engelbewaarder is the place for Sunday afternoon action. Amsterdam can be a bit quiet and drained by Sunday, so heed this recommendation. Often, there is live jazz playing.
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The venue is ill-equipped for crowds, in truth, but this won’t deter them; expect to experience the Dutch’s interpretation of personal space and crowd etiquette.

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The beers are well-kept and and mainly popular without being mainstream. There always seems to be a few wild cards to keep the regulars interested too.

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Venue: 6/10

Great if you can get a window seat overlooking the canal, but otherwise cramped and not ideal for watching musicians.

Beer: 7/10

Whilst no one is claiming the selection is extensive, it is obviously well-chosen and showcases some fine rare beers to boot; particularly from the Boon cannon.

 

Café Lusthof

Let down by a tacky conservatory-style street awning, Café Lusthof is inside a brown bar with real character.
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Massively underrated on the bar scene of Amsterdam; perhaps due to being slightly disjunct from the more popular night spots, and a sorry omission from “Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers“.

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I’ve spared you a picture of the exterior- very misleading.

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Venue: 9/10

Rare multi-layer grotto. The walls are full of browning old crap and seal in the charm

Beer: 5/10

Honestly, I can’t remember. I know I had a Trappist, so that’s a floor of 5 I should say.