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.

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.

Brewery Opening – Butcher’s Tears

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Off-the-radar brewery openings. Just how we roll. Although it was €4 a bottle, the taster glasses were free – guaranteeing a crowd and a consistently-long queue for the bar.

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It’s not known as the glamour entrance:

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Their website waffles on about magic, art and enriching the beer culture. It’s all really rather pretentious and would have an instant following in Shoreditch; loyal and relentless until more than six of their friends have also heard about it or they start selling it in a pub not officially approved by scenesters.

Misery King is rather good and dangerously quaffable for an 8%er. The IPA is remarkably similar to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ IPA. Remarkably…

De Brabantse Aap

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On the Spui, central Amsterdam, you can find a very recently renovated De Beiaard branch, of which there are four scattered around the Netherlands.

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The renovation is tasteful and carries a lot of cosy, gezellig, charm, despite how new everything is, apart from these beer bottles of yesteryear:

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There are ten or so beer taps and, judging by the acridity and reluctantly increasing ullage of my Brugse Zot, this is perhaps a few too many to maintain quality across the range.

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The layout especially favours small groups and, which is rare, caters very well for patrons visiting alone, who can benefit from the installation of a viewing shelf and stools along the window. There is also conservatory space, so the people-watching opportunities are rife.

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Venue: 8/10

Recently refurbished tastefully.

Beer: 8/10

Very wide and strong selection, with a laudable focus on local and seasonal brews.

 

Freshest Heineken in Amsterdam

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Opposite the original Heineken brewery is a quintessentially Dutch brown bar- Café Berkhout. If Heineken was still brewed there, then this would be the freshest; straight from source.

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Old Heineken Brewery behind the tram

As Heineken is crap, thankfully, they sell other beers: some of the excellent trappist beers in bottles and the increasingly popular but still good De Koninck and La Chouffe.

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The real appeals of this snug little bar is the cosy, welcoming atmosphere and the excellent people-watching opportunities- especially from the comfy seats in the bay window at the front.