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 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.

Café “‘t Monumentje”

It doesn’t get much more ‘Brown café’ than Café ‘t Monumentje.

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This chthonic little brown café in the labyrinthic Jordaan is a mess of stained-old crap that becomes charming when brought together in this way.

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Covering nicotine-stained walls with miscellany is certainly not unique to “‘t Monumentje”, but here the practice feels somehow more genuinely careless and of wanton cobbling together, rather than designed for an effect of age and style.

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There is also a small, very dusty cage fixed to the wall and imprisoning four old Heineken tins. Naturally.

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He looks like he had a great time

The 22nd Best Café in the Netherlands: Café Koops

Every year Misset Horeca publish the top 100 café/bars in the Netherlands. There is no obvious criteria and the rankings change wildly between years. 2013 sees Café Koops, Haarlem, in 22nd place.

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An Art Deco frontage belies the much older, much more worn interior. If you are lucky enough to get outdoor seating, you can enjoy a good view of Haarlem’s historic centre and striking church.

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I can think of 21 bars better than this place in Amsterdam alone, but that reflects more an embarrassment of riches than insults Café Koops. It is certainly in Haarlem’s elite clutch of bars and the warm soup in the window is hard to pass up on a windy, rainy Dutch day.

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