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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De Prael

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Craft brewing has snowballed in the Netherlands recently, with powerhouses such as Brouwerij de Molen emerging on the international scene.

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Amsterdam is home to a few stalwarts of the scene, such as the unpronounceable Brouwerij ‘t IJ. Although, deserving the most attention, in my humble opinion, is De Prael.

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For some time they existed only as a beer shop (proeflokaal), and in the last year they have enjoyed thriving business in a tucked-away venue in the red light district. The decor is excellent: a tasteful blend of individual adornments; framed beer bottle label art; old Dutch country house tiles; beer tap bathroom taps, blended with classy contemporary; spotlights; a shiny racing bike.

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The beers are named after old Dutch music ‘icons’, of which they have some vinyl sleeves on the walls. It’s hard to go wrong in the beer choice, and choosing a favorite is like deciding which of your kid’s should be handed over to the Nazis. Willecke, a lovely La Chouffe-type triple blond and Mary, a strong copper triple, are highlights. In the winter, Willy, at 11.4%, will warm you up.

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Despite being located between the red light district and the very popular, very touristy, very garish Warmoesstraat, De Prael enjoys a predominantly local crowd. Presumably partly because it is tucked away up an alley, and partly because the alley looks like this:

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Venue: 9/10

Quite possibly the best bar in town. Younger than it looks, De Prael is cleverly designed to accommodate groups, couples, loners and a band. The decor is completely original. There is a section that recreates a lounge from a typical Dutch house, adorned with Delft tiles and comfy armchairs.

Beer: 8/10

Obviously limited by selling only their own beer, this small brewery is world class and it would take years to get bored of their regulars. There are always seasonal brews too.

De Roode Baron

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Zeedijk is resplendent with old-worldly Dutch bars, and another fine example is The Red Baron.

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The beer list is tiny compared to Het Elfde Gebod, but it is well chosen and contains several classic Trappists, along with a few very quaffable Barbar’s.

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De Roode Baron is tiny, one of the smallest in the area, which makes atmosphere easy to come by- a few full tables and it feels like the place to be.

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On our last visit, a female duet broke out the ukulele and into a song, adding to the homely, very local feel of the place. Cosy any time of the day, you could kill an hour waiting for a rain, or fifteen minutes whilst your friend partakes in more nefarious pleasures around the corner.

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The Eleventh Commandment

Thou shalt always drink good beer. Probably.

Het Elfde Gebod (The Eleventh Commandment) is another gem from Tim Skelton’s “Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers”.

I settled in on a rainy night to wash down a book with some fine beers. This was a Monday, so was quiet, cosy and perfect for holing up in. If I’d wanted a conversation, the bar keep had an affable vibe as he stood peacefully sipping a strong stout. Around the corner from Centraal Station and numerous hotels, I imagine he regularly offers the friend-for-a-night service.

There’s no website as such, which leaves me to tell you there are around 70 Belgian beers to chose from. I was hasty and ordered Chimay once I saw they were serving this on tap. As it happens, I’ve been to the tiny town of Chimay in Belgium, so it comes with some authority when I say they do a great job of maintaining this complex, classic Trappist beer.

Zeedijk is renowned for old-world-y Dutch beer bars and you can’t go far wrong. If Belgian beer is your thing, you should probably try this one first. It is also far larger than it looks and more suitable for groups than its’ neighbours.

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Venue: 8/10

Easy location, cosy people watching window seats, affable vibe and a strong, characterful decor, this is a fine all-round Dutch bar.

Beer: 9/10

70+ Belgian beers says more than I ever could.