Candidate #12- The Rake, London, UK.

Near London Bridge, hiding in a back-alley around Borough Market, is the curiously named The Rake.

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London, for a city so large, is not resplendent with ‘Little insert-part-of-the-world-here‘. Sure, there’s a Chinatown, but I’m not looking for tea (or msg). So it comes to The Rake to single-handedly prop up the Little American-dive-bar area of town.

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It does a pretty good job. I like dive bars. I like the worn, rough individuality, and how they always seem to have better tables than their ‘renovated’ cousins (see The Market Street Porter nearby). The Rake has used the scribblings and wisdom of craft brewers to decorate the walls, with brewer memorabilia to add flair.

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Not the first bar of the day.

The garden is bigger than the venue, and in truth this is the front-end of a beer distribution business. This ensures a great selection and rotation of international beers, the best I’ve sampled in London. One particular member of staff let these efforts down, as he shrugged his shoulders when I asked if they stocked any Dutch beers; I then sat down and put my beer on a Texels coaster.

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Venue: 6/10

If you like this sort of style, you’ll feel at home. Top effort, given the space limitations. A little bright and hard to relax in during the day.

Beer: 7/10

Great for London, merely above-averaged for the States.

Worthy? Maybe

Probably the second best bar in London, for those who want to sample from the international faucet.

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Candidate #9- Café de Bonte Koe, Leiden, the Netherlands.

Café de Bonte Koe is tucked away down a narrow alley in Leiden, the Netherlands. I went to Leiden with intentions of finding it, yet still stumbled upon it accidentally. So I had to go in.

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The wind was scything through my grossly inadequate jacket, so the literal and figurative warmth of Café de Bonte Koe was most welcome.

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We took a pew (this may or may not have been an actual pew) in the far corner that offers some privacy, being a nook as it is.

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I chose the beer from the menu mainly due to the interesting name, so when Laura came back from the bar presenting some kind of jam jar goblet I was very impressed.

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Want to jump in? I do.

Wilderen Goud is brewed by Brouwerij Wilderen (Anno 1743) in the provinces of Belgium, somewhere in-between Brussels and Maastricht, where they also age cheese, craft chocolate and distil gin- what more do you need? Their Goud is an eminently quaffable golden blond, a real session beer.

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Sweet nectar

I could have spent hours here. We had a slab of cheese- complete with cutting board and apparatus, and a fancy toastie. The staff were excellent, especially for the Netherlands, and took our orders and set our tab without even needing to ask where we were sat.

Venue: 10/10

As quaint as they come. Efficient staff and automatic tabs = effective inebriation.

Beer: 8/10

A tight selection. Not afraid to go for rarer beers produced with passion by small operations.

Worthy? Yes

There is a lot right with this place; in particular, that we were able to waltz in on a windy Saturday and get a seat, proving that there are certain advantages to being outside the capital.

Candidate #8- The Beer Temple, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Make this pilgrimage for the best selection of American beers in the Netherlands (and Europe?).

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This is the little sister of Proeflokaal Arendsnest (a world-class bar that sells only Dutch beers) and offers 30 draughts, 60+ American beers in bottles and a raft of rare and classic beers from elsewhere: Westvleteren 12, Tokyo et al. Some are prohibitively expensive, but at least they exist.

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The Beer  Temple is prone to being ‘taken over’ or ‘invaded’ by a guest brewery, where they showcase a host of their beers. The Mikkeller glomming had a long legacy, and several could be bought on draft for some time (again, some obscenely expensive bottles). The house beer -Tempelbier, is eminently quaffable, and the Orval cheese is a brilliant bar snack.

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Being so close to Dam Square in the centre of Amsterdam, it’s easy to find and often easy to get a seat. Sneakily, it stays open very late and those tabs soon rack up.

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When it looks like that outside, it’s time to go to the pub.

Venue: 6/10

A large terrace on a busy street for people-watching, and a few really comfy seats inside. Looks every inch the American beer bar of its name.

Beer: 7/10

Due to the high hopping, a lot of the beers travel brilliantly. A deep trough of rare, great American beers.

Worthy? Yes

Might not be remarkable in the States, but it’s in Amsterdam and benefits from some classy European brews, particularly when breweries ‘take over’ The Beer Temple.

Candidate #7- Southampton Arms, Kentish Town, London

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I think the blurb on their website best summarizes The Southampton Arms: “18 handpulls full of lovely ale and cider and a fridge full of lovely meat”

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After pub-crawling through Little Venice and the Camden canals, The Southampton Arms really stood out. Bar snacks here are taken seriously, and the sausage roll is testament to the quality. If you are lucky, someone may be playing the resident piano.

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Venue: 6/10

A bit of a trek from the Zone 1 sights, so it’s mainly filled with locals. Which is great. A very London-feel about it.

Beer: 7/10

18 cask ales and ciders; a great depth of selection.

Worthy? Yes

No doubt other London venues can hold a candle to the Southampton Arms, all I can say is it is definitely better than some of the run-of-the-mill entries for the USA.

Candidate #6- Café Gollem, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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Café Gollem was the first to bring good beer back to Amsterdam. And is still one of 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 that breaks down social barriers and patrons chat freely. Maybe also because it is tiny: the venue is split over two layers; a large U-shaped stool area surrounding the bar, with some prized window seats too, and a mezzanine floor with some small tables. Get here early if you want a seat.

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Make sure you compliment your beer with some Trappist cheese. Those monks, man.

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Venue: 8/10

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: 9/10

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.

Worthy? Yes

Little has changed since its’ inception almost 40 years ago, because they got so much right.

Candidate #5- Zero Degrees, Bristol, England

Zero Degrees is a brewpub chain of four: Bristol was the second venue and a local institution in the town I called home for my college years.

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The Bristol venue is the most unique as the location, nestled in amongst the historic Christmas Steps, provided an architectural challenge that was successfully met with stylish innovation. The steeply dipping hills allowed for three terraces and arresting views over the city. Some of the interior is of course reserved for the brewery, where glass walls enable the patrons to keep a discerning eye on the beer-monkeys as they go about their business. The brewery spills out over the bar with great arching pipes, emphasising the industrial chic design.

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Gratuitous shot of Bristol looking lovely. This is no where near the bar.

Although several of the beers have won some very prestigious awards, such as a CAMERA award for the pilsner, the mango beer is the reason people come back, frequently. I’m told it was an experimental guest beer, indeed it is unnamed on the menu, but they struck gold, so that the “Speciality” option is now synonymous with mango, regardless that the blurb explains this beer to be a changing, experimental compliment to the fixed pilsner, wheat and black lager. In five years, this guest has never changed apart from a cranberry Christmas brew. On a summer’s day, this mango beer is probably the best thing you could imbibe.

Venue: 7/10

Architecturally sumptuous, but perhaps a little cold on the inside.

Beer: 6/10

Mango beer. Much, much better than it sounds.

Worthy? Maybe

Candidate #4- Café Gruter, Oud Zuid, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

In the den of Amsterdam’s social elite, south of the park, Café Gruter is a vestige to honest and grimy drinking. The seating sprawls outside, some of which is sheltered by a conservatory, all of which enables patrons to watch the wealth go by.

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The walls are plastered with polaroids; faded and old nestled with glossy and new, suggesting a work in progress.

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The bar is high and layered, offering a perfect leaning perch to imbibe and enthuse. The beer list is small but well chosen, often with a few seasonal brews.

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Venue: 8/10

Effortless, slightly grotty, unkempt, haphazard brown-bar is not an effortless style to pull off; Café Gruter offers a masterclass. The bar also spills out onto a top people-watching terrace in a rather swanky Amsterdam suburb metres from the best park in town, so the location scores a lot of points too.

Beer: 7/10

Beer lists in the Netherlands rarely take the more = better approach so common across the pond, but whilst small, it is well chosen and Westmalle Tripel is testament to that.

Worthy?

Gruter is a quintessential brown bar. Amsterdam already has FOUR venues on the list, but amazingly none capture the brown bar culture that has thrived in the Netherlands for centuries.

Candidate #1- Biercafé Gollem, 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’s 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: 9/10

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 can 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.

Worthy?

It is debatable whether Biercafé Gollem is even the best Gollum in town. In most places, this bar would be top dog, but Amsterdam bats above its weight in the beer bar arena.