85. Delerium Café, Brussels, Belgium

There’s a place in Belgium that thought, back in 2004, that stocking a different beer for every year since Jesus was born would be a cracking idea. It was. But it quickly became passé. So now there’s 3,162.

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Breaking the record back in 2004 helped to put Delerium Café on the map. The secret is certainly out. So I feared a venue overrun by tourists or packed like a London pub at 5pm on a Friday (a quick one at The Harp, anyone?) or, worse, a business now hollowly profiteering off its fabled reputation, turning the prices up to 11 and stripping out the ancient furniture in favour of standing areas and tables with shiny lacquer surfaces for easy wiping down (I’m looking at you, Früh am Dom, Cologne).

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For just over €2, I had a freshly poured glass of some wheat beer I’ve forgotten the name of. I can’t even get a schooner of Heineken for that price in Amsterdam. It was lovely too, of course.

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Bent on world domination, Delerium World, as I’m calling it, has taken over the whole street and offers an absinth bar with over 400 varieties, a tequila and mezcal bar with over 500 types (because 12% beer just isn’t enough) and Little Delirium Café at the start of the street to confuse tourists. You can enjoy this alley until 4am most nights.

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The entire venue, spread over three floors, is vast, so here’s a bunch of photos:

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Go on, step right in:

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Venue: 9/10

A benchmark in beer bar design. That it can absorb so many people and still feel intimate and cosy is praiseworthy.

Beer: 10/10

Giving a perfect score is a nervy thing- it implies perfection*. If there exists a better selection in depth, quality of choices and housekeeping, I’d happily be proved wrong. Seems unlikely any other pretender could possibly be as cheap though.

*There has to be a ten, or why not score the beer selection out of 9?

Worthy? Yes

Quite simply a beer nirvana. Spread over three floors (with satellite bars along the street), it has absorbed the tourists and thrown them in to a crucible of camaraderie.

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148. Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington, DC

I’m not sure what this place is trying to be. I’m not sure they do, either.

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Apparently the oldest dinning saloon (whatever that means) in Washington D.C. and very close to the White House, so all sorts of important white grey men must have come here for beer. Their website proudly offers 1856 as their opening date because, you know, history, but this was when it was in Chinatown. So not really that old is it? And now it is owned by a local restaurant conglomerate boasting thirteen properties. So it’s in a different location and owned by different people. But: history.

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Their website also claims the patronage to be a bustling mix of tourists and politicos. Score. Apparently the oysters are great, if that’s your sort of thing.

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Venue: 5/10

Grand, very expensive looking, which can make your typical beer enthusiast feel a bit unwelcome because, as everyone knows, fermented grapes, not grain, is the sophisticated thing. Because the Romans did it, presumably.

Beer: 2/10

If oysters were beer, then this would be right up there. They’re not though, are they?

Worthy? No.

A grand venue, no doubt, but not a beer bar.

Mapped: The Best Beer Bars in the USA.

USA

According to some people, these are the best beer bars in the contiguous USA. Granted, I took this list from a 2010 publication of Beer Magazine (I think), so it may be a bit dated, but you can’t manufacture historical whimsy, so at least some of these must still be right. I have only visited those with a blue label, so there’s much to look forward too.

134. The Bell, Aldworth, Berkshire, England

Some people just can’t let things go. Like pubs; The Bell Inn has been in the same family for five generations: more than 250 years. Take that, inheritance tax.

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Many British pubs look quaint and akin to a film set from the outside, but are all too often trashed by tasteless interior renovations that currently seem to involve painting the walls ivory or mauve and filling two-thirds of the place with shiny mass produced furniture and calling it a ‘restaurant’. The Bell doesn’t subscribe to this nonsense. The interior seems to be vaguely centred around a wooden cubicle of sorts, from which the staff serve you through a window; the menu is a series of paper notes haphazardly affixed to the walls.

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The Bell is the proud winner of the 1997 Best Sandwich Pub Award (which is a thing, apparently). For a mere £3.50, you can chose a warmed roll stuffed with a doorstop of goats cheese and a side of olives, or a hearty handmade soup.

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Aldworth, the village which The Bell serves, has approximately 8 houses. I visited for the lunchtime opening slot (it closes in the afternoon, just like in yore) and every single resident and their friends must have stopped by since it was bustling. The next nearest village has four houses, and the local ‘town’ (maybe 100 houses and a Post Office) is over an hour walk away. There are no busses. No phone signal, and a phone box that doesn’t take cash but gladly accepts BT Phonecards, whatever they are. So just quite where all these people came from I don’t know. The 1940s, probably.

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Half of the pub is the old tap room and features a set of long benches for packing in large groups and making new (old) friends. The best seat (above photo) is in a recess that used to be the fireplace.

Best stay inside.

Best stay inside.

The Gents toilets are worth a mention: one literally relieves oneself on the wall outside, exposed to the elements, only a wooden fence separating your back from the car park. Efficient use of space.

Venue: 10/10

The definition of ‘real pub’.

Beer: 7.5/10

Small range, but still diverse and, of course, well-kept.

Worthy? Yes

Stands out amongst even the top tier.

The Best Beer Bars in the World.

A precarious, tentative, inchoate ranking of the best beer bars in the world I have visited, so far:

1. Bierproeflokaal In de Wildeman, Amsterdam, Holland 9.5/10

=2. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London, England 9/10

=2. McSorley’s Ale House, New York, NY 9/10

=2. U Fleku, Prague, Czech Republic 9/10

=5. Falling Rock Tap House, Denver, CO 8.5/10

=5. Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield, England 8.5/10

=5. Brouwerij ‘t Ij, Amsterdam, Holland 8.5/10

=5. Zum Uerige, Dusseldorf, Germany 8.5/10

=9. Sunset Grille & Tap, Boston, MA 8/10

=9. Charlie’s Bar, Copenhagen, Denmark 8/10

=9. The Olde Mitre Tavern, Ely Court, London, England 8/10

=9.  Nederlands Biercafe ‘t Arendsnest, Amsterdam, Holland 8/10

13. PINT Bokbierfestival, Amsterdam, Holland 7.5/10

=14. Redbones Restaurant, Somerville, MA 7/10

=14. Blind Tiger Ale House, New York, NY 7/10

16. The White Horse Pub, Parsons Green, London, England 6.5/10

=17. McMenamins Kennedy School Hotel, Portland, OR 6/10

=17. Olympen Mat og Vinhus, Oslo, Norway 6/10

=17. The Brickskeller, Washington, DC 6/10

20. The Gravity Bar, Guinness St. James Gate Brewery, Dublin, Ireland 5/10

=21. Pivovarsky Klub, Prague, Czech Republic 4.5/10

=21. Au General Lafayette, Paris, France 4.5/10

=21. The Wynkoop Brewery, Denver, CO 4.5

24. The Dubliner, Washington, DC 4/10

25. Kulminator, Antwerp, Belgium 3.5/10

=26. The Market Porter, Stoney Street, London, England 3/10

=26. Belgo Central, London, England 3/10

=28. The Publick House, Brookline, MA 2.5/10

=28. d.b.a., New York, NY 2.5/10

=30. Brauhaus Sion, Cologne, Germany 2/10

=30. Brasserie Federal (Hopbahnhof), Zurich, Switzerland 2/10

=30. Gösser Bierklinik, Vienna, Austria 2/10

33. Fruh au Dom, Cologne, Germany 1.5/10

34. Heineken Brewery, Amsterdam, Holland 0.5/10

35. Blue Moon Brewing at the SandLot, Coors Field, Denver, CO 0/10

 

Throughout, I have tried to create some sort of bell curve from the rankings: a few at the bottom of the pack, a rising amount in the middle 4-6/10 range, and then a handful of exemplary bars in a class of their own. This makes sense, because this is a (largely) thoughtfully compiled list of elite venues, so if I were to compare them to all the beer bars of the world, then the rankings would almost always be 8, 9 or 10 out of ten, and therefore unilluminating.

 

 

 

144. The Dubliner, Washington, DC

The Dubliner seems to be an institution in DC, but it wouldn’t really stand-out in Ireland. Since this is a global list, it seems hard to justify this inclusion.

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In truth, the dive-bar Irish pub right next door was much more affable and relaxed and had a better beer selection AND live music too.

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On a summer night such as on my visit, the expansive outdoor seating is a boon, and the close proximity to the station  adds to the appealing location, especially for a swift half between trains or a first port of call after a long journey. I imagine it is popular with the suited 5-o-Clock-finisher’s from the surrounding downtown offices.

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The interior is split into two: restaurant and bar, the latter of which offers a long row of stools, sports on tv and attentive bar staff to help you while away some hours. But so does next door.

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Yes, that’s a lager served in a Guinness glass in the background. Come on people.

 

Venue: 5/10

Nothing extraordinary for Ireland, but a real good effort for the States.

Beer: 3/10

Very decent Guinness for this side of the pond, but a very limited selection otherwise.

Worthy? No.

From an American history perspective, perhaps. But not for the beer.

72. Blind Tiger Ale House, New York, NY

West Village, New York, a new beer movement.

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No more ostentatious tap handles, faux-craft beer (here’s looking at you, Sam), and well beer Wednesdays. Blind Tiger will guide you through the excellent emerging United Statian craft beer world. It could be argued that Blind Tiger not only predates the real beer movement, but was already a local institution whilst localised, craft brewing was but a twinkle in the hipster’s bourgeois eye.

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27 taps is not enormous for the States (Sunset Grille & Tap has 112), but it represents at least a days (ahem) effort. Europe is much more bottle-centric (400+ in Belgium is not uncommon; you need more like 800 to stand out, like Kulminator, Antwerp), so for Jonny foreigner, this array of taps is bewildering in all the right ways.

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Spot the hipster.

A fantastic quirk of Blind Tiger is the countdown to the tapping of a new brew: when I was there, the chalk board told me that at 5pm, a new saison will be opened for sale. Given that I decided to wait a few hours for this, I can’t remember exactly what this tasted like. Since I had been on a summer wheat/fruit beer binge, I think the saison fitted perfectly with my contemporary needs.

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If I’m being honest, which I’d rather not since I really liked this place, the layout of the venue needs some thought. I understand that space is at a premium in Manhattan, but Blind Tiger is bigger than many pubs in the Netherlands. The problem here is the large space in the middle, leftover from the awkward high tables by the window and the low slung benches by the wall. Maybe people can accumulate and drink vertically during peak times, but here you will find yourself clumsily in the way. A seat by the bar is a fine thing though.

A special nod must go out to the staff. On both visits, they were excellent and patient, despite being borderline understaffed the second time, with something of a Rain Man memory.

Venue: 6/10

A seat around the bar is an optimum place to sit, otherwise the void in the middle seems like a waste of space.

Beer: 8/10

Countdowns to new beer tappings? Brilliant. The staff are happy to showcase an excellent knowledge and passion, too.

Worthy? Yes

A bar for real connoisseurs, which doesn’t exude esoteric pretentiousness, unlike this sentence.

28. The Brickskeller, Washington, DC

The Brickskeller has unfortunately been sold off and re-opened as The Bier Baron Tavern. So it’s kinda on the list.

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Fortunately, the excellent beer can collection is still there. Apparently (according to the surprisingly extensive Wiki page) The Brickskeller was a stalwart during the collecting fad in the 70’s, where the fathers of well-healed underage collectors would pay for hundreds of dollars worth of cans to be emptied from the bottom, in order to preserve the top, and deliver them as the valuable trinkets they are to their kids.

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They even have an old Waitrose one from the UK- I didn’t even know they ever existed.

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Great venue, vast beer menu; why the bad review? One women is responsible for this: the barmaid. Maybe I’m used to superhuman attentiveness and almost-ass-kissing joviality when I’m in the States, maybe she wouldn’t have stood out in Europe. She certainly wouldn’t have in Zum Uerige. The difference there is that the gruff efficiency with which their staff sling another alt on your table is part of the charm. She was a ruinous scourge on an otherwise excellent beer bar.

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I get that bar staff work for tips (whaaat- they work for MONEY?!) but one of the huge advantages about working in a beer bar is…working with all that yummy beer. If you’d rather do shots with your friend/love-interest at the end of the bar, then go find a lovely little dive-bar where not only is this fine, it’s recommended. But these places should be a haven where I can ask which saison she recommends (some of which are United Statian, so new to me), and get some passion, maybe some tasting notes- not just a name, with no explanation. This might sound petty, but this is but one instance on a list of aggrievements.

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Venue: 4/10

A lot of potential; almost great decor. The staff are ruining this place.

Beer: 8/10

A broad, well-described selection, helpfully categorised by country and style, with explanatory tasting notes to help you through the varieties.

Worthy? No

It almost definitely used to be, and I really want it to be.  Sadly, this has fallen by the wayside. A large menu is not enough these days: otherwise this list would be largely comprised of Belgian bars.

124. Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield, England

The atmosphere in a pub is as crucial to its success as the quality of its beer, but the recipes and methods are frustratingly opaque.

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It is easier to reference a place that so perfectly illustrates an atmosphere; Kelham Island Tavern is that pub.

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Despite bordering an empty lot and varies industrial units but very little housing, there is a robust set of locals who the bar staff know by name. Far from being alienating, I was welcomed casually and affably, by the staff and regulars alike.

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Kelham Island Tavern is a regular CAMERA Pub of the Year winner (except in 2013, where The Shakespeare down the road stole the title). These were not won on the back of expensive and needless renovations, glitter and ball balls, but because it so thoroughly embodies what it means to be local pub, and why this is so important in the British culture. None of this success has gone to their heads; an understated, casual Northern attitude runs through the staff and locals.

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Venue: 9/10

No ridiculous renovations, plenty of old things.

Beer: 8/10

Exceptionally maintained local beers, served with true passion and expertise. A small but well-chosen international selection of bottles, too.

Worthy? Yes

This is the gold-standard for a good British pub.

138. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London, England

Just off Fleet Street, London (but oddly off Google Maps), is a museum of a pub. A heavyweight holding a candle to anywhere.

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Nestled down an alley, it is has been worth seeking-out since at least 1667. Even Dickens thought so.

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Old gent by the bar not guaranteed. Photo stolen shamelessly from beerlens.com.

The front bar is probably the best- ancient yet robust-looking dark wood encloses a quaint little room with a fireplace and more pumps than you’d think one would need for the amount of customers that could be squeezed in. The floor is covered in sawdust, as this was the normal way to mop up spills and debris and old people fear change.

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The excellent front room will of course fill-up quick, but Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is the gift that keeps giving; there is an overflow room on the ground floor, then a further two basement levels. People will have preferences, but you can’t really lose.

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Apparently the food is tosh, but who really cares? It’s not that sort of place; not that sort of blog.

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Venue: 10/10

Rebuilt in 1667. No need to improve it since.

Beer: 8/10

Samuel Smith’s pubs are a stalwart on the English ale scene. Not unique to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Not complaining.

Worthy? Oh yes.

The UK is blessed with (an unfortunately dwindling number of) old pubs. But this one stands out- did Charles Dickens drink at your local?