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?

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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.

68. Brasserie Federal, Zurich, Switzerland

Whenever I want to get mugged, I go out for dinner in Zurich.

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It’s hard to understand why Brasserie Federal doesn’t work. The shell of the building is exquisite: sweeping arched windows, stained-glass roof, perfect people-watching opportunities. But then there is the shiny silver turnstile leading down the tasteless ‘marble’ stairs to the bathrooms (two francs please), the laminated sheet of Word art with blue toilet people acting as a sign, the miserable hot lamp attendants ambling around the ill-advised el fresco kitchen.

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There are around 100 beers, but they needn’t have bothered. Much of the list is like choosing between Heineken and Amstel; hardly Sophie’s choice. There are glaring omissions from this Swiss beer list: Storm & Anchor, I’m looking at you. At best, the microbrew scene in Switzerland can be described as inchoate, but quality is still there. Just not here. The Mousetrap (a tiny bar beside a British cheese shop) and Fork & Bottle (American-run family-friendly restaurant with an incredible beer garden) are your best choice in Zurich for Swiss beers. Yep, an English and an American place serve the best Swiss beers.

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The service is quick, in tune with their customers’ needs, which is somewhat refreshing in Switzerland. My waiter was particularly friendly, striking up a conversation with ease, seemingly happy to speak English with the tourists (you’d think he’d get bored of that).

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Venue: 2/10

Convenient, and a top, top people-watching area. But the inside is generic, worn, and hard to take a picture of that makes it look impressive.

Beer: 2/10

Probably the widest selection of Swiss beers. But why bother?

Worthy? No.

Not even the best bar in Zurich.

90. Proeflokaal ‘t Arendsnest, Amsterdam, Holland

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There are over 170 breweries in the Netherlands, and nowhere are Dutch brews better represented than at Proeflokaal ‘t Arendsnest, which serves exclusively Dutch beers.

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At any one time there are ~100 bottle varieties and 30 taps, regularly changing and other, inferior, drinks like whiskey. Food is limited to yummy snacks such as cheese, meats and nuts.

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The staff are very knowledgable, if a little tired of being asked “What do you recommend, bro?”, and run tasting sessions and special events.

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This, like In De Wildeman,  is definitely on the tourist map, yet retains an affable, friendly vibe, where patrons freely talk to each other. There are a lot of small bars in Amsterdam, forcing strangers to sit together, but this is the only one that consistently houses social interaction. I’m not really sure how, but I tip my hat.

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Venue: 8/10

Classy-brassy. The space is very small and overcrowding is rife, but they have utilised the space as well as possible.

Beer: 8/10

The Netherlands has a splendid array of beers, and ‘t Arendsnest is often the first to peddle new, quality offerings. 30 taps is a lot to maintain, but they are equal to the challenge.

Worthy? Yes

There is no where better to sample the very best that Dutch brewers produce.

24. Brauhaus Sion, Cologne, Germany

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After Früh am Dom sufficiently lowered my expectations of Cologne’s bar scene, Brauhaus cemented them.

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The beer is served with brutal German efficiency, albeit unsmilingly and seemingly reluctantly. The Sion Kölsch is better than that served at Früh am Dom, but the comparison is a bit like Heineken vs. Amstel; really rather pointless, as you should be drinking almost anything else.

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A few of the rooms had a quaint antiquated feel about them but others, like in the above photo, were more like a coffee shop, resplendent with white walls and photos of the Nutcracker/Santa/people in stupid clothes.

There’s really little nice to say about this place. Completely ordinary.

Venue: 2/10

Just look at the third picture.

Beer: 2/10

Marginally better than Früh am Dom around the corner, but still completely unremarkable.

Worthy? No.

Some of the rooms look halfway decent, others are renovated without class or warmth. In truth, fairly tacky.

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.

8. Kulminator, Antwerp, Belgium

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I really wanted to love Kulminator. On paper, it excels; around 800 beers: unique personal furnishings; a resident cat; a long-serving, frail, elderly couple running the place since the 70s. Unfortunately, these proprietors are arseholes.

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Our beef with the owners is different to some reviews on ‘tripadvisor’, which mention a stunning, vocal over-reaction by the landlord to people sitting in his seat. We ordered a beer we were both familiar with, which we rarely see stocked: Timmermans Pêche. Being a generally poor beer, but a great fruit punch, Kulminator’s patrons usually come for something more renowned. Which is probably why ours were four years past their expiration. The carbonation kept the flurry of sediment circulating, some chunks of which were over a centimetre long. You know when you add warm butter to an egg mix too soon, and it creates a chunky mess?

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My girlfriend went to the bar to ask for a spoon for something fresher. Failing to grasp the concept, the grandmotherly figure said that they just have to put a date on the bottle, like this was some kind of explanation. Protesting further, the woman curtly replied that it won’t make us ill. Thanks grandma, I’m sure it was better in your day, when kids had respect for their elders. Once her arching back ambled away into the garden to deliver an order, we bolted.

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Venue: 4/10

Eerily quiet, although I’ve heard rumours about queues outside before opening.

Beer: 3/10

If you want to eat your beer, then it’s great. 800+ is too many for their customer base, their stock rotation too poor.

Worthy? No.

Rude.

110. Sunset Grille & Tap, Boston, MA

For a liquid education, visit Boston’s best stocked beer bar; 112 fresh taps and three times as many bottles from microbreweries and afar.

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The menu is overwhelming, so just go from left to right and play ‘drink until you throw up’.*

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The staff are friendly and very efficient. Sure, they work for tips, but they are so much better than those ambling, feckless sponges of indifference who work for money.

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There is an affable, community vibe about the place. Nestled in the suburb of Allston, visiting tourists will need to make an effort to search it out, and can jump on the tram to Packards Corner. A lot of Boston exudes wealth and privilege. Allston is not that place: instead, expect a much more inclusive, eclectic and welcoming borough.

Venue: 7/10

Effortlessly American. Fantastic local vibe and friendly staff. I could spend a long time here.

Beer: 9/10

112 beers on draft. ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE.

Worthy? Yes.

A fine example of  a typical American hangout- but with a stunning collection of beer.

 

*Official rules can be found at the bottom of your glass, under the beer.

98. Olympen Mat og Vinhus, Oslo, Norway

“Mount Olympus” is the oldest beer hall in Oslo, dating back to 1892, and has endured numerous reinventions. The incumbent style is a nod to the traditional continental beer hall style.

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Olympen is deep into possibly the only run-down, poor suburb of Oslo (and perhaps Norway), so pilgrimage is less than appealing. It is however merely blocks from the central train station, so its easy to find a reason to visit, no matter how little time you have in Oslo. The interior is starting Olympento look quite worn; whereas in a Belgian or Dutch ‘brown’ bar this would only add to the charm, unfortunately for Olympen the effect is more of a miserable neglect.

Expect to pay prices you didn’t think possible for beer, all the while the barman keeping a straight face. They are fiercely proud of the local Norwegian craft beers and you can find many small brewers not represented anywhere else in Norway. The food is local and seasonal, so think fish, pickled things and astronomically high prices.

Venue: 5/10

The unremarkable exterior belies the grand and striking interior. However, it was rather quiet on my visit and felt soulless through its capaciousness.

Beer: 7/10

150+ beer menu is truly remarkable for Norway. The focus is on Norwegian beers, some of which are rather good. The typical cannon of Abbey and Trappist brews are also well-represented.

Worthy? Yes

A good blend of history and local beer, Olympen is Oslo’s one weak candle to the beer world.

38. The Wynkoop Brewery, Denver, CO

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The Wynkoop Brewery opened for business in 1988 and became Denver’s first brewpub and craft-brewery. They are pioneers in this brewpub-crazy state (Colorado ranks 4th in craft breweries per capita) and have been getting a lot right since their inception, such as their commitment to the environment and localism.

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Somehow they procured the  J. S. Brown Mercantile Building, built in 1899, and originally home to a mercantile emporium during Denver’s pioneering early days. This building is really quite magnificent and retains a lot of the built-to-last original features such as thick timber pillars and  pressed-tin ceilings. Unfortunately, this expansive former warehouse is a difficult space to renovate as a brewpub and the promise of the exterior is not fulfilled inside.

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The Wynkoop Brewing Company raises the question of “At what size does a ‘craft’ brewery lose its name”? Whilst Wynkoop is far from the Blue Moon and Sierra Nevada scale, their website bangs on about their corporate offerings and their new beer-canning operations. I don’t think they can be thought of as a micro-brewery anymore. Will the quality suffer as their business grows?

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Rocky Mountain oysters are bulls testicles. Just so you know.

Venue: 5/10

The old mercantile building is maintained beautifully and separated cleverly to preserve atmosphere and an affable vibe. The inside is not nearly as remarkable as the exterior though.

Beer: 4/10

A large range for a micro-brewery, which I’m sure I would appreciate if I was local. As a passing guest, I felt that maintaining this breadth was at the expense of individual quality. I was not blown away by their award-winning dark larger (try Flek Thirteen for an excellent example), but they redeemed themselves with the milk stout. The IPA is OK.

Worthy? Just about.

They haven’t got everything right, but they do have that most elusive of qualities: an affable, charming vibe. The staff interact as though they are family.