Naming the world’s best pub would be tricky. Would it be measured on the quality of drinks, décor or popularity? De Beyerd, in the Dutch city of Breda, would be one of my nominations if I was ever asked to name contenders.
It’s a place that I enjoy spending time due to its convivial atmosphere. It’s an easy-going café-bar with a wide selection of draught and bottled beers. The names and strengths of those on draught are chalked on a board behind the bar. Bottles that are stocked are listed on the wall opposite.
Old beer adverts and framed photos hang among decorations on De Beyerd’s wood-panelled walls. Beer steins are ranged on shelves and in glass cabinets. A handful of the tables are even topped by carpets.
The Stedelijk Museum Breda
Seats at outdoor tables stand under umbrellas and are warmed by glowing heaters on chilly evenings. The popular café-bar stands within a few paces of the Stedelijk Museum Breda.
“It’s a family pub. People come from a young age, then they go and study elsewhere. They come back when they are older…when they are 40 to 50, and so on. It’s for every age. All kinds of people come here,” says Jos, who has been De Beyerd’s manager since 1992.
The café-bar’s history goes all the way back to 1838. “It started as a very small bar on the other side of the museum. During the 1950s all the houses were demolished. In this place there was a tailor. He stopped just at that moment, so the pub moved to this site,” explains Jos.
A brown bar in Breda
“This is a brown bar. A brown bar is a bar where people of all ages come. The music is soft. Everybody is talking to each other and people are drinking beer and coffee, or whatever they like. It’s like a home,” he adds. On busy evenings people stand shoulder to shoulder around the bar.
Some people believe brown bars got their name from the colour of their nicotine-stained interiors. Smoking, though, is no longer permitted. Jos suggests that the term means cosy.
Seasonal ales and regular beers
“We have about 150 types of beer. We have spring beers, summer beers, autumn beers and winter beers. Normal beers we sell throughout the year,” says Jos, when I ask him about the number of different beers served at De Beyerd.
“We have our own brewery. We try to sell 10 to 12 different beers a year, but that isn’t always possible as people drink too much of our beer and the brewer can’t produce enough,” he adds laughing.
“Right now it’s autumn for we sell our bok beers. In the summer we sell saison, a very fresh type of beer. The colder it gets the more alcohol there is in the beer, and the heavier the beers,” says Jos.
Somethings brewing in the Netherlands
“Beer is very hip at the moment. People like to drink beer, not lager. People want to drink beer with special tastes. The crazier the beer the better it sells. Every month we have a beer of the month. We had a Schwarzwalderkirche beer, it was just like drinking Black Forest gateau,” he says with a chuckle.
“At first there were the IPAs. We were conservative in the Netherlands and the Belgians were very conservative with their IPAs. The Americans did the most crazy things with their beers, using several kinds of hops. They are making some fantastic beers. Right now I think the IPAs are going down and it’s becoming something else,” he says, when I ask him about beer drinking trends and what’s popular.
The Netherlands is experiencing a resurgence in brewing. It now has more breweries than Belgium. Craft brewing culture has crossed the North Atlantic and a spate of microbreweries have opened in recent years.
“We also have a restaurant and the brewery is behind the restaurant. We produce about 1,000 litres a week. It’s all sold here,” says Jos of the brewery’s output.
Trappist beer and Dutch pubs
Zundert Trappist, a tripel-style beer brewed in Zundert, the birthplace of Vincent van Gogh, is one of several outstanding ales that I first sampled in De Beyerd. So what would Jos recommend to beer aficionados who visit the bar?
“I would start with our own beers,” he answers. “They are very good beers and we are the only one that sells them. The Drie Hoefijzers Klassiek is a very good beer. It was invented as an answer to De Koninck and Palm in Belgium. The Drie Hoefijzers Klassiek remained the same but the Konick and Palm changed. In the 80s Palm was a bitter beer but now it is sweet.”
As we chat, we discuss the declining role of pubs in everyday life in the UK. It seems things are different in the Netherlands.
“It is part of social life in Holland. You go to the pub to meet your friends. You don’t meet people at home, you go to the pub because it’s cosy and you can go home whenever you want. We’re open until late and open early. We open at 10am and close at 1am or 2am. I’m used to the long hours!” says Jos with a smile.
“I think when you go to a pub I hope people enjoy themselves and don’t get into trouble. Be yourself and have a good time!” he adds.
A borrel in Breda
One thing I’m keen for him to explain is the meaning of ‘borrel’, a term I’ve seen on numerous signs outside bars and cafes in Brabant.
“Borrel is something you do with colleagues. You socialise after work with your colleagues, in your private time. You drink with them and get to know them. That’s what borrel is — it normally involves just drinks. ‘Borrel’, literally, is a small glass of hard liquor,” he answers.
De Beyerd has twice been named as the top café in the Netherlands, most recently in 2010.
Identifying the best pub in the world sounds ideal for a lengthy pub debate. If you’ve got a favourite, feel free to send a comment naming it, where it is, and why it stands out.
The Café-Restaurant De Beyerd (Boschstraat 26, Breda 4811GH; tel. +31 (0)76 521 4265) opens six days a week. It opens from 10.00am to 1.00am, except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it stays open until 2.00am. It remains closed on Wednesdays. De Beyerd’s website lists the food and drink served in the café-bar and restaurant.
Breda is in the south-west of the Netherlands, in the border province of Noord Brabant, which is renowned for its ‘gezelligheid’. That tough to translate term embraces nightlife, sociability and enjoying food and drink.
See the Visit Holland website for more information on things to do and see in the Netherlands.
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