BEER TOURISM HAS BECOME BIG BUSINESS. Whereas holidaymakers or business folk once might just have made the effort to seek out the best bar near their hotels, today thirsty hordes are turning the travel premise on its head, constructing whole vacations around beer temples that have sprung up in the past couple of decades in many of the world’s great cities.
The best of these bars don’t just serve beer: they live and breathe beer. Beer is their raison d’être and they go more than the proverbial extra mile to prove this by not only promoting excellent ales and lagers produced locally but also by seeking out world classics that knowledgeable customers happily pay considerable prices to enjoy.
Decor varies from the grand to the grungy but the best bars have it all: well-chosen selections, beers in perfect condition, staff who know their hops from their elbows, and a buzz – a shared, friendly connoisseurship – that welcomes in anyone who is serious about beer, or who would like to be. Here are 10 of the best to aim for on your travels.
’T Brugs Beertje, Kemelstraat 5, B-8000 Bruges
“You cannot call yourself a well-travelled beer lover until you have been here.” So declared the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium a few editions ago.
The advice remains sound today for anyone thinking of visiting ’t Brugs Beertje (above). Daisy Claeys has become a figure of legend during the 30 years she’s been running this small bar, which remains the first port of call for many a tourist in Bruges, however compelling the majestic architecture of the city.
The ‘Little Bear’, a former grocer’s shop, amounts to no more than a couple of small rooms decorated with old brewery advertisements, plus an overspill bar through the back, all behind an unprepossessing red-brick facade and modest green door. But, per square metre, this must be one of the most influential beer venues in the world. With 300 greats (mostly Belgian) in bottle, served in the correct branded glassware (but of course), there’s more than enough to please even the most pernickety of drinkers.
Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, Via de Benedetta 25, 00153 Rome
Don’t worry about the rather demanding name (“What have you come here for?”). This bar is most commonly known as the Football Pub.
Don’t worry about the connotations of that either. The essence of this small Trastevere pub is beer and Italian craft beer, quite rightly, holds pride of place.
Whether crowded around the bar, relaxing in the small room at the back or spilling onto the streets, the customers who frequent this down-to-earth drinking den don’t care so much for their restricted surroundings as for the contents of the glass in their hands.
Visit in the afternoon for the best chance of getting a seat. Almost opposite is another beer shrine, but with a dining dimension, as its name, Bir & Fud, suggests. The wood-fired pizzas are renowned and the beer selection equally lauded, although understandably more restricted than its near neighbour.