When I was invited to a press event in the Best Beer Bar in the World, I couldn’t resist.
To be fair, I would have attended the press event wherever it was held. But I was certainly curious to discover what’s so special about this particular beer bar. In fact, I went with great expectations. The accolade for the Best Beer Bar in the World goes to “In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst.” This is a tiny bar in the small Flemish village of Eizeringen, near Lennik, to the east of Brussels. The name of the bar can be translated as “Insurance against a Great Thirst.”
Who pronounced this as the best?
The website RateBeer.com based on reviews of its readers. RateBeer claims that they are “the most in-depth, accurate, and one of the most-visited source for beer information.” The site’s database contains millions of reviews from users all over the world, covering more than 470,000 beers from more than 26,000 brewers. 140 beer-lovers voted for this place. Yes, I agree, 140 seems rather a low number, considering the site has millions of reviews. It’s also appreciably lower than the 425 people who reviewed the Kulminator in Antwerp (in 7th position), and the 487 people who reviewed the Moeder Lambic Fontainas in Brussels (in 22nd position).
What are the criteria?
For a beer bar to be voted the Best Beer Bar in the World it has to score highly on Ambiance, Service, Selection, Food and Value. It’s interesting to see where the Grote Dorst scores highly.
Selection. This is the main draw of this place. As one reviewer puts it: “If you’re looking for Gueuze or Lambic, this is THE place to go to. They have (possibly) the largest selection in the world of these beers, and even stocks from breweries/blenders that have been closed for years now. We’re talking real vintage stuff here. Only very few beer bars have Lambic on tap (if they serve it at all!), but here you’ll find it.”
Ah, so this is why it’s rated so highly. It’s because RateBeer’s readers and reviewers love their Gueuze and Lambic beers. If you’re wondering what on earth is Gueuze or Lambic beer, read this.
This means that if you are not a connoisseur of Geueze or Lambic beers, then you might have a problem. Another reviewer: “Forget this place if you don’t like Lambic.”
Service. It’s highly rated at the Grote Dorst, with many reviewers saying “They know how to serve a beer properly.” (But isn’t this Lesson Number 1 when training someone to work behind a bar?). The fact that the Lambic was “served in Lambic baskets and proper glassware” scored big points.
Food. Most reviewers labelled this category as N/A (Not Applicable). This is because, well, they don’t serve food. A typical review: “Food is non-existent except for a bag of crisps and a dry sausage.” One reviewer was lucky: he got some cheese.
Ambiance. This too scored highly. Many reviewers described the ambiance as warm, friendly, farmhouse-style, old-world, unchanged for centuries, cosy, rustic, jovial, charming and quiet. Spare a thought though for the reviewer who took his wife, because she “basically hated everything about the visit and walked down the hill to a café to wait for me.”
The Grote Dorst’s opening hours
The Grote Dorst is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. But it’s only open on Sundays. Yes, it’s closed from Monday to Saturday. One reviewer rather cuttingly suggested that this is why they have such a good stock of rare beers. “… this bar is open a few hours a week. Which makes it ‘easier’ to hold good bottles, cause if nobody can buy them, they can continue to have ‘em on the menu …”. Actually, what I’ve said above isn’t strictly true. It’s also open on bank holidays, and when there is a funeral service at St. Ursula’s Church. The café can also be rented for private parties and gatherings.
Don’t forget your euros!
A reviewer: “They don’t take credit cards, so if you want to go for big ones bring cash enough.”
It’s also difficult to get to: “It’s in the middle of nowhere,” said one reviewer. Another said “impossible to reach by public transport.” (Not quite true, but it is difficult).
Also, it’s small, so be prepared for a tight squeeze. How small? Well, two football teams could just about squeeze in for a post-match drink. But the referee and supporters would have to wait outside.
What’s my overall opinion?
I found the Grote Dorst rather underwhelming. However, I’m not a beer geek. So I’m not interested in old Lambics or rare Geuzes. If you are a beer geek, then you will undoubtedly have to visit this place, and will surely love it.
But if I was looking for a cosy place to have a normal Belgian beer and maybe a bar meal with a couple of friends on a weekday lunchtime or Saturday evening, there are hundreds of bars in Belgium that I would rank higher than “In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst.” Having said that, it’s worth visiting one Sunday afternoon. Even if it’s just to say that you have visited the world’s best beer bar!
Books on Belgian beer
If you want to read all about Lambic beer, the classic reference book is now available as an eBook. After studying this unusual, fruity beer style extensively in Belgium, Jean-Xavier Guinard presents his findings with detail and historical intrigue.
Discover the importance of sugar, top-fermenting yeasts and Belgian hops to the success of these intricate, traditional ales. Learn about the history of Belgian beer and then try your hand at brewing an Oud Bruin, Trippel, or a Grand Cru.
Brew Like a Monk delves into monastic brewing, detailing this rich-flavored region of the beer world. It also examines methods for brewing these unique ales suited to commercial and amateur brewers.
Thirsty for more?
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You tell it like it is. 🙂
Yes Pat, and as you can guess, it wouldn’t have got my vote
It does sound underwhelming Denzil but they certainly know how to charge!
Yes Brigid they do. Actually, once someone has coughed up that kind of money on a Sunday, they can take the rest of the week off can’t they!
I would NEVER nominate a pub with such limited opening hours. Best beer bars serve a social purpose, not a posh adoration of selective and pricy beers for the happy few.
I agree Guido. I wonder what the locals think of it.
Sounds like this is a pub for the elite of the elite – at least, for those who think they are.
I don’t care for beer, or any alcohol, so not going to visit – but I enjoyed reading your post, Denzil. You make even a topic that doesn’t interest me, interesting.
Thanks Sharon. Actually I’m not too keen on the stuff myself, but living in Belgium and writing about it, one does one’s best to keep informed on the topic!
The Finger Lakes region, where I grew up, has hundreds of wineries, microbreweries, distilleries, meaderies, and cideries (sounds like we’d all be perpetually soused, doesn’t it?), and it’s fun to visit and sample, so I’d go a bit out of my way to stop by the Grote Dorst. My objection to such places, is that the folks there can sometimes be too serious.
In my personal rating system, there’s a very low tolerance for pretentiousness, hyper-seriousness, and long-winded discourses full of overreaching adjectives from the staff. I like to learn, it’s good for people to be proud of what they do, and sometimes they’ve dreamed up some interesting innovations, which are fun to hear about, but otherwise, just pour your product into a clean glass and I’ll give ‘er a try & make up my own mind.
Sounds the right and proper attitude Robert. I’m always amazed at how beer connoisseurs can be just as snooty and finicky as oenophiles. As you say, it’s a drink. Pour it. Drink it. Order another. Drink that. Fall over.
Hmm, I followed the link and got as far as â€œtastes like a goat smellsâ€. I think I will pass on Lambics!
Yes it wasn’t the most enticing description was it Anabel!
I’ve tasted Lambic and once was enough for me. I’d probably join that reviewer’s wife down in the cafÃ© while Mr ET tried out this establishment.
I actually wondered if Mr ET was that particular reviewer!
No, not him! But only because we didn’t know about that bar. I bet the next time we come to Belgium it will be on our itinerary.
I’ll warn the barman.
No it won’t. Life is to short to have more than one Lambic.
Your post leaves me wondering why exactly this cafe was voted â€œBest Beer Barâ€ in Belgium. But, maybe that was the point. I donâ€™t drink beer, but I wouldnâ€™t go out of my way to introduce this place to my husband either. You are right in saying that there are plenty of cozy bars/restaurants in many towns and cities that offer all the factors calculated on the Rate Beer app or website. My cousinâ€™s husband has talked about this app and often leaves reviews. He brews his own beer, and itâ€™s apparently great! Itâ€™s called â€œLesteâ€, in case you ever stumble upon it. 🙂
Thanks Liesbet for pointing out Leste Beer. Curious, I went on Ratebeer and saw that it had reviewed: “Clear orange beer, big creamy white head, very stable, bit adhesive, lots of foam. Aroma: very yeasty, orange peel, spicy, dusty, coriander. MF: very lively carbon, medium body. Taste: spicy start, dusty, quite some banana, lots of coriander, bit oxidized. Aftertaste: bit spicy, bitter, malty touch, some caramel, banana, sweet touch.” And that was one of the shorter reviews! I hadn’t realised beer reviewing was such a science.
Wow, I had no idea either that so much could be said about the flavor of beer. One flavor of beer, probably, since he and his two friends have produced several styles…
Thanks for the reference Denzil. With great effort, I will refrain from any comment on rankings, statistics etc and focus on other passions: walking and lambic. The latter is certainly an acquired taste, but those are the best. I can readily imagine an unsuspecting traveller trying a lambic for the first time being greatly disappointed. Leaving in the middle whether a lambic is a beer or an ingredient, one shouldn’t certainly expect a beer taste when first trying it. For those still interested, it’s worth noting that the pub is node 17 of the walking network Pajottenland.
Thanks Hans for supporting the lambic team, and for reminding me that this pub would indeed be a good watering place while walking in the Pajottenland. Have you visited the place already?
It certainly is on my list (which is getting longer and longer, but the best beer pub in the world should be pushed up rather than down the list). I only hope to catch it in a quiet moment. Probably will wait until the storm of visits unleashed by your article has quieted down.
Yes Hans, I believe plans are already in progress to open up for another day to deal with the crowd of DB followers 🙂
Thank you for sharing all of that relevant information.. I think the place has to have ambience and the food too would have to be good if I were to go.. LOL.. But Beer is not my thing.. Yet I am certain many of the things you listed for the real Beer expert, So long as the Beer was good and chilled etc.. lol…
Cheers my friend.. 🙂
I’m sure for beer lovers it has great ambience; being able to discuss all these old beers with other beer-lovers. I guess it’s the same when people of any hobby or interest get together.
I am sure you are right Denzil.. 🙂 Common Interests 🙂
I am sorry that you feel that way about this bar. We enjoyed it very much but we were lucky to have a spot outside in the sun. We had some pretty good kriek and geuze. We ordered some cheese and pate to go with the beer and had a lovely time there. And I think they are one of the cheaper bars for these kind of beers. If you are not a fan of traditional geuze, lambic and kriek, you don’t have to go there and just stick with the touristy bars in Brussels or antwerp.
I’m glad you enjoyed your visit Sharon. My review was based on the accolade “the world’s best”, which means it has to be evaluated to high standards. As a small village pub with an interesting beer menu, it’s a great little place, and despite feeling underwhelmed, I enjoyed my visit there too. But to call it the world’s best beer bar when only 120 people have reviewed it, when it’s only open 1 day a week, and when it doesn’t serve food, seems rather unfair to beer bars that excel in these other areas.
I think it has to do with the exclusivity of the beers. I don’t think a good beer bar needs to serve any other food except cheese and meat.
I can drink Lambics, but they’d never be my first choice. I am baffled by the fact that they’re only open one day a week. How do they make any money?
Maybe it’s a Sunday job for the owners. Or maybe they make enough from the more pricey lambiks to see them through the week?
Having frequented this quaint, charming and friendly cafe yesterday, I feel compelled to leave my opinion. This is one of the most welcoming, hospitable and interesting place I’ve visited. If you like beer, there is no doubt this place is a must visit. The owner was so welcoming, I felt like it was my local from the minute I sat down. One of my friends took a picture when he visited over a year ago, and two of the local old ladies in his pic were present for our visit, drinking exactly the same beer. Full of beautiful people like them! She was trading home grown tomatoes for bottles of lambic. That’s the beauty of the place, apart from being an amazing lambic bar , it is a community hub for the whole village. I imagine they have gone every Sunday for the last 30 years. There is no other bar that has 50% geeks and 50% locals who love it for just being their bar. Sure there are many other bars and cafes, but none with charm of this place.
Glad to hear that you enjoyed an interesting afternoon here David.