Groningen, that jewel in the north, the city I lived in until I left at age 20 to see other places on this planet. But it is still the city the majority of my family calls home and the city I am proud of to be from. In the years I lived there beer wasn’t on my mind, but music was. Groningen is an excellent city to grow up in if you love music. And now when I come back the concert venues and record stores have made way for beer café’s and good liquor stores. Time then for a Guide to beer in Groningen!
Beer in Groningen
As mentioned before the beer scene in the north is underdeveloped compared to other parts of the country. Where I live now I have more brewers within a 35 kilometers radius than the entire north (about a quarter of the country in size) has. But with Bax Bier the city got a quality boost and their bottles can be found all over the city within just 5 months.
The city and surrounding area might be low on breweries but the city has some advantages, like the students at the local university. Groningen has 3 ABT café’s, only a few cities in the country can say that. What follows is a review of those 3 café’s and the best places to buy bottles of beer.
Before I start with the café’s, here’s a short aside. When I moved to Amsterdam I had to get used to the bars closing a few hours after midnight. The bars in Groningen often open late, but stay open deep into the night. This can be a disadvantage for those of you visiting Groningen for one day. On a weekday the earliest bar to open is De Pintelier at 3 pm, with the others following at 4. In the weekend it is slightly better but don’t expect to find a bar to drink beer and have a nice lunch at noon, apart from De Toeter in the weekend.
So, here are the ABT café’s, rated worst to best:
#3 De Pintelier (Kleine Kromme Elleboog 9) – The Orval ambassador, unaware of what brett is.
Once upon a time Belgian beer was king. Yet some people are unaware of the changing landscape in beer and stick to a remnant of a world they know, afraid of anything that’s new and scary. For these people there is De Pintelier. To be honest, this place wins the award for nicest looking beer café in Groningen hands down. A nice little building surrounded by mostly university buildings. Students also seem to be the main visitors. Wood everywhere and beer paraphernalia on the walls. What they have to offer is impressive, but 99% Belgian. Jopen is the only Dutch microbrewery on the (bottle-) menu. And Jopen isn’t exactly small anymore. Other than that you have to hope there is something interesting on tap.
And what about beers from Groningen like Bax, Kromme Jat or even Maallust from neighboring Drenthe? Nowhere to be found. De Pintelier does not adhere to the saying “support your local brewer” but more “support your local InBev supplier”.
The knowledge of the staff seems to be of the level of a small diner run by some old ladies. These ladies have every right to know nothing about what they serve because they run a diner and serve scones and not 100+ different beers. I asked the bardude about a special bottle they had for sale, a Straffe Hendrik Wild. If you are into a beer a little bit the word Wild automatically makes you think of brett, like all the other Belgian beers with that word. When I asked him what kind of beer it was he started talking about a beer made with different hops. If I was unaware of different beerstyles I would have thought it was hops that make beers sour, because it was indeed a brett triple.
In a good bar either the people behind the bar know what they are selling or will at least say they will look it up. A beerbar like De Pintelier that offers Belgian beers should have staff that know this, being such a Belgian style to begin with. To make matters even more interesting, they pride themselves on being an Orval ambassador and if you have to name one beer as an example of brett, chances are it’s going to be Orval.
I could end this bit by saying that if you really like Belgian beers and/or whiskeys this place might be worth a visit, but I will be honest, the next two bars have this as well, and just as good.
#2 De Toeter (Turfsingel 6)
De Toeter’s selection of whiskey and beer is more international. This place has the most students as guests so Fridays and Saturdays in the evening may not be the best times to visit. What they offer is good and will sometimes be from smaller breweries. The majority is Belgian but their selection of Dutch beer is growing, and not only with the bigger ones. At the moment I write this you can get Bax, Ramses and even Reuzenbieren here. On a good day you can sit outside and look over the canal. This is a decent place to go to, but I don’t like their own blond beer. At least De Toeter seems to have a sense of the growing beer culture in Holland. Seems to be a little more pricy than the:
#1 and runaway winner: De Koffer (Nieuwe Blekerstraat 1)
I will be honest, to drink good beer there really is only one place and that is De Koffer (The Suitcase). A bar that has so much to offer that I will always find something I haven’t tried yet. The owners know what they sell and their knowledge is unsurpassed in these parts.
It is also the best place for Dutch beer with a huge blackboard with a list of also smaller Dutch breweries, as we wrote about earlier. The prices are also great with a Wesvleteren 12 for under 10 Euros. They also promote Dutch beer with tastings once in a while like VanDeStreek and Kompaan.
The guests are mixed, students, locals and people finding it on Tripadvisor. Read of the books they have here or strike up a conversation with the people behind the bar, they enjoy their work and it shows.
#3 and sadly falling: Van Erp (Grote Kromme Elleboog 16)
For forever Van Erp was the only place to go to for good craft beer. In a narrow part of the store you can find a lot of Belgian, English, German and other international beers. The other side is for all the Dutch beer. All the local beer is here and there will always be a few from Het IJ, Emelisse, Jopen or De Molen. Apart from that there usually is more, but it’s not always the greatest selection. You can be here one day and go away with a bag full of new stuff but sometimes leave with almost nothing new. Van Erp also has a store in Roden and that one seems to have a slightly better selection most of the time.
#2 and in with a bang: De Roemer (A-Straat 13)
New store De Roemer occupies a beautiful building just outside the city centre. Focused mostly on wine and whiskey they sell quality things and they show their knowledge in the many tastings they organize. The beer section is small but of great quality. It is also always changing which in my view is a good thing. They are the first to say that beer is not their strongpoint, but they do seem to know what is going on and which styles and breweries are good or up-and-coming. They are learning, and learning fast. Het Uiltje, Maximus, De Molen, Emelisse, you name it, you will find it here. They started less than a year ago but have already surpassed Van Erp.
#1. Mitra (Vismarkt 36)
I never expected I would name a chain store the best place to buy beer. In this case I have to. In Groningen this Mitra is run by people who can decide for themselves what they want to sell. Any store with more than 6 shelves of only De Molen and Emelisse beer wins in my eyes. Of course you can find the locals here and a lot of other good stuff from the country (I found Ramses, Berghoeve and even Bad Hair here). The section of Dutch beer is bigger than the Belgian one, so they know quality and the market. They also know what they are selling. It’s a fairly big store with room to move and surrounded by a great food market and other fine stores
Is Groningen a good beer destination? Depends on what your reasons are for going. If you want to go to good places to drink and buy beer Groningen is fine, especially because this city has so much more to offer with its great downtown with shops and restaurants. For a weekend the city is perfect. Will you find things here you won’t find anywhere else? Probably not if you live or visit the western part of the country. The lack of local beer prevents it from being a destination to find things you won’t find anywhere else. But since it is my city, take the train and go here, as long as you visit De Koffer.
If you are traveling to Groningen by car and through Friesland, park your car in Joure and go to the Lekkerbier shop. Easily the best selection of beer in the north.