Brouwerij Het Anker Mechelen | 5 Reasons You Should Visit
This summer, Elisa and a group of her friends organised a trip to Brouwerij Het Anker Mechelen as a fun weekend activity. I tagged along.
I used to work in Mechelen. For six months. The only places I saw during that time were the city train station, the inside of my office and the uninspiring journey between both of these fairly innocuous places.
But I was always aware of the presence of Brouwerij Het Anker. I knew it was there. And I was finally delighted to be able to visit.
So should you go? Is it worth a visit?
The answer is ‘Yes’. Here are five reasons why:
REASON 1: IT’S SOMEWHERE DIFFERENT
Most visitors to Belgium make it to Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. Sometimes they go to the Westhoek to find out about World War I. Many will head south to the peaceful villages of the Ardennes.
But few will make it to Mechelen.
Even those who live in other parts of Belgium don’t come to Mechelen.
That’s a shame because not only is Mechelen a pleasant place to lose yourself for an afternoon – it has eight historical churches, a beautiful main square and a historic town hall building – but it also occupies a significant place on Belgium’s cultural map.
Paying a visit to Brouwerij Het Anker will give you the opportunity to discover some of Mechelen’s other attractions. Why not pop in to Flanders Toy Museum with one of the largest collections of toys in Europe or pay a visit to Technopolis, Flanders’ hands-on centre for science and technology? De Wit Royal Manufacturers of Tapestry in the city are world-famous for their conservation and craft. There’s even a zoo (Planckendael).
Oh, and there’s a brewery in Mechelen too.
REASON 2: GOUDEN CAROLUS BEER
I remember going for a drink with one of my colleagues when I worked in Mechelen. It was the first time I had heard about Het Anker. My colleague ordered me a beer from the brewery. It was great.
That weekend, I bought a bottle of that same beer for Elisa to taste. She loved it too.
It was the Gouden Carolus Tripel and it forms part of Het Anker’s Gouden Carolus range of beers which include the Classic, the Tripel, the Ambrio and the Noël. The Gouden Carolus ‘Cuvée van de Keizer’ is also part of this range (literally, the ‘Emperor’s Vat’) and it is a special beer brewed once a year on the birthday of Emperor Charles V (24 February) which is intended to be an 11% ABV variation on their Gouden Carolus Classic.
On our visit to the brewery we had the chance to explore the other beers brewed at Het Anker, including the ‘Lucifer’, the ‘Maneblusser’ and the ‘Boscoli’. But it’s the Gouden Carolus range that has enjoyed most acclaim and success – a range of beers whose name derives from a famous son of the city.
Emperor Charles V grew up in Mechelen in the 1500s and subsequently left . However, his relationship with the city continued long after his departure, through both the golden coins he issued whilst in power, and the shipping of beer from Mechelen to his new home in Spain.
To mark the influence of Emperor Charles V on the city, Brouwerij Het Anker produced this series of beers and named it after those golden coins which city dwellers would have used to purchase alcohol in Mechelen at that time.
In the glass, the Gouden Carolus Tripel rises up as if on a throne as a golden beer with a fluffy white head and a peppery, sweet citrus, almost floral aroma.
Its body is majestic and its bittersweet taste – produced by a well-balanced hopping of only Belgian hop varieties – greets you the same way an all-powerful Emperor might.
REASON 3: THEY DISTIL WHISKY
Having worked previously in an Irish whiskey distillery, I was intrigued to learn during our visit that Brouwerij Het Anker is now also a distillery and has recently launched its own whisky.
Scotland has had its part to play. The ‘Gouden Carolus Single Malt’ whisky is not Scotch (an appellation given only to whiskies produced in Scotland), but it does follow the Scottish spelling of ‘whisky’ (as opposed to the Irish ‘whiskey’) and it is distilled in copper pot stills which have been hammered by the Scottish coppersmiths, Forsyth’s. Stylistically, it is distilled twice (as is more generally the case in Scotland) rather than three times (the common practice in Ireland).
Brouwerij Het Anker maintain that this recent distilling activity is not something new, but rather that they are going back to a practice carried out at the brewery many years ago. It seems that the Van Breedam family (who still own the brewery to this day) distilled gin in the Antwerp province village of Blaasveld from some time in the 17th century until the 1920s.
Brouwerij Het Anker distil from the mash of Gouden Carolus Tripel beer and age in Jim Beam Bourbon barrels followed by a further aging in their own bespoke casks. The resultant whisky has a subtle fruit aroma with notes of wood, vanilla and honey.
REASON 4: THE HISTORY OF THE BREWERY
The brewery traces its roots to the 1400s when a semi-monastic community of religious women, the Mechelen ‘Beguinage’, housed themselves in the current brewery buildings. Their daily lives revolved around serving God through worship and caring for the elderly, poor and sick.
Interestingly, the Beguinage was granted the right to brew beer (free from tax) in 1471, and so the ‘nuns’ set about brewing beer to comfort the sick and dying in their care.
They eventually vacated the building in 1865 and it fell into the ownership of Louis Van Breedam. Although Brouwerij Het Anker engaged in two short-term commercial brewing relationships in the 1990s (with Riva between 1991-1993 and John Martin between 1995-1997), it prides itself today on being an independent family brewery in the same way it was when it was first started in 1865. The current CEO, Charles Leclef, is the fifth generation of the Van Breedams to run the brewery.
The name of the brewery translates literally as ‘The Anchor’. But it’s not a maritime reference to the nearby sea port of Antwerp. Rather, it’s named as a mark of respect to the famous Mechelen maltster and brewer, Jan In Den Anker.
REASON 5: YOU CAN SLEEP AND EAT THERE
If a short tour isn’t enough time to explore the brewery and the city of Mechelen, Brouwerij Het Anker boasts its own hotel and restaurant where you can put your feet up and enjoy a feed.
The restaurant (‘brasserie’) was opened in 1997. Most of the Brouwerij Het Anker beers are on draught here so there is ample opportunity to match the various flavour characteristics of the Gouden Carolus brews with a plethora of tasty dishes.
The Hotel followed the restaurant in 1999 and was opened in the old stockrooms of Brouwerij Het Anker. It offers 22 spacious rooms, private parking and meeting facilities, as well as the quite wonderful thought that you will wake up to the smell of the mash on brewing days before your breakfast.
At time of writing it is the only hotel in Belgium on the site of an operating brewery.
MAKE A TRIP TO BROUWERIJ HET ANKER BREWERY
When I visited, it was on a day trip with some friends who were looking for somewhere different to go and a new activity to enjoy.
Whether your group consists of beer lovers or people who know nothing about brewing, Brouwerij Het Anker is definitely a trip worth making with your friends.
*This review is completely independent and we paid for our own tickets on the tour.
For more information, you can visit their websites: