Brouwerij Het Anker
The 1369 accounts of St. Romboutskerk (St. Rumbold’s Cathedral) refer to a certain Jan in den Anker who dutifully paid his taxes.
And Jan’s tax return is the oldest known reference to this city brewery.
In those days, the beguinage (a religious community for women with fewer rules than a nunnery) had a strong presence in this city.
Their krankenhuis (the hospital or ‘house for the sick’) occupied the site where we now find the brewery.
Several brewery buildings date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, including the ancient Refuge of Saint Bernhard that formed part of nearby Hemiksem Abbey and is now the private residence of Charles Leclef, a fifth generation brewer and the current owner of Het Anker.
Back in 1433, Jan in den Anker’s son Mathijs took ownership of the brewery. In 1471 Duke Charles the Bold decided that the beer brewed in the krankenhuis for the nuns and ‘their officers’ should be exempt from tax and excise duties.
Four hundred years later, in 1872, Het Anker was acquired by Louis Van Breedam and his sister. They modernised, installing one of the first steam-fired brewing kettles.
The innovation didn’t end there: in 1912, Victor Van Breedam constructed the first malting works built from reinforced concrete in Flanders.
In 1990 Charles Leclef took over the brewery. He acquired a completely transformed historic city brewery with its own brasserie and a brewery hotel.
They still innovate. For several years Het Anker has been marketing its own Gouden Carolus Single Malt whisky, distilled at the former 17th century family farm called De Molenberg, located in Blaasveld.
In the beer world Het Anker is primarily known for its Gouden Carolus, a successor to the popular Groote Keizersbier.
Carolus is named after a gold coin used as currency at the time of Emperor Charles V (16th century).
The Gouden Carolus family now includes a zesty triple, an amber beer (Ambrio), the well-hopped Hopsinjoor and two degustation beers: a blonde and the dark Carolus Cuvée van de Keizer.
And the Gouden Carolus Indulgence range introduces new, experimental beers with flavours that vary from year to year.
Other beers brewed at the site include Lucifer, a blonde; the pale blonde city beer of Mechelen that goes under the name of Maneblusser and the Boscoli fruit beer.
Het Anker used to brew around 3,500,000l per year but recent investments have raised this capacity to 10,000,000l. The brewery exports its wares to over 40 countries.
At first sight, this strong, dark beer is difficult to fit into an existing beer style.
It has grown from Mechelen’s local brewing customs.
The current recipe originates from the 1960s and has remained unchanged ever since.
Caramel malts and aromatic varieties of malts are used in to make this beer with its 8.5% alcohol by volume.
The beer has flavours of orange, passion fruit and caramel with a lingering, zesty aftertaste that gives out pleasantly sweet, as well as slightly sour impressions. Charles Leclef is a great respecter of tradition. As far as he is concerned, it all begins with a good product.
Without that there is nothing, no matter how slick the supporting marketing story may be.
Charles is also wary of hyperbole and has no time for beer snobbery.
He believes that beer should remain a popular drink and therefore, it must have a low threshold and be affordable.
Respect for tradition doesn’t stop Charles from investing in the brewery or refreshing its product range though.
He recently launched the Gouden Carolus Single Malt whisky, which is used as an ingredient in the new Gouden Carolus Indulgence beer.
In 1962 van Breedam decided to stop producing pils and to focus exclusively on the production of specialty beers.
He was succeeded by Michel van Breedam who, in his turn, handed over the reins to his cousin Charles Leclef in 1990.
In those days, Het Anker was producing 140,000l per annum, a fall from the annual production of 1,100,000 litres in the brewery’s glory days.
Charles Leclef found a right hand man in the shape of brewmaster Hans Van Remoortere and under their joint management the city brewery rose from the ashes through the 1990s – supply and demand finally in harmony.
Charles has made every effort to save this piece of brewing heritage for future generations, but he’s never lost his focus on quality. Het Anker has courageously steered its own course.
This bravery, a sense of historical perspective and an in-depth knowledge of production methods have proved the key to success.
This historic brewery site oozes tradition: the interior court is cobbled, a tympanum built in grey stone displays the year 1625, the three copper brewing kettles in the brewhall were installed shortly after the Second World War, the chimney of the former maltings…
Het Anker is one of Belgium’s oldest breweries with a history that goes all the way back to the Middle Ages.
A visit to the brewery will reveal the secrets of the brewing process. From time to time, open days are held when you can see the brewer at work.
At other times the brewery welcomes group tours of between 10 and 25 people by application. Tours end with a tasting.
The bottling plant, on a different site on the outskirts of the city, is not open to visitors. Pop into Het Anker’s brasserie to discover the culinary qualities of the beers. When it comes to tastings and food pairings, the brewery’s motto is ‘discover together’.
If you are planning to extend your stay in Mechelen, reserve a room in one of the 22 rooms of the three-star brewery hotel and conference centre - the only hotel in Belgium located on the site of a working brewery.
A brewery tour can be combined easily with a visit to the ancient city of Mechelen, the historic centre of which is within easy walking distance.
The nearby village of Blaasveld is home to the De Molenberg distillery where the Gouden Carolus single malt whisky is produced. Guided tours and tastings are available here as well.
Brouwerij Het Anker provides an excellent starting point for a journey of discovery in Mechelen’s historic centre. The Sint-Romboutskathedraal (St. Rumbold’s Cathedral) towers high above the city. Listen out for its bells and tackle the climb to the top of the tower for a wonderful vista across Mechelen and beyond.
Opposite the Cathedral is the splendid City Hall, consisting of the former Paleis van de Grote Raad (the palace of The Great Council of Mechelen built in 1526), the Belfry and the Linen Hall, which both date back to the 14th century.
Eight ancient churches testify to the major religious role this city has played in the past.
City palaces from the Renaissance era with their impressive gardens, including one that was once owned by the former city governess Margaret of Austria (16th century), are also reminders of the grandeur of times long past.
The Kazerne Dossin, the former Dossin Barracks, now hosts a museum on the Holocaust and human rights.
The large beguinage not far from the brewery is an oasis of peace and quiet. Like all beguinages in Flanders, it has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site.
Not far from Nekkerspoel railway station is the toy museum. Those of a nostalgic bent will recognise childhood games while younger visitors will receive an initiation into the pre-digital world. The interactive Technopolis science museum is located on the outskirts of the city.
The best way to discover historic Mechelen is to follow the path of the River Dyle on foot or to take a guided boat trip.
If you want to sniff the atmosphere, the best place to go is the area around the Vismarkt (Fish Market).
There, in the shade of the former Lamot pils brewery, you will find brown cafés (Belgium’s answer to the pub), lounge bars and trendy restaurants.
If you are after a different type of relaxation, the Plankendael zoo and amusement park is only five kilometres away from the city towards Leuven.
Getting There & Around
Mechelen is located halfway between Brussels and Antwerp. The drive from either city takes half-an-hour, using the E19 (exit Mechelen-Noord). By train, the trip also takes half an hour from Brussels or Antwerp.
Bus 2 from the railway station will take you to the brewery in 15 minutes.
Mechelen’s historic city centre is compact and seems tailor-made for exploring on foot.
But if you want to discover the area on two wheels we recommend the Gouden Carolus cycle routes (27, 48 or 58km).
From Mechelen you cycle towards Boom. On the way you discover De Molenberg whisky distillery where the Gouden Carolus Single Malt is produced.
Along the way you come across the palace once occupied by Margaret of Austria, Busleyden Castle, the beguinage, the riverside location of Het Zennegat,
De Schorre, a park known for hosting Tomorrowland, the world-famous music festival, and the Vrijbroekpark. Cycle along the car-free towpaths of the Leuven Canal towards the River Dyle and follow the paths laid on top of the dykes of the Zenne, the Nete and the Rupel.
A visit to Mechelen makes a perfect combination with sight-seeing in the nearby historic cities of Brussels, Antwerp and Leuven.
Gastronomy, Food & More Beer
Typical of the Mechelen region is the Mechelse koekoek, the “Mechelen cuckoo” breed of chicken, a robust bird, coloured like its namesake, whose name is a guarantee of quality.
Harry Schockaert, a cheese master based in Mechelen, has worked with Het Anker to launch a brewery cheese.
Instead of rinsing the cheese with the beer, Gouden Carolus Tripel is added to the curds, getting right into the heart of the cheese.
The menu at the Anker brasserie recommends the house beers with regional dishes such as a carpaccio of Belgian blue beef, cheese croquettes, croquettes of North Sea shrimp, beef stew, Mechelse koekoek, sole, salads, toasted sandwiches, omelettes, apple pie, sabayon, Dame Blanche or with a platter of Belgian cheeses.
The beers also find their way into other dishes like Gouden Carolus endives in a mousseline sauce with Gouden Carolus Tripel or pig cheeks with Gouden Carolus Indulgence.
And how about shortcrust pastry filled with caramelised apple with a quenelle of sabayon ice cream infused with Gouden Carolus whisky?
Tel. +32 (0) 70 22 00 08
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