April 6, 2019 – April 7, 2019
We decided to do something spontaneous: make the 2 hour drive down to Antwerp for the night without even booking a hotel. Two of our even more spontaneous friends decided to join us. It’s amazing what you can see in 24 hours, if you put your mind to it.
Luckily, Tyler already had an idea in his mind of what he wanted to do on this little getaway and lined up some brewery reservations for us. The first stop was Het Anker, a very old brewery in Mechelen, just south of Antwerp. We took a tour to learn about the history of the brewery and how they make their beer.
The brewery was founded in the 1400s by a group of women who couldn’t be married. They formed their own coalition and continued this for almost 400 years until the 1800s when a family took over. This family is still running the brewery today, and produced 4 million liters of beer in 2018.
The process for brewing goes something like this: 3rd party delivers malt -> malt goes to mill to be shredded (not crushed) -> malt goes to kettle -> hot water is added to increase temperature -> rest for 3 hours -> malty water goes through filter -> byproduct of spent grain goes to happy cows -> hops added to the sugary soup -> increase to boil for an hour -> herbs added -> cool down liquid to room temperature -> add yeast -> yeast turns sugar into alcohol -> rest for 3 weeks = BEER
What makes their beer special is the specific herbs that are added to the brewing process, such as licorice, star anise, chamomile, orange peel, coriander, and cumin. Although I’ve been on many brewery tours, this was probably the most informative. What made it even more exciting is that the brewery still operates in the same very old building from the past.
We went up to the roof and could see the cute little town surrounding the brewery.
Eventually, we got to everyone’s favorite part of the tour: sampling the beer. Gouden Carolus Tripel and Gouden Carolus Classic were the two on tap and were both very typical Belgian beers. I really enjoyed the classic.
After the brewery tour, we headed to Antwerp to park the car and check into the hotel we had booked while enjoying our beers at Het Anker. We parked right by the train station and our friends who had been to the station before on a layover said we had to have a peek inside. I thought maybe they had some strange affinity for train stations, but no, this train station was special. It reminded me a bit of grand central station with the sky high ceilings and ornate designs. I love that such care and detail was taken in the design to maybe make everyone stop and smile after getting off their trains.
At this point it was about 2pm, and we were all really hungry. Tyler’s boss had been to Antwerp the week before and recommended a few spots to grab some food. De 7 Schaken was where we decided to go. A cute little pub, located on the corner of one of the main squares. Unfortunately it was Antwerp Fashion Week, so in all of the squares, there were big runways set up that kind of took away from the ambiance of the old town feel. But we did walk around a bit and admire some of the beautiful buildings in the city.
Because it was an awkward time to eat lunch, we just did bar snacks and sampled a few more Belgian beers while playing some cards.
After getting some food into our systems, we had two choices: go to the chocolate museum or go to the Browerij de Konick. Beer won out over chocolate in this case and we headed to do another brewery tour. But first we went through a church.
This one was a bit more like the Heineken Experience in that it was very interactive and modern. We made our way through different rooms of videos and graphics to learn about how the beer is made and bottled.
In the first room, we encountered a group of rowdy Dutch guys on a bro weekend. They were very entertaining throughout the tour, but were boisterous and at times made it hard to listen to what was going on. My favorite part of the tour was trying to pour my own beer perfectly (and not doing very successfully).
As we wound our way through the tour, we saw a mechanic working on some of the machines below. Tyler stopped to wave to him and the guy waved back. Later, when we had finished the tour and were having a beer at the bar, we saw the same mechanic. Tyler again waved to him and he came to chat at our table. He had worked in the brewery for almost 20 years and knew everything there was to know about beer making.
He was very friendly and spoke English pretty well. At one point he asked if we would like to go on a private tour of the facilities with him. We of course agreed, and he took us into the brewing room that not many people get to see. He explained what each of the big pieces of machinery was for and how he was in charge of making sure everything operates smoothly. It was such a cool experience to be on the front lines of the production and learn from an intimate source. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly wave or two to learn something new!
Because we only had bar snacks, we were once again starving after the second brewery tour. We tried to go to a few places nearby, but everything was booked. Go figure, it’s a Saturday night! Per the magic of Trip Adviser and Google, we found a really cool place to dine called Billie’s Bier Kafetaria which served authentic Belgian food.
They barely had any tables left and had to squeeze us in on the balcony, but we didn’t care. It was a casual place, more like a bar, but the food was delicious. I got some kind of Belgian stew, a meat and potatoes type thing, that I really enjoyed.
Since we were back in the Old Town, after dinner we walked around a bit to see some of the old churches and buildings scattered about. It still amazes me how old and beautiful things in Europe are.
We had a night cap in one of the hole in the wall bars in the old town, deep in a basement somewhere, again deciding to play some cards.
On Sunday morning, we had breakfast and then decided to hit the road. It was supposed to be amazing weather in Amsterdam and we wanted to make it back in time to enjoy it. Although I didn’t get my Belgian waffles or Belgian chocolate, I did get my fill of Belgian beer. I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had in Antwerp, and sometimes being spontaneous really works out!