Het Anker Brewery
Although the oldest documents which are currently in the archivery of Mechelen date from 1369, the brewery was in operation before that time, which proofs that it is probably the oldest and still working brewery in Belgium.
These historical extract shows that "Jan in den Anker" was paying his penny membership to the Saint Rombout Chapter of the Guild. If the brewery-activities of this "Jan" took place in the actual buildings is not quite clear. As a matter of fact his son "Matthijs" bought the stock of the town bewery which was not longer brewing in 1433. It was put for sale because the trials to brew a "Beer from Haarlem" had unsufficient succes. Mechelen was at that time capital of the Netherlands.
The third historical reference dates from 1471. At the beginning of the fiftheenth century the Beguinage of Mechelen, including the "Crankenhuys" (hospital) took one third of the total surface of the town. The buildings of the Anker Brewery are situated just next to the Beguinage and were connected with the "Crankenhuys". Some parts of the actual brewery, of which a big part of the "Cranckenhuys" are still authentic fiftheenth century.
In 1471 and by special law, Duke "Karel de Stoute, also Count of Flanders and Lord of Mechelen, declared that the beer that was brewed in this brewery for the beguinies and her officers was exempted from duties and accises. A privilege which is unfortunately no longer applicable today.
Emperor Charles V, brought up in Mechelen by his aunt governess Margaretha of Austria, appreciated the "Mechelschen Bruynen". The history of Emperor Charles and the inhabitants of Olen who gave him a mug with three ears is a well known anecdote. Even after that he arranged on a regular base transport of the beer from Mechelen to the San Yuste monastery in Spain for his private consumption, because "the daughter of the grain was superior to the blood of the grape".
The Van Breedam family bought the brewery "Het Anker" in 1873 and enlarged it to one of the first modern steam-breweries. Back in 1909 a malting place was built annex to the brewery. This malting place was the first building in Mechelen to be constructed with enforced concrete and it produced for more than 30 years malt, not only for the own brewery, but also for other breweries in the region.
When a substantial number of breweries stopped their activities or merged together in the 1950's, the decision to (re)start brewing strong special beers instead of lager was taken.
The strong intrest in the glorious period of Mechelen under the Dukes of Burgundy, still very active with the family Van Breedam, strenghtened them to promote the favourite beer of Eperor Charles V.
Some barrils of the first mash were always taken aside and fermented separatly. This "Grand Beer" was reserved for important occasions, such as festivities and hunting parties.
In ancient chronicles we can read that this beer of Mechelen was mainly drunk at fox hunts, because "it fired both rider and steed with such enthusiasm for galloping that the hunt always took place in the best possible atmosphere".
The name "Gouden Carolus" originates from the golden coins on which the head of Charles V was imprinted.
At the end of 1990, Charles Leclef - fifth generation fof the Van Breedam family - decided to start an important program of investments in production and restauration of the old buildings.
The authentic beers from Mechelen; "Gouden Carolus", "Mechelschen Bruynen", Triple Gouden Carolus", "Blusser" and the very exclusive "Cuvée van de Keizer" ("Grand Cru of the Emperor) are still brewed on site, while the buildings are open for the grand public as an active museum with pub, restaurant, and since 1999, an hotel with 22 exclusive rooms.