Brewery Het Anker is one of the oldest breweries in Belgium. It first appears in the records of the city of Mechelen in 1369. That year “Jan in den Anker” was already paying his penny membership to the St. Rombouts Chapter of the Brewer’s Guild. The brewery appears a second time in the year 1433 which Mathijs, Jan’s son, took over the city brewery after not being profitable. In approximately 1400 the brewery, Beguinage, and the “crankenhuys” (hospital) occupied one third of the city. Some of the buildings from the 15th century still stand on the outer parts of the city.
The third appearance in historical records dates from 1471. Duke “Karel de Stoute”, Count of Flanders and Lord of Mechelen, declared that all beer brewed in the brewery Het Anker that was destined for the Beguinages and its officers was free of duties and excise taxes. Additionally, Duke Karel had the beers of Mechelen shipped to Spain where they were enjoyed amid the vineyards of the area.
In 1872, Louis Van Breedam and his sister acquired control of the Brewery Het Anker and transformed it into one of the most modern steam-operated breweries of the time. On December 31st 1904, NV Het Anker was created from the existing company NV Boonaerts en Van Breedam. In 1912, the first malting place in reinforced concrete was built by Victor Van Breedam. From 1912 on Het Anker produced malt night and day for their own brewery and the surrounding breweries.
During World War I, the German officials occupying Mechelen only allowed one brewery to brew beer, Checalier Marin won the honor. The brewing equipment of Het Anker was dismantled so the copper could be used for war supplies.
Post World War I, the brewery flourishes with the development of new beers. Also during this period Charles Van Breedam becomes the chairman of the Belgian Brewer’s Guild.
During the economic crisis during the interbellum and the diminishing number of breweries buying malt from Het Anker, alternatives were sought for the malting space in the brewery. Researchers looked for ways to generate dry food mixes using dried wheat and other substances.
This research proved useful during World War II when the facility was used to produce rations. The German command once again only allowed one type of beer to be produced, “Zero-huit” (named after its alcohol level of 0.8C) The functioning of the brewery saved many of its employees from being forced to work in German work camps.
Post World War II, Het Anker made a fresh start, a new brewing hall was erected with state of the art hanging brew kettles. The malt and ration food production was terminated to focus all efforts on brewing beer.
Starting in the 1960’s Gouden Carolus launched a series of new beers and expanded outside the Belgian market.
In 1990, Charles Leclef, fifth generation of the Van Breedam family took over Brewery Het Anker. The hanging copper kettles of the post World War II brewery are still used in production, but cooling, fermenting, and lagering were moved to more modern equipment to ensure better stability and quality of the beer. During this time the pub “Old Riverside” located directly in front of the brewery becomes a restaurant/brasserie of the brewery.
After two short commercial brewing relationships in the 1990’s with Riva (1991-1993) and John Martin (1995-1997), Het Anker became completely independent again. After which new beers like Cuvee Van De Keizer, Gouden Carolus Triple, Gouden Carolus Ambrio, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor and Gouden Carolus Christmas were launched with international success.
In August 1999 Hotel Carolus opened in the old stockrooms. This is the only hotel in Belgium on the site of an operating brewery.