Antwerp was able to pick itself up after a long and destructive decline thanks to the brewing industry. Scheldt trading was put to death during the Reformation; the fight between religions hit the city extremely hard. Without Golden Age funding, Antwerp’s water supply suffered. Drinking the water became about as safe as screaming ‘I’m a Protestant’ during the Inquisition and beer became the only non-toxic beverage for the poorer folk. Beers brewed outside the city walls weren’t even taxed. This loophole was soon removed by expanding the city boundaries. Beer made Antwerp grow…literally.
Below we have rounded up some of the best breweries in Belgium’s second city, each boasting their own collection of unique beers. Discover the copper tanks studding the floors of a converted warehouse-turned-brewery, wander past an old gallows field to sip golden-hued blondes in a former brewing hall and discover the glass-fronted microbrewery tucked under a humming brick archway of the Borgerhout railway line.
Before you set off, please note the current COVID regulations, only travel if it is safe to do so and make sure to book ahead if necessary.
1. ‘t Pakhuis: Vlaamsekaai 76, 2000 Antwerp
This relatively new brewery established in 1996 can be found in the Southern region of Antwerp city (Antwerpen Zuid), an area that is home to a number of large warehouses. One of these has been converted into a fully-fledged beer culture experience. ‘t Pakhuis (the Warehouse) has recently been purchased by an entertainments business. How this will change the current setup remains to be seen. Business still carries on as usual. A combination of brewery and brasserie, you’ll find exclusive unfiltered and unpasteurised Antwerp beers that perfectly enhance a menu of snacks and three-course meals at a single address.
Web link: https://pakhuisantwerpen.be/
De Zwarte Sinjoor
A sinjoor (read signor) is local dialect for an Antwerp local and this near-black (zwarte) bottled stout is a ‘t Pakhuis specialty. Quite soft, creamy and carbonated, most reviews mention coffee and liquorice flavours with a hint of red fruits. Drink it at room temperature. If you happen to be in the city at the right time, the stronger, richer and deeper Special Edition is an absolute must!
Although the most popular of ‘t Pakhuis beers, the Antwerps Blond loses votes from beer connoisseurs due to its lack of depth of flavour; however, as a light thirst-quencher on a warm day spent trailing through the city, a fizzy, simple ale is often welcome. You can move on to more complex and flavoursome brews later in the day without suffering too many consequences. A bitter-sweet tap beer that isn’t strong on the hops.
‘t Pakhuis calls Den Bangelijke their pride and joy, and the story goes that when first brewed a local beer expert called this draught medium pale ale a ‘frighteningly good pint’ – hence it’s name; Den Bangelijke means the fearsome one. With a name like that, you might expect a triple that packs a punch, yet it’s a very subtle brew. Very yeasty with apricot and honey flavours, quite watery and sweet but full of botanicals that many experienced tasters can’t quite put their fingers on.
2. De Koninck: Mechelsesteenweg 291, 2018 Antwerpen
You will find the unimpressive, simple De Koninck façade at the corner of an old gallows field that is now King Albert Park, about 1.5 miles south of the central train station. De Koninck began life in 1827 as De Hand (The Hand) and changed to its current name in 1912. You can still see the hand on the brewery logo today which also states the date of 1833 as its founding year; the year when De Hand received permission from the city to produce beer on a larger scale. Unlike many breweries in the decade leading up to the Second World War, De Koninck refused to make the switch from high fermentation barley beers to low fermentation pilsners. This led to a huge dip in sales that lasted well into the 1950s. Taking a further risk by increasing production through new, bigger equipment, De Koninck’s success, grit and sheer pig-headedness has come to represent the psyche of the typical Antwerp local.
Web link: https://www.dekoninck.be/
Antwerpen Tripel doesn’t have quite the same ring as its French-language equivalent. Still, this very Flemish top-fermented beer is the right choice for those who want high ABV with a boozy taste. This triple gets its spicy, citrus and bitter flavours less from the hops and more from an unusual mix of botanicals. Quite strongly carbonated with medium to low sweetness, you can’t ignore the sediment. Enjoy the scent with every sip.
De Koninck APA has recently been renamed Bolleke (Bol-le-ker), which is what the local Sinjoor’s (see ‘t Pakhuis) ask for when ordering the number one Antwerp staple. Bolleke actually refers to the glass this amber ale is served in. It is a filtered and pasteurised bottled and draught beer with a light body, low carbonation and can taste quite similar to a lager. High grain and hop flavour with low sweetness and bitterness and fruity, caramel notes. The draught version is reported to be more watery than the bottle.
De Koninck’s golden ale uses wild Brettanomyces yeast and citrus to produce an incredibly dry yet refreshing, easy to drink and horse stable-smelling beer. Far from a typical pale ale, it may take a few sips for your tongue to accept it comes from the same basic recipe. Wild Jo is brewed in remembrance of Joseph van den Bogaert who took on the brewery in the early 1920s. Only available in short, fat, stubby bottles (whether this is in deference to Jo’s stature, we don’t know) and with the ubiquitous Antwerp pigeon as its logo. Wild Jo is definitely worth a try.
3. Cabardouche: Engelselei 255, 2140 Borgerhout
Cabardouche is a new microbrewery located in the area immediately behind the central station known as Borgerhout. In fact, it’s right under the railway line and on the site of an earlier cabardouche or kapperdoes. These are Flemish bastardisations of the French Napoleonic term for an inn that also hosted various entertainments. The lowest category of these scored a 12 (dous); these were probably the most fun. To make sure you don’t have too much fun, Cabardouche is only open from 11am to 6pm on Friday and Saturday. Watch and encourage the enthusiastic young team brew and bottle as you try the results of their labours. They have been tweaking, tasting and testing their recipes since 2012 and have come up with some permanent fixtures. If it’s cold outside, ask them to rustle you up a Huckle My Buff using their own stout. And if you don’t have time to visit the brewery, the Cabardouche website gives a full list of restaurants and cafes that serve their most popular beers. It’s a Dutch-language site; click on Verkooppunten and the subsequent listings page is easy enough to figure out.
Web link: https://www.cabardouche.be/
With favourable reviews from a local but famously harsh beer critic, the Blonde Stoot (very loosely ‘Blonde Slam’) is a hop and citrus concoction that is both refreshing and light. While you might not be knocked down by its complexity, this pale ale will impress with its simplicity, crisp flavours and long-lasting but far from unpleasant bitterness. With the gradual warming of our precious globe, a bottle of Blonde Stoot is ideal picnic fare. It tastes far boozier than it really is, especially when compared to the ABV of other Belgian ales; you can probably put that picnic basket on the bike.
A mokke is a young lady, yet this is not specifically a lady’s stout. Perhaps the bottle might make you think of a short, stout female. However, the true meaning of Cabardouche’s choice of name has nothing to do with the supposed gentleness or even appearance of the fairer sex. Stout is Flemish for bad.
Wicked women aside, this thick, creamy and intensely dark brew has a very gentle bitterness to it, concentrating more on the sultry perfumes and flavours of roots, dried fruit, coffee and chocolate. This makes it an unusual combination that should definitely have its place on your ‘stouts I want to try’ list. A meal unto itself, this bad girl’s 9% ABV should be thoroughly enjoyed in the right doses.
If you want to enjoy your beer and support the local community, try a Reus – the result of Brewers Gold hops and dry-hopping techniques. The Reus (Giant) is a cloudy, golden Belgian ale with a soft bitter taste and aftertaste that combines with vanilla, honey and citrus notes. You might have heard this ale described as a little over-sweet; however, the yeast and malt balance this out. The best time to sip your Reus is during the local Procession of Giants for which it was created. On the fourth Saturday of every September, you can sit on a heated terrace in Borgerhout to watch this 300-year-old parade take place.
4. Antwerpse Brouw Compagnie: Indiestraat 21, 2000 Antwerpen
You will find the new Antwerp Brewing Company in the northern port district, about a 15-minute walk from either the Museum aan de Stroom or the red-light district, depending on your cultural preferences. The ABC combines traditional brewing methods with shiny technology and a creative environment where the beer lover rather than the beer magnate is king. Even better, the high temperatures generated during the brewing process contribute to the site’s use of purely sustainable energy sources, and the company also supplies its beer to festival goers in corn-starch beakers. This means any ABC beer can be thoroughly enjoyed without the slightest pinch of guilt. The company website is named after its flagship beer, Seef. It was during the search for the original recipe of a traditional white beer that a taste-a-like was discovered that immediately shouldered its way onto the competitive beer market.
Web link: https://seef.be
Based on an old recipe for a multigrain, cloudy white beer, Seef uses its own secret mix of grain and a preserved brewing yeast discovered in the laboratories of Louvain University. This Antwerpse Brewing Company version of a near-forgotten but extremely popular Belgian beer has received the traditional beer appreciation equivalent of a standing ovation. Bread, banana and vanilla scents with heavy malt and grain flavours produce a cloudy pale ale with a medium head that quickly collapses into lace. While the 1950s style label has its own attraction, those expecting a completely different beer experience will be disappointed as Seef tastes like a high-quality blonde ale.
A low fermentation dry-hopped Indian lager, Super Cadix has won ABC Best of Belgian gold awards. A crisp, leafy-green and moderately bitter brew that, as with all ABC beers, smells and tastes of bread, malt and yeast. But there’s more. At first, you’ll detect lemon and honey that quickly give way to the scents and flavours of fresh herbs and green grass. While the website calls Super Cadix a lager, beer reviewers tend to disagree. A clear beer for a clear sky that is a light, refreshing choice for warmer days and evenings.
The English translation of Nonkel Pater would be Uncle Monk, and this modern interpretation of a strong Trappist brew is quickly becoming a Benelux ‘habit’ with selected supermarkets adding it to the shelves. The thick, slightly beige head covers a very deep brown beer that smells like a doughy fruit cake with coffee frosting and chocolate sauce – perhaps not the best combination for a desert but it works in a Nonkel Pater. This is probably because each flavour is subtle rather than thick and chewy. Described by its creators as a pseudo quadruple, reviewers say it is a double stout trying to be a quadruple. A potentially dangerous step, as its ABV is quite high.
5. Sulzbachers: Sterstraat, behind Belgielei 176, 2018 Antwerp
Genuine Antwerp beers are dominated by the large city breweries of De Koninck and ‘t Pakhuis. Microbreweries pop up, but only a few last for more than a few months; the two success stories of ABC and Cabardouche are mentioned above. Sulzbachter’s brewery is the result of Antwerp culture – specifically the Jewish culture. The strict religious laws governing practicing Jews led the Sulzbacher family to find an alcoholic beer that can be enjoyed during Passover. In other words, a gluten-free beer. The best way to produce one was through the use of hops and ginger root – Sulzbachers produce a range of Ginger Tipple beers, or alcoholic ginger beer. Perhaps not the domain of many beer connoisseurs, but this isn’t just any ginger beer…
Web link: http://www.gingertipple.com
Well overstepping the minimum 9.1% ABV of the Quadruple beer, the Sulzbacher Ginger Quad is a ginger beer made with a sprinkling of Brewers Gold hops. This mix, once matured in oak barrels, then goes through a second fermentation process with organic honey. While all ginger beers taste distinctly of ginger at a quantity that will largely mask any other flavours, you will get the hops in this boozy, oak-matured brew, if fleetingly. There is a scattering of reviews but very few give any details to their low scores. Perhaps if there was a ginger beer review site, this smoky, soft, effervescent (and gingery) quad might be more appreciated.
Ginger Tipple 5
Reviewers seem to appreciate the lighter form of Sulzbacher’s beer more than the quad version. More like a pils and with much less sugar, the Ginger Tipple 5 has a much softer ginger and boozy kick. Even though all Sulzbacher beers are produced without grains, there’s a little bitterness, sourness and even malt notes in this very refreshing concoction. Of course, an appreciation of ginger wouldn’t go amiss.
Tipple Hop may be a slightly overblown description – even though the brewery uses double the Cascade and Brewers Gold hops it uses in its other creations; this is still not a high enough quantity to call the Tipple Hop anything other than an alcoholic ginger beer. You will taste the hops, especially when the bubbles burst on your tongue, but not without the accompanying ginger buzz. Yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that Sulzbacher beers are organic, gluten-free additions to the limited menu for those who either react to gluten or opt for the organic lifestyle.