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Beer Immersion: Antwerp

Rich Higgins Beer Immersions Travel – Educational Beer Tourism to Europe
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Antwerp & Mechelen

Antwerp Province, Belgium

Upcoming Dates:

  • April 2018:
    • Sun Apr 22 – Mon Apr 23
  • September 2018:
    • Tue Sep 4 – Wed Sep 5

Price:

Likely breweries, visits, tours, and meals:

Cafe Trappisten & Westmalle Abbey (no brewery access), Brouwerij Het Anker (Gouden Carolus beers), Hof Ten Dormaal, Billie’s Bier Kafetaria, Gollem, Beerlovers Bar, inVINcible, The Chocolate Line, and more!


Map: Antwerp Location




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Incredible, Edible City

Antwerp is an incredible city. It’s fun and vibrant, livable and walkable with great biking and transit, fashionable with great shopping, politically and academically engaged, and obsessed with beer and food, all without the self-importance of larger cities.
Antwerp is a feast for the eyes: an inspiring blend of medieval architecture, soaring cathedrals, Belle Epoque avenues, revitalized docklands, mid-20th century modern offices, grand contemporary public spaces, whimsical public art, and smart graffiti. (The massive train station alone is worth an hour to explore.) Tall, narrow residences and curved rooflines will remind you more of Amsterdam than Paris. The wide Scheldt River provides pretty sunset views from the medieval Old Town, and connects Antwerp to the heart of Flanders as well as to North Sea fishing and trade. Eating is an art form in Antwerp, chocolate makers, third-wave coffee shops, and Flemish, Middle Eastern, Italian, Vietnamese, and high-end restaurants are everywhere.

Though the city-proper is home to only a couple of breweries, great beer bars and storied “bruin cafés” (brown oak pubs) are everywhere, and the region surrounding the city has dozens of great breweries. Less than an hour east of Antwerp is the Westmalle Trappist monastery, brewer of Westmalle Dubbel and Tripel, the delicious, iconic progenitors of these two beer styles that have made Belgian beer famous. Dingemans, a major malting facility on the north side of the city, keeps the region’s kettles – including at the famous De Koninck Brewery – full of high-quality malt. Mechelen, a 20-minute train ride south of the city, is famous for Belgium’s most celebrated and tastiest asparagus and poultry. Mechelen is also home to the fantastic Het Anker brewery and restaurant, brewer of Gouden Carolus beers.



Cradle of Essential Belgian Beer Styles

Antwerp is the biggest city in Flanders, which is the northern half of Belgium. The region feels very different from Brussels and Wallonia, and its beers are different, as well. In Flanders, there is more emphasis on drinkable beers with a crisp, dry finish, often despite very high alcohol percentages. Compared to the slightly maltier, more highly spiced beers of the French-speaking part of Belgium, Flemish beer is more frequently chaptalized – a portion of highly fermentable beet, cane, or corn sugar is added to the wort – in order to keep the beer light in body but high in alcohol and still flavorful from the Belgian yeast. Elegant tripels and golden ales, as well as maltier strong dark ales and Belgian pale ales, are a fresh, nuanced, and delicious part of daily life in Antwerp, served in glassware with fanciful names in Antwerp dialect.

Four essential beer styles were invented in the past 150 years in Antwerp or very nearby: Trappist dubbel (Westmalle), Trappist tripel (Westmalle), Belgian golden strong ale (Duvel), and Belgian pale ale (De Koninck). These are popular styles in Belgium and around the world; drinking them with the food and in the pubs that they were created for is a source of pride for Antwerpenaars and a special treat on Beer Immersions!

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Walking the platform toward the central hall at beautiful Antwerpen-Centraal Station.

Special Beer Styles:

  • Trappist and Abbey Dubbel: delicious, dry beers, 7% ABV, with hints of toast, caramel, fruits, and baking spices
  • Trappist and Abbey Tripel: golden beers ranging in sweetness from crackery to honeyed, 9% ABV, and full of aromas of orange, banana, clove, and pepper
  • Trappist Half/Half: a 50-50 blend of Westmalle Dubbel and Westmalle Tripel, available only at the brewery’s café across the street from the monastery
  • Belgian Pale Ale: approachable, balanced, light amber ales, maltier and less fruity-spicy than most other Belgian beers
  • Seefbier: straw-colored beer, with fruity lemon, apple, banana and grape aromas; so popular in the 1800s that the Seefhoek neighborhood was named after it; recently resurrected from early-20th century recipes
  • Strong Blonde Ale: elegant and bitter, herbal and spicy, 8-10% ABV, the perfect aperitif and even better with frites
  • Strong Dark Ale: decadent beers with malty muscle and alcoholic warmth, rich with dried fruit and clove flavors
  • Flemish Red-Brown Beers: sour beers with hints of caramel, toasted nuts, cherries, and Balsamic vinegar
  • Craft Beer: both local and imported craft beers are popular in Antwerp, and local brewers are experimenting with all sorts of hop-focused ales, sour beers, dark lagers, and “Champagne” beers


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A lovely walk through the Belgian countryside to Hof Ten Dormaal farmhouse brewery.

Local Dishes:

  • Mosselen met Friet: mussels steamed in various beers like golden Trappist ale and served with fries; seasonally available usually September through March/April
  • Stoofvlees: velvety beef braised in brown or sour red beers (called Carbonnades Flamandes in French)
  • Waterzooi: comforting chowder of chicken or fish with leeks and potatoes, thickened with egg yolks and cream
  • Garnaal Kroketten: fried croquettes with delicate, sweet Belgian gray shrimp, the croquettes are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside
  • Koninginnenhapje: chicken baked in a puff pastry with mushrooms and a cream sauce
  • Frikadellen met Kriekjes: sauteed meatballs served with stewed sour cherries, sometimes served as a casserole with cheese, potatoes, and Trappist ale sauce
  • White Asparagus: a springtime delicacy; sweet, tender asparagus served with chopped hardboiled egg, parsley, and a buttery sauce
  • Trappist Cheese: semi-soft to semi-hard cow’s milk cheeses with gentle sweet, earthy, grassy aromas
  • Moelleux van Chocolade: chocolate lava cake: chocolate cake filled with molten ganache
  • Crème Brulée: classic sweet custard with crackly, brittle caramel top


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Local Customs We’ll Join In On:

  • taking the bus into the countryside, with beer pilgrims of all ages, for a leisurely beer lunch at the Café Trappisten at Westmalle Trappist monastery
  • beer experiences only available at the Westmalle’s Café Trappisten: drinking Westmalle Dubbel on tap and Westmalle Half/Half (blend of Dubbel and Tripel)
  • walking the peaceful treed-lane to the Westmalle monastery gates (no monastery entrance possible)
  • joining in on Antwerp’s favorite beer order: simply request a “bolleke,” which curiously means “little ball,” and as a result you’ll be served impeccably fresh De Koninck pale ale in a semi-spherical glass only used for that beer
  • drinking and eating in celebrated “bruin cafés,” traditional dark-wood pubs that are a dying breed outside of the Antwerp area
  • visiting a farmhouse brewery and sitting in the farmhouse drinking beers with the farmer-brewer while snacking on country sausage and cheese
  • walking the streets of Antwerp, surrounded by smells of chocolate, coffee, and fried goodness wafting from the plentiful chocolate shops, coffee shops, and frituurs (fry shacks)


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Local Non-Beer Sights We’ll See:

  • Antwerp Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), St. Jacob’s Gothic Church, Mechelen Cathedral
  • Antwerp Central Train Station, Brabomonument (Hand-Throw Fountain), Meir Pedestrian Shopping Street, Rubens House and Museum, Eilandje Docklands, MAS Museum
  • large Antwerp and Mechelen Old Towns
  • the wide Scheldt River

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Places I’ve Enjoyed Staying At:

  • Elzenveld Hotel, Lange Gasthuisstraat 45, Antwerp
  • website ~ TripAdvisor

    • simple rooms and in-room modern bathrooms in a medium-sized historic hotel, with elevators
    • in a former convent, with lots of religious and historical accents
    • great neighborhood; in a secluded site within one block of restaurants and bars
    • from hotel: 20-min walk to the central train station, 12-min walk to heart of the medieval Old Town, 5-min walk to several great bars and restaurants
  • Quality Hotel Antwerpen Centrum Opera, Molenbergstraat 9-11, Antwerp
  • website ~ TripAdvisor

    • spacious rooms with in-room modern bathrooms in a medium-sized hotel, with elevator
    • perfectly clean, functional hotel in a good location, but lacks some charm
    • I’ll be honest: this is not an amazing hotel, but I think it offers great convenience and value if all you’re doing there is sleeping. I’d be happy to stay there again. It’s a budget hotel, so it’s on a block that is comparatively noisy and less picturesque, but it’s certainly not gritty or dangerous, and the rooms and bathrooms are totally fine (way nicer than I had expected for the price), and it’s only one block from the beautiful, classic part of Antwerp, and it’s very well located between the train station and the medieval Old Town.
    • located between the train station quarter and the Meir shopping district and medieval Old Town, near restaurants, bars, and shopping district
    • from hotel: 10-min walk to the train station; 12-min walk into the historic heart of the medieval Old Town, great bars and restaurants within 5 min walk
  • Other hotels:
    • Hotel Ibis Antwerpen Centrum: good for a budget hotel, good location
    • Theater Hotel Antwerpen: haven’t stayed there yet, but location is good and the lobby gives the impression of a clean and well-appointed hotel; planning to stay there on my next visit


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CONTACT RICH for information or to sign up!


Rich Higgins Beer Immersions
San Francisco, CA, USA
Registered California Seller of Travel #2130300-40






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