The Beginning – On the edge of the Albertpark, right on the line between Antwerp proper and the community of Berchem, is where you'll find De Koninck – the oldest brewery of the 'Scheldestad'. Wort has been fermenting here since 1833. But it hasn't always been done under the De Koninck name
The give-away to that is to be found at the entrance. ‘Halt!’ is the command issued by the white hand, decorating the red porch through which you enter.
That hand, of course, is included in the brewery’s logo today, inspired by the former Antwerp boundary stone. But De Hand was, in fact, the original name of this brewery.
So let’s rewind the tale back just a little. It was 1912 when the De Hand brewery changed its name to Brasserie Charles De Koninck.
Florent van Bauwel headed up the brewery back in those days. It wasn't until after the First World War, though, that the newly-named brewery was properly launched, with the assistance of a certain Joseph Van den Bogaert, a brewer from Willebroek. The new partner in fact sported a professional brewing qualification from the Agricultural and Brewing School in Leuven.
So the pairing of Van Bauwel and Van den Bogaert brought both science and experience to bear to the task of expanding the re-branded brewery.
Fast forward to 1949 and Modeste, the son of Joseph Van den Bogaert, has now joined the business. He was to be in charge of the brewery for over fifty years, and his name is one of some repute in the annals of Belgium's brewing history. First and foremost, his name lives on in the Modeste beer festival, which takes place every year during the first weekend of October.
This is a date now fixed firmly in the diary of many a beer-lover, Belgian and international aficionado alike. It's an accolade that was earned over the many years that Modeste kept the good ship Koninck steered away from the swelling tide of pilsners.
He kept the brewery on a firm course, along the path of a piece-by-piece improvement to its hallmark high-fermentation low-sugar beer. De Koninck's present-day reputation owes a lot to Modeste's persistence.
Nowadays, De Koninck is part and parcel of Antwerp life. It also enjoys an excellent standing well beyond the City’s borders, with that headline beer as its ambassador. Which brings us to the namesake beer of the brewery itself, one which has worked its way into local hearts, as well as the local dialect. When local Antwerpenaars order a ‘bolleke’, what they really mean is a ‘koninckske’. The beer’s nickname stems from the traditional round glass used for serving this beer.
The beer 'De Koninck' has become (and remains) the brewery's star brew. Beer connoisseurs give this amber-coloured, high fermentation beer an excellent rating thanks to its accessible taste and moderate alcohol percentage.
It presents an amber hue in the glass, with a fresh, zesty taste, a slightly bitter mouth feel and an amazingly subtle aroma. Another quirk of De Koninck is its pouring ritual.
Serve De Koninck on a regular basis, you will know how it’s done. And its regular customers have come to expect no deviation. In fact, many an Antwerpenaar will insist that it's the pouring which turns a De Koninck into a ‘bolleke’. Still, even well-trained barmen are surprised to learn a true ‘bolleke’ is one poured in two stages. And that, on no account, should the pillowed head of froth be skimmed. Do that, and you lose that wonderfully rounded line that glass and head create together. You have been warned...
For many years the brewery produced only this one impressive beer. But now the seasonal De Koninck Winter beer, and the De Koninck Triple d’Anvers, have extended that range.
Today, the De Koninck brewery survives as one of the few true city breweries in Belgium. And both the beer and the brewery are inseparably connected to Antwerp. The brewery regularly plays host to musical performances and many other types of event. But the brewery can be something of an oasis of quiet in this busy city, too, a great place to come, whether or not there is something going on.
De Koninck have also found an original way to bring their beers to the masses – a ‘Bollekespicknick’. This gives visitors and residents alike a chance to acquaint themselves with De Koninck, at picnics and barbecues in the city’s parks.
So if the calendar is showing a ‘Bollekespicknick’, simply fetch a picnic basket, rug, some freshly-made sandwiches (and maybe a selection of cheeses, which the brewery sells) and find yourself a good spot in the nearby Albertpark.
Having conquered Antwerp through these alfresco tasting sessions, De Koninck is now taking them further afield. Other cities, such as Ghent and its Zuidpark, are learning to enjoy the pleasures of a ‘Bollekespicknick’.
The late beer guru Michael Jackson pronounced De Koninck a mild but treacherously quaffable beer. “At first you can taste the malt, then the herbs, then you get a gingery fruity aroma, followed by the delicate Saaz hops in the aftertaste”.
This much-praised beer is founded from its victorious emergence from a competition among Belgian brewers, held at the start of the 20th-century.
It led directly to the creation of the ‘spéciale belge’ beer style. De Koninck's high fermentation amber beer was to be the Belgian answer to the pils beers, that had then started flooding the market.
Throughout the intervening years, De Koninck has remained true to its roots. The amber De Koninck beer is crafted using aromatic, slightly bitter Saaz hops from the Czech Republic, as well as a 100% pure malt.
The beer owes its beautiful, deeply gold colour to the use of speciality and caramel malts. You could say that De Koninck is a product straight from nature (the brewery would certainly agree) brewed as it is in the traditional way using water, yeast, one hundred percent pure malt and organic hops. Fermentation takes place at a temperature of between 25 and 27°C.
Only barley is used, and the brewery does not add maize or brewing sugars. Brewer Denis De Potter confirms that De Koninck has never given in to the general trend towards sweeter beers. The beer owes its characteristic taste and bitter finish to Saaz hops.
Since the brewery was taken over by Duvel Moortgat in 2010, the recipe has barely changed, but much has happened behind the scenes. The brewing equipment has been given an overhaul and fine-tuned. The requirements applied to raw materials and beer deliveries are now much stricter than before, with quality control ramped up. Those efforts have worked – the beer is reckoned a lot more stable than before.
In the meantime, the classic De Koninck is changing, just very gradually. For example, the current beer has an added aroma and character, thanks to the introduction of ‘late hopping’, with the hops are added right at the end of the boiling process.
And the stable is growing, with Triple d’Anvers as the brewery’s latest offering. This new beer leaves much more room for experimentation, in contrast to the no-nonsense De Koninck (the taste of which you could say has embedded itself into our palate’s DNA). As long as it remains readily drinkable, De Koninck are allowing the Triple d’Anvers to be a multi-faceted brew. So, the brewer is continuously making use of different varieties of hops, making it an interesting drink to follow.
The late ‘meneer Modeste’ (that's guv'nor Modeste to you) was proud of the fact that he had never given in to a passing fad. He headed up the brewery for fifty years, with his sons Bernard and Dominique following in his footsteps. So when everyone wanted to drink low fermentation pils beer, he shrugged, and carried on brewing high fermentation beers.
“Stubborn? Me?” Yes, Modeste was stubborn, but he was very well aware of why he was taking this stance. Throughout those years, De Koninck has adhered to its original recipe.
Why? Simply because it was already an excellent beer. And that stubbornness (or more properly a respect for tradition) turned out to be the right attitude to take. After all, you won't find too many pilsners at the top of the favourites lists of Belgian beer fans these days.
But Modeste Van den Bogaert was no stick-in-the mud. He was a visionary with a keen sense for business – a business that was thrust upon him at an early age. When his father died, unexpectedly, he found himself heading up the brewery at the tender age of just twenty-seven. The situation was far from easy, as the brewery had suffered much from bombardments during the Second World War.
A V1-bomb was dropped less than one hundred metres away, and lifted the roof off of the brewery building, which was wrecked. Further problems occurred with the beer.
De Koninck could be an exceptional beer, and it often was, but unfortunately in those early days it was prone to becoming ‘infected’. Modeste Van den Bogaert managed to get the brewery back in shape, with the help of Professor De Clercq of Louvain University. Hops were another area of innovation.
During the Second World War, and even earlier, the beer was brewed using a Belgian hop variety, with the name of ‘de groene belle van Asse’. This was a decent variety, but far from exceptional.
After the war, it became clear that Saaz-Saaz, named after the Czech city, was not only the most expensive hop variety in the world, but also the very best. Coincidence would have it that it was also the most suitable hop variety for the De Koninck brewery. As a result, Modeste Van den Bogart took the decision to only use Saaz hops from then on. The beer improved markedly.
This was not the only contributing factor to turning the beer around. The brewer also started filtering. After all these changes had been made, matters improved dramatically, and no further fundamental changes were necessary.
To use the wise words of the late Mister Modeste, the 'bolleke' was (and still is) “a tasty, bitter ‘bierke’ with a clean collar and not too much alcohol”.
And we wouldn't beg to differ. After all, you need to treat landmark beers (and legendary brewers) with all due respect.
This ancient city brewery has undergone a face lift. Take part in the interactive brewery tour and find out everything there is to know about the beer city of Antwerp, Belgian beers and the brewing process in general.
A range of interactive displays and audio-visual effects provide an immersive, 360° experience. You follow the visitors’ trail and afterwards, in the cosy, atmospheric De Koninck and Duvel, you can taste the familiar De Koninck beers and sample the test brews.
The link between the brewery and its home city is never far away. A variety of milestones from the brewery’s history are highlighted in a playful manner. The Handjes-kamer (‘room of the hands’) focuses on the symbolism of the hand in the brewery’s logo.
Here, you discover the origin of the hand and what it means to De Koninck and the city itself. In the Bollekes room you find out everything there is to know about the iconic beer glass.
In the virtual brewhall the brewer’s secret recipes are revealed. Wander around the bottling plant and end up at the Plaisante Hof where you come face-to-face with both the former and current owners of the brewery.
Pop into the cheese affineur’s workshop to discover the secrets of beer and cheese pairing. A covered walkway affords an elevated view of the brewhall.
The merkenkamer or brand hall introduces you to the many beers produced by Duvel Moortgat, the owner of the De Koninck brewery, whose range includes Duvel, Liefmans, Maredsous, La Chouffe and Vedett.
However, De Koninck has far more on offer. The brewery site does not stop at beer and hosts a number of food stores: Van Tricht cheese affineurs, accredited butchers De Laet-Van Haver, the Jitsk chocolaterie, and a bakery where the bread is baked fresh every day on the premises...
All of these stores focus on craft and workmanship. You can see the chocolatier preparing his wares in his workshop, the butcher cuts the beef exactly how you want it, and, in the bakery, you enjoy the fragrant smell of a freshly baked loaf.
In the brand new restaurant located above the butcher’s shop you can taste all of these artisan products with a beer on the side.
Almost without exception, every visitor to Antwerp will find themselves drawn into the historic city centre sooner or later. The pull of those iconic buildings is just too much. There's the eye-catchingly beautiful Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, the city's Gothic cathedral, with its slender tower. There's the equally striking Town Hall nearby, built in the Renaissance style and located at Grote Markt.
The cathedral has a splendid interior, with statues, frescos and works by Antwerp’s best-loved painter (and most-famous son) Pieter Paul Rubens. Well worth a visit. For even more Rubens, explore Het Rubenshuis, the painter’s house and 'atelier', which can be found a bow’s shot away from the Meir.
This is the city’s most famous shopping thoroughfare. It's not just retail though. There is an abundance of culture and history to enjoy here – as well as further out.
The area between the Antwerpen Berchem railway station and Zurenborg is known as the Belle Epoque quarter, furnished with fabulous residential architecture. The Cogels-Osylei avenue is its main draw and thoroughfare. There is no shortage of boutiques and delicatessen in the surrounding streets, and the pedestrianised area around Huidevetterstraat and Nationalestraat, Kammenstraat and Groenplaats.
A weekly market is held in the area around the new city theatre, on De Meir avenue, and in the shopping centre in the former Stadsfeestzaal building.
The 'city on the Scheldt' is very well known for its buzzing nightlife scene, too. There is an abundant choice, from soaking up the typical local and brown café atmosphere, to getting the clubbing vibe in popular nightspots such as Café D’Anvers, Red and Blue and Noxx.
An Antwerp picnic is another spontaneous moment for gathering Anterpenaars together – but with bread and cheese, rather than glow-sticks and decks.
And De Koninck have got in the act, too, with their ‘Bollekespicknicks’. The friendly vibe of these open-air informal events has spread from Antwerp to Ghent and beyond.
Another treat worth seeking out are the ‘kadersoirées’. These mini-concerts are staged by De Koninck, and performed at community centres, cultural events and bars and cafés. The name ‘kadersoirées’ refers to the ‘kader’ or frame that forms part of the stage set of the live band.
The artists gives a live music performance of just under one hour, and the audience is treated to a ‘bolleke’ from De Koninck. Throughout the year these travel beyond Antwerp, across the country. De Koninck’s Facebook page will keep you updated as to the performance dates and locations.
Getting There & Around
Brouwerij De Koninck is located in the heart of Antwerp, on the Mechelsesteenweg, one of the main arteries into the city. The brewery actually makes a great launching point for a cycle tour of the city.
That's because a separate building across from the brewery hosts the Velodome bike shop. Here you can buy bicycles, rent them or have them repaired.
This bike store is also the starting point (as well as the finish) for local and regional cycling trips. It even offers all the 'mod cons' for the modern cyclist – like shower facilities.
Also, there are plenty of bus and tram connections from here into Antwerp's centre. So De Koninck is far from an island in the city.
This is a brewery that wants to bring people together and enliven the various neighbourhoods of its home city. After all, catching up is best done with a ‘koninckske’ to hand.
Gastronomy, Food & More Beer
A De Koninck is traditionally consumed with a ‘stoofvlees’ beef casserole, or mussels. Such traditional Flemish dishes haven't lost any of their popularity. The special edition Winterkoninck beer will give an added dimension to casseroles like these, while the Triple d’Anvers is a perfect accompaniment to fish dishes.
But why not serve these beers as an aperitif, with a slice of ‘kop’, (also known as ‘hoofdvlees’, a type of brawn). Or even to accompany pudding. The Winterkoninck beers are known to be a fabulous partnering for chocolate.
There are also cheese combinations aplenty – no surprise when you recall De Koninck has its own 'beer cheese', where the beer is actually fed into the curds. Or the fact that the old bottling hall is now home to one of Antwerp's finest cheese-makers (the Van Tricht's).
De Koninck will stand up well next to an unpasteurised Reblochon Fermier Alpage cheese. The beer is a generous companion to it, quick to release its caramel aroma, and so forming a beautiful contrast with the salty cheese, and its herbs.
De Koninck Triple d’Anvers combines a more fruity taste with a sweet touch, and so is best paired with a brilliantly tasty Comté from the Jura region. This cheese has many layers of flavour including herbs, dried apricots and nuts.
With its slightly bitter hop taste, Triple d’Anvers will prove a worthy companion – some might say it makes for a perfect balance.
Last but not least, the Winterkoninck seasonal beer is a great fit for a creamy Petit Saint Point, a speciality from the Franche-Comté region.
Tourism information for Antwerp city:
Toerisme Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres
Grote Markt 13 – 15
Telephone: +32(0) 3/232 01 03
Tourism information for Antwerp province:
Toerisme Provincie Antwerpen
Koningin Elisabethlei 16
Telephone: +32(0)3/240 63 83