Holland is famous for making good beers, one of the most well-known being Heineken, a Dutch pilsener. To all the beer lovers out there, young and not-so-young, alike, let’s go on The Heineken Experience, which opened in 2001. It has since been extensively remodeled and reopened in November 2008.
We’re in the old brewery building constructed in 1867, no longer brewing beer but converted into 3,000 square meters of special exhibition space on four levels. We enter the small Omnimax-like theater and stand against rows of metal bars, unsuspecting. Lights dim, and the floor becomes a shaking platform (similar to that in the Academy of Sciences Museum in San Francisco where we experience the simulated 1906 San Francisco earthquake).
“Hold on Tight. Let’s go”.
We’re a beer bottle going on its journey. We rush forward along the conveyor belt in rows, then in single file. Boom. Sharp turn to the left, and swoosh, we’re covered in cleanser and rinsed. Dramatic music and flashing lights as we move on to be filled. Gallons of golden beer pours into bottles, and we rush forward to have the level checked. Ding, our neighboring bottle is kicked out for not having the right amount of beer. Shudder, shake, the journey continues under flashing red and green lights. Click! Without stopping, we get a cap. And sloop! A label is slapped on. Now we’re in double rows again. Jerk, stop, jerk, stop. We are shunted forward in groups of twelve and moved onto a box. Clack. The box closes and the lights get dim as we move slowly onto a truck. Room lights come on and the shaking platform stops.
Wow, we survived the bottling process. In Heineken’s Zoeterwoude brewery alone, 500,000 bottles are filled every hour, so our speed was probably not exaggerated. With appropriate dance music and flashing lights, and the movements below, this clever use of the shaking platform is a novel way of getting people to understand the bottling process; they experience it as a trip.
This was one part of the 1.5-hour self-guiding tour that lets us look into the world of Heineken. We enjoy the 18 points on the tour at our own pace, walking through malt silos, peeking inside the mash coppers and standing inside the lager cellars where young beer was once matured.
The tour is a fun combination of nostalgia and present-day technology, a very innovative way to use the old brewery and turn it into an exciting, slick show. It’s really good value for money, as 15 Euro gets “the show”, 2 beers and a free gift (for us, a Heineken glass in a Heineken tin). The first taste of refreshing beer is after the bottling experience in the Brewhouse Bar overlooking the old brewhouse with its red copper brewing tanks (like big copper kettles). Mirrors sparkle above the elegant bar with its flowers and old-world charm.
Then we go into the lager cellars that were used for maturation of young beer and have slanted walls (no, we’re not drunk), as it was essential that no beer remain in the tanks when it was drained out. Here we can see (and test) the drum kit built by the famous drummer, Cesar Zuiderwijk of the Dutch pop group Golden Earring, for the official opening of the Heineken Experience in 2001.
From 1867 to 1988 many millions of hectolitres of Heineken beer were brewed here, before the Heineken Brewery in Zoeterwoude took over production. It was a Reception Centre for 10 years, then became home to the Heineken Experience in May 2001. In 1968 Heineken merged with Amstel Brewery, so now green Heineken and red Amstel are in the hands of one company.
It’s the world’s most international brewing group with operations in more than 170 countries: every year more than 70,000 ocean containers filled with bottles, cans and kegs are shipped to destinations on every continent. You can see that “Heineken can travel” in the exhibition room Taste the World of Heineken, with scenes of Heineken and its distinctive red and green signs all over the world on computer screens. These colors are also reflected in the shop (next to the second tasting room), which has attractive, trendy stuff. We bought beer mugs—blue Delft Heineken and red Delft Amstel. We also succumbed to huge Amstel beach towels! So we can still experience the World of Heineken back home.
Brewing beer is an old trade, perhaps as old as humanity itself. Much has changed and improved but the brewing process has in essence remained the same, the essential ingredients being malt (from barley), hops, yeast (special Heineken ‘A’ yeast isolated in 19th century) and water. Large colorful informational boards tell about barley and hops, and a “dummy scientist’ sits in a simulated laboratory guarding his discovery of the special yeast.
Water is important in the brewing process, as an average of seven bottles of water is needed to make one bottle of beer. Like other concerned environmental groups, Heineken realizes that clean drinking water is a valuable and shrinking resource globally, so they try to reduce water use and help with improvements in water purification. They were the main sponsor for the international TV documentary series, “Water, the Drop of Life”—we can see a few excerpts on TV screens. Enjoy life and good beer, but with respect.
They also sponsor big sporting events in tennis, soccer, and rugby, such as the US Open and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, and music events such as Heineken Jazzfest in Puerto Rico and the Heineken Beat in China. Watch excerpts on multiple screens in the Heineken “Stadium”, complete with tumultuous cheering.
In the second tasting room, called the ‘See You Again Bar’, people enjoy the pop music, swaying and “dancing”, people of all ages and nationalities, so it’s obviously very popular. Many, including us, sit on the floor as the few tables are always full.
A great time is had by all.
The brewery is in an area called De Pijp (the Pipe), known today as the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam due to its cosmopolitan population. This is a lively area with many cafes and restaurants, and the Albert Cuypmarkt, where you can buy practically anything under the sun.
Daily 11am-7pm (last entrance 5:30pm). Closed 1 January, 30 April, 25-26 December and half day on 24 and 31 December. Cost: Adults 16 euro (you can buy tickets online for 15 euro); children 8-15, 12 euros; special rates for groups. Free on Amsterdam Holland Pass Address: Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE Amsterdam. Take trams 7, 10,16, 24, or 25 from Central Station and get out at Heinekenplein for Heineken Experience. www.heinekenexperience.com (you must be legal drinking age to enter this site)