I’m usually cynical whenever an establishment likes to gloss up whatever product it is that hides behind their walls and windows. It’s often, in my mind, an attempt to make even the most inane of bubbling pits seem like pure bouncy castle bliss.
So, it was with some trepidation that I approached the Heineken brewery/museum in Amsterdam. It was a brewery and it was a kind of museum, but it had the words “Heineken Experience” emblazoned across its façade. Experience. Had there been an exclamation point included on the sign, my wife and I probably would have turned around and headed for one of Amsterdam’s coffee houses.
Situated next to one of Amsterdam’s many canals, the brewery stands tall and proud, its red bricks seemingly seeping heritage from its grout. It’s not until you step a little closer that you see the multiple panes of glass that hint that the renovators had been through recently.
Embarking on the first leg of the Experience – both of us 15 Euroes lighter, and graced with a green wrist band with two tokens – we are treated to a cosy room, replete with wood. A solid wooden bar, framed by solid wooden beams stands to one side. A video plays on the wall behind the bar, with an actor dressed in classic garb, in the guise of an old barkeep, outlining the history of Heineken. The actor minces his way across the bar, left to right, informing visitors of facts that are actually quite interesting.
Moving on, and we are funneled through a series of rooms, showing artefacts of Heineken’s proud history. There are multiple awards, commendations and classic bottles of eras past.
Continuing through the many rooms, we are guided out to the stables housing the horses of Heineken. The importance of these horses was glossed over a little, but they are well groomed steeds and I’m sure do a great job with whatever ceremony they are employed to join.
After the Stable Walk, we step into a mighty hall containing massive brass tanks. Multiple levels peer down and wrap around these massive containers, and it is here that we learn about the process of actually making the beer. You look at the grains, you peer into the tanks, you taste the produce before it is fermented and you even stir some of the malt – a photo opportunity as you wear some overalls and preside over a tub with what can only be described as a stirring oar.
The whole tour seems to be building up to this one singular point. Before we even get to this point, we are constantly told of the “Brew U” ride in where you get to experience “being brewed”. We are guided into a booth with about twenty other people, and told to stand on a platform, holding a rail. The lights dim, and a video plays on the screen in front of us.
The cheery presenter informs us of what awaits, and suddenly it’s underway, the platform beneath you churning and rocking in time with the events on the screen. The presenter splashes into water, and we are splashed with a light drizzle. The presenter is baked, and heaters switch on in the room. It’s all very camp and kitsch, but still amusing.
The lights come on, and the hydraulics stop and we move off to the next area, which is a star shaped bar. Refreshingly we are greeted by a real person (not a video) who gives us a very brief run down of beer tasting and what to look for. Small glasses of Heineken are pulled and handed out for us all. I grimace at the large amount of head, but the presenting girl dutifully informs me that it is intended to be that large, as it prevents the beer from going flat in the glass.
I smirk cynically, but continue drinking.
The end of the tour beckons, which leads us through many rooms of massive video screens, multimedia centres and other such stimulatory items. This all leads to a massive bar at the end, and you provide your tokens from your wrist band to get a couple free beers. The non beer inclined quickly hand off their wrist bands to the entrenched merry drinkers in the bar, who cheer their good fortune.
I began the Heineken Experience with a fairly high degree of cynicism, but somewhere around the massive hall with the brewing containers, this somehow switched off. The giddy tourist in me began to absorb everything and chuckle at how much fun he was having.
The Heineken Experience, much like the beer itself, it meant to be consumed and enjoyed. It won’t give you something that you can ponder over and marvel at its complexity, but it simply does its job and it does it well. It’s a culmination of everything that Heineken associates with its brand and image. It’s all smiles (even the “e” in Heineken are smiling by design) and good looking people helping you around, giving you easily digestible things before sending you on your happy way.
(Note: According to the Heineken Experience’s wikipedia entry, “… the brewery opened to the public as a brewery tour and visitor center, known as the “Heineken Treat and Information Centre” (Dutch: Heineken ontvangst- en informatiecentrum). The attraction grew to become one of Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attractions and by 2001 the visitor center changed its name to ‘Heineken Experience’” – so, it wasn’t just a cynical exercise in trying to make the mundane more attractive)
The Heineken Experience
1072 AE Amsterdam, Netherlands
* All photos by Andy H © All rights reserved
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