Amsterdam must be one of the few cities lucky enough to have had two Golden Ages. The first in the 17th century saw it became the world’s foremost trading port and a renowned artistic and cultural centre. It was also the period that the city’s elaborate canal system and iconic narrow Dutch gable houses were first built.
The second Golden Age followed a couple of hundred years later during the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 19th century. But this time its growth and stature were intrinsically linked to one of its most famous brands – Heineken®.
So important was the brewer to the development of the city in fact that it is no overstatement to say Amsterdam would not be Amsterdam without it. But it is also just as true to say that Heineken® would not be Heineken® without its city of origin either. So, while as outward-looking, innovative and entrepreneurial as you might expect of a local company, it is still fiercely proud of its roots – something that will become clear if you take the Heineken® Experience VIP Tour.
“As Amsterdam flourished economically and people found they had more money in their pockets, Heineken® lager became the city’s drink du jour”
The Heineken® brewery was originally built in 1867 in swampland on the outskirts of town. Located near to the river Amstel and railway station to ensure the easy transportation of its wares, the firm began to build an international reputation as early as the 1870s. Its founder Gerard Adriaan Heineken was a regular visitor to world expos and trade fairs, and his beer became a particular favourite in France.
At the same time but a bit closer to home, the De Pijp residential area started to grow and surround the brewery to house its many workers. As Amsterdam city centre developed and expanded, it in turn absorbed De Pijp, placing the brewery at the heart of the action.
All about craftsmanship
But another just as noteworthy point about Heineken® is that it actually created a new way of making beer that was all about craftsmanship – and even today, although it may use modern equipment, its traditional brewing techniques remain essentially the same. While local people in the 1800s drank bottom-fermented dark ales as a replacement for water, the brewer set about changing the rules by developing a lighter, top-fermented bottled beer.
Although initially more expensive, as Amsterdam flourished economically and people found they had more money in their pockets, Heineken® lager became the city’s drink du jour in a similar way to craft beer in many parts of the world today. This situation led to a proliferation of Dutch brown bars all over town as the urban elite joined the working classes in drinking outside of the home with friends and colleagues for the first time, bringing about huge social change in the process.
But while beer production continued at the original site until as recently as 1988, it has now become quite a different hive of activity. Since 1991, the brewery has been welcoming visitors from all over the world under the guise of the Heineken® Experience, a self-guided interactive tour through the world of Heineken®. This includes the brewing process, tasting room and information about the Heineken® brand and its relationship with the UEFA Champions League and Rugby World Cup.
For those keen to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what life was like in the past, however, an in-depth guided VIP Tour is now also available. Guests not only get to explore previously unseen sights such as recreations of the founder’s office and an authentic Dutch brown bar, but they also get to spend time on the roof terrace with its superlative views over Amsterdam.
Here the focus is on enjoying a private beer-tasting experience with an expert who will pair five premium Heineken® brews with a range of specially selected Dutch cheeses. It’s about taking the best of the past and letting it shine through to the present.
VIP Tours at 12pm and 4pm Sunday to Friday. Booking required and visitors must be over 18. Book at heineken.com/heinekenexperience. For a history of Heineken®, please visit heinekencollection.com