A brewery tour come brand museum for one of the world’s most popular lagers…
Now how does an almost teetotal guy end up wandering the floors of this exhibition learning about how beer is made?!
Well quite simply, it’s because I got in for free. So it would have been very rude not to go!
Thanks to birthday boy Alec having contacts – namely a UK exec of Heineken that he takes coasteering – it meant we got to skip the lengthy queue and keep our wallets closed. Result.
So what exactly is there to “experience” in the Heineken Experience and what did I think?
Upon entering you’ll be given a Heineken rubber wristband – one for the collection – with a couple of pop-out tokens that you can make use of later. Your first few steps will take you into the opening section which runs you through the history of Heineken, including their achievements and medals. It’s decorated like a vintage house and you can get up close to the exhibits, although several of the rooms are pretty small, so you can get a bit boxed in during busy times – such as during our visit.
Once you’ve worked your way up a few floors you’ll reach a display where a friendly member of staff will talk you through the process of how Heineken brew their beer. It’s illustrated by the large tanks on display behind the narrator, showing the key ingredients of water, barley, hops and Heineken’s “special” yeast.
It was pretty baking in this room though, so I bailed early to see what was awaiting through the next door…
And what I found was the old brewery – complete with all the old brewing tanks and stained glass windows. Bizarrely this room had a kind of church feel to it, with the light shining through the stained glass and mosaic tiling deco. You could get up close to the tanks and have a look inside, and there were little machines dotted around where you could “help the brewer”.
Once you tire of this room you can take the steps down to a small glass walled balcony where you’ll be able to see Heineken’s horse stables. I personally forget why horses are so important to Heineken, but it’s impressive to see that they are still cared for here in this facility right in the middle of Amsterdam.
From here you’ll take the escalator up to probably the most unique part of the tour. You may have to wait a few minutes until there’s room, but eventually you’ll enter a small cinema room where you’ll experience… Becoming a Heineken bottle!
It’a nifty little exhibition, acting as a cross between video tour and fairground ride. You’ll get splashed as you “fall” into the brewing tank and get shaken up as everything gets mixed together, and the floor will vibrate as you pass along the bottle line. It’s certainly more interesting than a standard factory tour that’s for sure, and kudos to the imagination that’s gone into this aspect.
Most visitor’s favourite part probably comes next though, when you’ll be taken through how to pour the perfect glass of Heineken by the staff. This takes place in a very stylish room bedecked with Heineken star shaped bar. Worryingly though, us English definitely have the reputation of knowing about beer…
After this the tour starts to focus more on Heineken’s massive range of marketing and branding in action, through many interactive and innovative displays. The first room you’ll enter is a large video room, with seating all the way around the edge. We sat here expecting something or someone to come along and address the crowd, but after a couple of Heineken adverts we realised nothing was forthcoming so carried on to the next one.
The first particularly eyecatching display was the room where both the ceiling and wall were completely decorated with green Heineken bottles. These would alight with various patterns and it was cool to watch. But impossible to photograph due to people standing in the way! So you’ll have to settle for the ceiling.
In one of the next rooms you’ll come across machines where you can create your own “Heineken Experience” T-shirt. All you’ll need to do is pose for a photo in the area provided, and you can manipulate that image to your Heineken branded content.
One of my favourite rooms was the ultraviolet room. I’m not quite sure what the point of it was, but there were some nifty touches in this room, such as a video screen that would track your movements and copy these with ultraviolet light trails. The wall art and graphics in this room were particularly memorable too.
Of course as with all companies providing you the means to get intoxicated, they do actually really care about the environment(!), and you’ll soon come across the requisite “green” themed display.
Of course, being a major sponsor of the Champions League there was always going to be a football-themed aspect to the displays, and you’ll find quite an impressive one on hand in the Heineken Experience.
Complete with full-size dug-out and astro-turf flooring, the display holds several PS3’s where you can get your FIFA fix, various match-worn shirts from some of Europe’s big-guns and an old-school Fußball table – always fun! The centrepiece however is the large projector screen in front of the dug-out, showing some specially created films about famous Champions League nights. Unsurprisingly this area was pretty busy. It probably helped that the dug-out seats were extremely comfy too…
This brings you towards the end of the tour, but not before another small touch that caught my eye. Or rather my feet! As in one of the corridors near the end you’ll look down to see the various Heineken Experience logos move along with your feet as you walk. Very clever.
By this point of course everyone wants another drink, and thankfully Heineken don’t disappoint. It’s time to put those tokens to use, and you’ll get a half pint for each of your two tokens. Refreshingly cold too, which was a relief as this “bar” area can be pretty packed, and as such it was rather toasty with a lot of bodies about.
And that pretty much concludes the tour aspect of the Heineken Experience. Once you finish up your drinks – not that I could actually finish mine – all that’s left is to head out into the gift shop and browse much assorted Heineken paraphenalia, before hitting the fresh air of Amsterdam. I imagine that’s probably screwed some people over…
The one final optional aspect you can choose to enjoy is a boat-trip down to Heineken’s other shop near the Rembrandtplein. It’s free if you’ve taken the tour, and it’s worth it to ensure you’ve taken a boat trip in Amsterdam after all! We decided to make use of the free trip – And don’t worry beer lovers, you can buy more on board!
Oh and I almost forgot, but once at the other Heineken store you can exchange your “special” token on your wristband for a free gift. This turned out to be a bottle opener when we went. So up to you whether you deem it worthwhile.
So long-winded description over, what did I actually think of the Heineken Experience?
Well first of all, I was surprised at just how popular it was! I guess I underestimated the number of beer lovers out there. I’d be confident in saying that Brits make up the biggest number of visitors by nationality – after the Dutch of course – too, but that fact isn’t really a surprise.
Stereotyping aside, it’s an extremely well put together exhibition, making use of both the history of the old brewery site and some innovative exhibitions and marketing pieces, with some impressive use of new media by Heineken’s marketing team. The “become a Heineken bottle” video and Champions League displays particularly stood out for me. You’ll undoubtedly stumble across one or two pieces that will catch your attention, and there’s plenty on show enticing you to interact, so it’s certainly successful in that way.
I personally wonder though how many visitors go there expecting a lot more beer tasting, or at least more on various Heineken products (e.g. Extra Cold as well as the regular). I could imagine people being disappointed that all you essentially get to have is a pint and a half by the end of the fairly lengthy tour.
And that’s before you even consider the price. At €18.50 entry, it’s not exactly cheap. Whilst you’ll easily spend a couple of hours taking the tour and seeing the sights, it’s a lot of money for what’s essentially a “museum tour”, a couple of drinks and a small gift. Granted, taking the boat ride adds a bit of value to your ticket, but it’s not essential and you wouldn’t miss much by skipping it. So I can’t say I would have personally paid the entry price, particularly with no real interest in beer. As such, I personally wouldn’t consider the Heineken Experience an essential for your Amsterdam trip, unless you’re a real fan of this particular brew.
Nevertheless I was very grateful to be given the chance to visit the Heineken Experience, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve been there.
Have you been to the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam? What did you think?
Heineken Experience: Stadhouderskade 78, Amsterdam 1078AE, The Netherlands (Stadsdeel Zuid)
I received a free tour of the Heineken Experience, but rest assured that all opinions are my own.