The moment my parents returned from their trip to Amsterdam last spring, they eagerly regaled us with tales of their Dutch adventures. Though they spoke about the usual suspects — the Anne Frank House! Museums galore! Rijsttafel! — I was shocked to learn what topped their list of Amsterdam favorites: the Heineken Experience.
As a beer aficionado with Dutch ancestors, I knew immediately that I needed to visit the Heineken Experience on my March 2017 trip to Amsterdam. Would it be touristy? Cheesy? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care; I was in.
It took zero effort to convince fellow travel blogger Ashley to visit the Heineken Experience with me (probably because we have some serious beer telepathy going on). Turns out we had the best ‘dam time of our lives there. Here’s why.
What Exactly is the Heineken Experience, Anyway?
The short version: the Heineken Experience is a veritable utopia for beer drinkers. ‘Nuff said.
The long version: in 1988, Heineken closed its first built brewery due to inability to meet the high demand for their beer. Being the clever folks that they are, however, they weren’t going to let the building go to waste. Instead, they turned the original brewery into an attraction… er, experience… where you can learn more about the history of Heineken, their brewing process, and (most importantly) taste their beer.
So where can you find this beertopia?
The Heineken Experience is located at Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE in Amsterdam. (Psst: You can zoom in on the interactive map below to see exactly where it is relative to the city’s other attractions. Note that it’s close to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Cool, huh?)
Option #1: Self-Guided Tour
In short, Option #1 is fine if you want to walk around the joint by yourself. If you’re a REAL beer lover who wants insider knowledge, the best beer, a barrel of laughs, and royal treatment, however, may I present…
Option #2 (The BEST Option): VIP Tour
The VIP Tour is where it’s at, my friends. You’re here in Amsterdam to try some high quality beer, am I right? Of course right. Since you’re a Very Important (Beer Drinking) Person, on this tour you’ll receive:
- A Heineken Experience tour that’s personally guided by a super friendly, English speaking staff member
- A tasting session of 5 premium beers paired with Dutch cheese (Can I hear you say “CHEESE???”)
- A personalized gift
- Genuine smiles and laughter from your new beer guzzling tour friends
And if you’re one of those beer nerds who only drinks beer from microbreweries in San Diego or Portland, think again: this VIP tasting session will likely alter your opinion of Heineken forever. Challenge accepted.
So What’s the VIP Tour Actually Like?
OK, let’s get to the good part. You work hard for your money so you’d better treat yourself right. You’re scratching your head and asking yourself, “Is it really worth doing the VIP tour at Heineken Experience over, say, grabbing a cold one at a bar down the street?”
The answer is a resounding yes. The VIP tour at Heineken Experience was my favorite part of my visit to Amsterdam, and I’m going to tell you why.
Part 0: Check In (Or, How To Shop Without Regret)
After being greeted by the smiling Heineken Experience staff and checking in our jackets at the coat check for free, we moseyed on over to the gift shop (which, as it turns out, had relocated that morning. Bravo!).
Though most people show up 15-20 minutes before their tour starts, us bloggers know that getting there half an hour early is the perfect amount of time to shop first, eliminating potentially buzzed buyer’s remorse.
There’s lots of fun swag in here, from Heineken backpacks and koozies to bottle openers and mirrors. I was particularly partial to their rain boots — with the amount of rain we get in NYC, I’m due for a new pair soon (hint hint).
When tour starts, you’ll be joined by up to nine other thirsty tour-takers (the maximum VIP tour group size is 10 people). You’ll get a headset to put on so you can listen to your guide if you’re standing far away. This also helps if you need to find your group again because you were trying to get that perfect picture and got lost in the Heineken labyrinth *cough cough.*
Part 1: Heineken History
I’ll be honest: I studied history in college, so I soaked in the historical information in this part of the tour like a sponge. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (beer?), since half of you probably just want to get to the beer tasting part. Nonetheless, Jurgen, our excellent tour guide, enlightened us with some interesting facts:
- In 1864, Gerard Adriaan Heineken bought an old, decrepit brewery called the Haystack. At the time, Gerard was 22 years old (!) and had no knowledge of brewing beer.
- Nobody was really drinking beer around this time — they preferred drinking genever (gin)! Interestingly, Gerard believed that selling beer would aid in combating alcoholism because it was far weaker than the high-alcohol gin that was popular at the time.
- Heineken was on it when it came to the end of Prohibition in the United States. Three days after Prohibition ended, a ship arrived in NYC with Heineken bottles as its cargo, providing Americans with their very first taste of imported post-Prohibition beer. Heineken remains the #1 imported beer in the United States.
There’s more, but you’ll have to take the tour to learn the rest!
Part 2: Understanding the Brewing Process
In the next part, a staff member provided a helpful overview of the brewing process. Some of you may know about this already, but it was a great review for me about how water, barley, hops, and yeast come together to create the magical Heineken beer we drink today.
After that, you’ll get a chance to visit the historic brew room. It contains 8 copper kettles; these have differing functions ranging from filtering the mash to adding hops. These huge copper kettles are not in use any more, but it’s still cool to see how large they are.
Part 3: There’s A Ride!
Here’s where things get really Disneyland-esque. We all queued up in a line for the highly anticipated “Brew You” ride — yes, there’s a ride at the Heineken Experience! The Brew You Ride takes you through the entire beer brewing process in the style of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. For once in your life, you get to “be the beer” and feel all the heat, wind, and water-related glory that goes along with making beer.
For those of you who have been to Disneyland, it’s basically like Star Tours. The floor moves, but there’s less sitting and an amusing British man in place of the robots and intergalactic fighting.
Part 4: Finally, Some Beer!
The “Brew You” ride spits you out into the beer tasting room, where you’ll get your first taste of Heineken beer. This is also your first opportunity to impress your Dutch tour guide by saying “Proost!“ as you clink glasses and toast to your good fortune.
Contentedly sip your beer as you watch
an extended advertisement a short clip about Heineken and its achievements.
End of tour? Nope. Because you’re a Very Important (Beer Drinking) Person, your VIP Tour continues on to…
Part 5: The Premium Beer Tasting (With CHEESE!)
This part is one of the main reasons why taking the VIP Tour is better than a self-guided tour, hands down. While the rest of the plebeians exit down to the fathoms below, you and your fellow tour-takers enter into a cozy room with tables, chairs, and water set up and ready to go. It’s time for the beer and cheese pairing to begin!
Jurgen was all smiles as he poured beer for us and told us a little bit about each beer. I scribbled down notes about each of the five beers and cheeses as vigorously as I could, though my speed was inversely proportional to the amount of beer I consumed.
As proof that it’s possible to write and taste beer at the same time, I present my tasting notes:
- Heineken (5% ABV) paired with a 1 year old Dutch goat cheese. This beer was easygoing and refreshing, with a light fruity smell. It was during this tasting that Ashley declared her undying love for pressed milk curds, proclaiming to our table, “I love cheese more than I love life.” Well said, Ashley, well said.
- Amstel Bier (5% ABV) paired with a 2 year old cow cheese. Amstel was established in Amsterdam in 1870. Tasted like light flowery hops.
- Brand UP (5.5% ABV) paired with a goat cheese with garlic and garden herbs. Brand is the oldest brewery in the Netherlands; this is closest to original pilsner recipe.
- H41 paired with a cow cheese with Fenugreek (which I still don’t know exactly what that is). H41 is named for the latitude where the yeast comes from. It’s a full tasting special lager brewed with wild yeast from Patagonia. Heineken’s been working on this beer for 12 years! Supposedly this special Patagonia yeast is the “mother” of regular Heineken yeast.
- Affligem (6.8% ABV). At this point, that’s all I was able to write down with all the merrymaking going down. Lucky for me, I just found a picture I took on my cell phone of the Affligem cheese pairing sign, so let it be known henceforth that it was paired with truffle cheese.
As you can probably tell, this is also the part of the tour where you’ll likely get to know your fellow tour group members. We had a jolly good time talking with Abby and Whit, as well as Jim and Katrine.
Part 5.5: Game Floor
By this point, we had to be kicked out of the premium beer tasting room and made our way downstairs into what I’m going to call the “Game Floor.”
From the looks of it, this floor contained interactive games (one of which was a football game you could play on PS3). This was the floor with the “Bike Video,” where you and a partner can ride faux bikes in front of a green screen and sing a Dutch song (you get to keep the video at the end!).
Though I giggled while watching my parents’ Heineken Experience Bike Video back in the States, alas, it was not in the cards for me to create my own on this March evening. Due to time constraints, we were whisked down to…
Part 6: The “Heineken Nightclub”
I call it the “Heineken nightclub” in jest, but I’m only actually half joking. Technically, this is the downstairs bar where you can redeem your two tokens provided to you at the start of the tour for additional beer.
What sayest thou? MORE BEER? Have I died and gone to beer heaven?
(No, Julianne. It’s just a typical Thursday evening at the Heineken Experience.)
But anyway, with the loud, catchy music playing, neon lighting, TVs blaring, and a few folks moving in ways that basically qualify as “dancing,” I couldn’t help but notice striking similarities to the NYC nightclubs of yore.
We got to socializing with some of our groupmates again, but — you guessed it — the Heineken powers that be had to ask us politely to “please leave because we’re now closed.” Holy smokes, Batman: we’ve done it. We’re the last people standing at the Heineken Experience!
The Only Thing I Would Have Done Differently…
Would’ve been to allow more time than you think you need, regardless of what tour you take. We started our VIP tour at 4:00 PM and allotted about 2.5 hours for the whole shebang.
You know what happens when you drink beer, right? Your day feels merry and bright, and you decide that everyone in the room is your brand new BFF, which is exactly what happened to us.
We got so caught up in socializing with the awesome people in our tour group that we had to skip one floor entirely and had less time in the downstairs bar than was ideal.
So, lesson learned: if it says it’s a 2.5 hour tour, add at least 30-60 minutes on top of that to have a leisurely beer or two. Your future self will thank you.
Heineken Experience 101: Need to Know Before You Go
The Heineken Experience is open 365 days a year. (They know how to do it right!)
General Hours: Mondays to Thursdays from 10:30 AM till 7:30 PM (last entry at 5:30 PM) & Fridays to Sundays from 10:30 till 9:00 PM (last entry at 7:00 PM).
Summer Hours: In July and August, Heineken Experience is open daily from 10:30 AM until 9:00 PM, with last entry at 7:00 PM.
VIP tours are offered Mondays to Thursdays at 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM; and Fridays & Sundays at 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM, 4:00 PM and 5:30 PM.
Be sure to verify hours on the Heineken Experience website in the event of any changes.
Tickets can be purchased on the Heineken Experience website or at the admission counter. Note that if you buy tickets online, prices are cheaper. You can also indicate what time you wish to visit.
Cost (if purchased online): Heineken Experience Tour is €16 for adults 18 and over; it includes 2 beers or soft drinks. VIP Tour is €49 and includes tasting session of 5 premium beers paired with cheese.
Pro Tip ⇒ Allow at least 2 hours for the self-guided Heineken Experience tour and 3 hours for the VIP tour.
Connect with the Heineken Experience on Social Media
You can connect with the Heineken Experience on the following social media platforms:
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A huge thank you to Heineken Experience for having me as a guest on their VIP tour. While we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves during the tour, all opinions are my own. Not even a delicious cold beer can change that.
Also, some of the above are affiliate links and I will earn a tiny percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting It’s Five O’Clock Here!