Cosmo-topia! The Heineken Experience – A lesson in all things beer (and shameless advertising) by Imogen Dixon-Smith

Posted on July 19, 2011

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To preface: This is written by a non-beer drinking cynic. If you find yourself in Amsterdam in the near-future and want to have the ‘Heineken experience’, your education awaits.

I found the ‘Heineken experience’ easily comparable to your average day at school. It covers every subject a child needs for a well-rounded education, only this time, beer is involved.

The Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam.

I now know way more than I ever needed- or wanted- to know about Heineken, the friendly Dutch family enterprise-turned global. The interactive video, with a crazy Dutch man dressing up as each of the Heineken ‘legacies’, takes you through a brief history of the family company. Conveniently, he leaves out the current, woman director. Perhaps she’s too immediate to be considered history, or the Dutch man couldn’t bring himself to wear a wig. It’s not dissimilar to the Ancient History teacher at my high school who would ‘robe up’ to teach his class about Caesar, complete with leafy wreath on his head. A little lesson in the ironies of history is also included; he informs us that the first import of Heineken to arrive in the US did so only three days after prohibition was implemented. This was probably the only time my chuckling didn’t have an edge of cynicism attached.  This enthralling story of family prowess is then repeated to us in written form, for those fidgety, day-dreaming students who weren’t listening the first time. We all know that only great men and great events make it into the pages of history. If history wasn’t your strong-point at school, don’t despair… the ‘Heineken experience’ is just warming up.

The 'Heineken experience' sign. Wonders await beyond these doors..

Moving onto the highly scientific room dedicated to the process of making beer. Some of the best memories from science class were of our over-excited British teacher accidently lighting experiments on fire (then expelling a score of creative British curses which I really should have kept a note of). Fire was actually a recurring theme in the most exciting science lessons. My all-time favourite had to be watching my classmate’s hair catch alight as she tried to put out a match. The short ignition time just proved how much hair product she was using. Unfortunately, the scientific ‘Heineken’ experience had no fire display to distract me from my learning; just cold, hard facts about the brewing process. Another, sneakier tactic to hold our attention was implemented: using attractive Dutch men to brief us on the process. If only the science teachers at my school had a smile like his (or weren’t all gay), I may have listened a bit harder. The age old interactive-learning trick keeps us glued to our seats. We are allowed to smell the barley and hops, and the fun doesn’t stop there. A sample of ‘wort’ is provided, the liquid made when the crushed Barley is mixed with water, something I probably could have lived without ever tasting. What a ridiculous question, tour group! Of course we can’t see the special strain of yeast, because it’s a family secret. Who knows what evil underground brewers are on the tour, ready to steal Heineken’s ‘best kept secret’?

The Brewing Room, sans good-looking dude...

The Biology and Agricultural class is kept short. We are led past a bunch of stables containing Heineken’s beautiful, strong delivery horses. I don’t know who they think will believe that these horses are still actually used to drag delivery carts, despite the fact the pamphlet says they are. Is it ethical to keep horses cooped up in a commercial ‘museum’ when they are not needed for any practical purpose? Well, Heineken seems to think so.

Now, the long-awaited excursion. It never seemed to matter what the destination was, to me an excursion was a day off school (with an educational purpose, of course). In year 7, my school seemed to think that Luna Park was intrinsically linked to Mathematics. I searched for the link between counting lockers at Coney Island and Pythagoras’ theorem, but it would have been wrong (and probably a bit nerdy) to complain. Well, Heineken’s ‘We Brew You’  ride had a plethora of educational links, which is probably why it failed to thrill me in any way, much like counting lockers at Luna Park. A pathetic splattering of water ‘sprays’ on us as we ‘fall into the brewing machine’. The moving platform under our feet sways ever so slightly as the hops are ‘mixed into our brew’. I won’t soon forget the red lights blazing down on us as we are ‘heated to ferment’. I guess a ride’s a ride, and we definitely needed a break from the information overload.

The website's replica 'Heineken experience'.

Don’t be fooled, the fun’s not over yet. We move on to a bit of Home Economics, or Heineken’s Beer Tasting. I feel that if Heineken had more than one type of beer on offer, this would’ve been legitimate. they wouldn’t settle, however, for providing anything more than their One Perfect Beer. This is where we start earning our money back, in a tiny glass of beer. Some handy hints on how to avoid drinking the foam are given (which I actually did appreciate because when you don’t like beer, you definitely don’t like foam).

Design and innovation awaits us in the next room, with the Evolution of the Heineken Bottle. From glass to aluminum, Heineken boasts its world leadership in bottle technology. My memory of Design and Technology class is somewhat restricted to never actually making things but writing about your intentions. Luckily, Heineken is able to take me that one step further and prove that there is meant to be a final product in design projects. Three whole displays are dedicated to the genius behind the small portable Heineken keg, an apparently precious commodity.

Bottles!

What is the one thing that can almost be classified as better than the beer itself? The adverts, of course. Our lesson in Media Studies consists of lying on a reclining chair and staring up at a chronological series of Heineken ads. Apart from the funny Dutch jingles of the 70s, their repetition of ads for several years in a row shows a distinct lack of creativity in Heineken’s marketing department, probably something they didn’t mean to promote in their perpetually glorifying museum.

We near the end of our ‘experience’, but not without a quick word from the mathematics department. This problem is set out for us. If you pay €15 to enter the museum, how many free beers must you receive to make the experience worth while? The answer appears to be two. I don’t know what most of the over-excited tourists were doing in Mathematics, but it clearly wasn’t learning how to spot a scam. Being definitely not intoxicated enough to be tricked into thinking that was fun (or economical) is reason enough for me to complain.

Saucy Ad!

What a whirlwind of a day I had experiencing the magic that is Heineken. There’s no doubt they cover all the bases, it’s just a shame that there isn’t actually that much that can be said about one beer. However, if Heineken is your passion (like it seemed to be for the slightly crazy Dutch man with his dog on my train today) don’t be deterred. I’m sure with the right sort of attitude the Heineken museum may actually be worthwhile. You’ll just have to see whether being brewed gets you going or not.

Imogen and her travel buddy Mairi.

Imogen Dixon-Smith writes for the Cosmo-topia! series and is totally related to You’re Dripping Egg’s editor-in-chief. For more about Imogen’s travels, have a look at her article on London Luton: Mishaps in Border Security

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