The Good, The Fun and The Cheap (A Tale of Three Breweries)

Back in my university days, I remember attending an event where one of the speakers was the Master Brewer of the Swan Brewery in Perth, a man by the name of Ken Arrowsmith. One thing about his speech that caught my attention was a quote that he cited, where he said:

“There may be clever directors, a wonderful secretary and highly cultured clerks, but the man that makes the beer is the man that makes the brewery”.

I liked it so much that I managed to obtain the card he was using which has the quote written on it, even getting Ken to sign it. Ever since that day I have been able to keep the principle behind the quote on the card, as well as the card itself, close to my heart. So when I made my first trip to Europe, high on the list of things that I wanted to check out were several of the continent’s landmark breweries. As it turned out I ended up making my way to three of the finest in what became a mini brewery crawl (in amongst other stops of course… Man does not live on beer alone after all!). Taking in the cities of Dublin, Amsterdam and Copenhagen; the crawl became The Good, The Fun and The Cheap. Read on…

The First Leg (The Good) – The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

About a ten minute walk west along cobblestoned streets from the Temple Bar district in Dublin (where you can enjoy a practice pint while listening to diddly-di music), you come across St James’s Gate. To the right of James’s St is the vast expanse of the still-working Guinness Brewery, at one time the largest single beer-making facility in the World. Some say the brewery began in 1759, while others attribute this number to the minute before knock-off time, where anticipation for the first pint is the greatest. I however ventured to the left, past the now-iconic entrance gates towards a newer looking structure; the centre of which resembles nothing short of a seven-storey tall pint glass. This is the Guinness Storehouse, the museum and visitor centre which celebrates all things black and frothy; it’s a shrine to stout, to be sure!

On entry you purchase your admission ticket, which costs approximately €14. This is no ordinary ticket however. It’s a transparent plastic pebble, which contains a small amount of Guinness concentrate, and makes for a unique paperweight when you get home. The first five floors each have rooms devoted to a particular function, the sum of which makes up the whole Guinness story. From the ingredients used and the brewing process, where you’ll find a waterfall of Guinness, to the transportation and cooperage of the product. Cooperage is how the beer is stored, and this part of the exhibit had a giant pyramid of old casks as well a huge wooden vat that could hold 720,000 pints of the black stuff. All of this is interesting and rather educational, but the further up you go the more fun things get.

Some of the areas in the higher floors introduce the more intangible pieces of the Guinness jigsaw, no less educational than the foundations below but still provide further insight into the story and the culture behind not only the brand but the country that produced and inspired it. There’s the area devoted to Guinness advertising; where you’re introduced to old friends like the toucan, the seal, the ostrich and the bloke balancing the girder telling you that “Guinness is Good for You” (hence why this leg is known as The Good… get it?). I must have stood and watched that advert where the guy does the wacky waving dance while waiting for his pint to settle for about ten minutes! That’s followed up with an area which explores the role Guinness plays in Irish society, and about the quintessential Irish way of life in general. One part of this exhibit plays recordings of people reciting anecdotes about everyday life, which includes the following:

There were two brothers who owned a race horse. One of the brothers left with the horse to go off to the city to race it, promising to return by Wednesday. He didn’t return on that day, but instead sent his brother a telegram which said simply “SF, SF, SF, SF”. When he did return two days later without the horse, his brother asked him where he’d been, how the horse went and where it was. The brother told him he sent a telegram, and asked if he received it. He said he had but didn’t understand what it meant, to which his brother replied “You eejit! It says ‘Started Favourite, Slipped and Fell, Shot the Fecker, Seeya Friday’”.

To this day it remains one of the funniest things I have ever heard. I laughed myself silly! Still further up, in the Home area on the fourth floor there is a wall where people can write messages on cards describing what Guinness means to them, and leave them on the wall for all to see. Most of the messages admittedly are of the ‘I was here’ variety, but there are some good ones. I wrote a haiku poem, which went:

            It’s true what they say,

Guinness is best in Dublin,

And I’m thirsty now!

Speaking of which, you know how they say that the best tasting Guinness in the World is found in Dublin? Well they’re correct! Don’t get me wrong, any Guinness is good Guinness; the Guinness in Dublin however is something special. With this in mind, the final stop in the Storehouse tour is the top floor of the giant pint, where you find yourself in the Gravity Bar. You enter a large circular room with windows all around you and a bar in the middle. It’s at the bar where you validate your plastic bubble ticket to receive your complimentary pint of brewery-fresh Guinness. Admiring the 360 degree panoramic vistas of Dublin while you wait the 119.5 seconds it takes for the pint to be pulled just adds to the sense of accomplishment you feel when you take that first silky sip of stouty goodness. Once the pint is reduced to nothing but Belgian lace the only thing left to do is to visit the gift store on the way out before making the 10 minute walk back to Temple Bar and more diddly-di music at Oliver St.John Gogarty’s.


The Second Leg (The Fun) – The Heineken Experience, Amsterdam

Heineken Experience, Amsterdam

Heineken Experience, Amsterdam

Just south of the city centre of Amsterdam is the Museumplein; home to such World-famous cultural attractions as the Rijksmuseum, the Van GoghMuseum and the StedelijkMuseum. A couple of blocks away from the Museumplein down Stadhouderskade as you follow Singelgracht is the home of another cultural icon, the Heineken Experience. Like its counterpart in Dublin, the Heineken Experience is no longer an actual working brewery (it ceased production in 1988), but more of a museum devoted to brewing and of one of the World’s most popular pilseners.

Once you enter and pay your €10 admission, the first thing you come across is a recreation of what Amsterdam was like when the brewery was built in 1867. Walking through an alleyway, you enter a room that looks at the advertising of the brand. It is here that you also find out where the red star on the label comes from and what the smiling e is all about, and no it isn’t a pill. It’s not as if were talking about somewhere like… well never mind all that.

Going upstairs, you come to the area of the Heineken Experience that’s all about the brewing process and the ingredients; the hops, the barley, the water and the Heineken A strand of yeast. That’s right, Heineken have created their own strain of yeast, which is guarded like a State secret. There’s also an exhibit to Dr Elion, the chemist who first isolated the yeast. It is in this area that you see a sign asking you to wave to the brewers. Wave, but don’t go overboard… you never know who’s looking back at you.

The next room is where the fun begins. You stand facing a screen, and hold onto handrails as a film comes on which shows you the bottling process, with you as one of the bottles! You’re racing around the bottling plant in what essentially is a rollercoaster for beer when the floor below you starts moving, causing you to hang on to the handrail in front of you just that little bit tighter. As a bottle you’re washed, labelled, filled with beer and put into cartons. Leaving the room I had to feel my head to make sure there wasn’t a bottle cap stuck on top of it.

You then come to the brewing area, with its line of huge copper kettles where the brewing magic happened back in the day. Little screens inside the kettles explain the process in full. At the other end of this large room is indeed a welcoming site, the Brewhouse Bar. It’s here that you hand over the first of two vouchers attached to your entry ticket, which in return gets you the first of two complimentary beers. This is a great distinction from most other breweries where you don’t receive your glass of the good stuff until the conclusion of the tour, and it breaks up the visit nicely. Looking out of the window as you slake your thirst, you see the stables where the Shire horses are kept when they’re not out pulling carts around the streets of Amsterdam or making promotional visits.

First beer put away, you move on to the next room, which used to be where the beer matured. In here is another great innovation of the Heineken Experience, an area where you can tape your own video message that you can e-mail to friends and family back home telling them that you’ve run out of money and need more sent over so you can get to La Tomatina in Buñol. From here you go through rooms which talk about Heineken’s water conservation policies, as well as quizzing your knowledge of all things Heineken. The next stop is one of the old lager tanks, which are absolutely massive. Just thinking about the amount of beer it could hold makes me want to go to the toilet.

Heading back downstairs, you come across another ride, making the Heineken Experience come close to rivalling the Oktoberfest grounds in Munich for the title of Beer Disneyland, or Duff Gardens from The Simpsons. You sit inside a carriage much like the ones the Shire horses pull around and look forward as a screen shows a first hand view of riding around the streets of Amsterdam. As the horse-drawn cart rumbles along the streets the cart that you’re sitting in starts bumping around unexpectedly, nearly tipping me out of the cart (remember kids, seatbelts save lives).

After catching your breath, you head through rooms that are concerned with Heineken-sponsored dance music events called Thirst as well as the spread of Heineken throughout the World, the latter using what seem to be dentist chairs and joysticks. The gift shop follows, which includes such must-have items as beer can cameras and fairy lights in the form of the ubiquitous green Heineken bottle. There are two more things left to do before your visit is complete. The first is to redeem your second and final beer voucher at the See You Again Bar; the second is to receive your free gift, which is a metal can containing a Heineken glass. This is such a feel good way to finish your Heineken Experience, it leaves you in the right frame of mind to sample the many and varied sights and sounds (and they are many and most definitely varied) of what Amsterdam has to offer.

The Third Leg (The Cheap) – The Carlsberg Visitors Centre, Copenhagen

Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen

Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen

Before I begin my recollection of the third leg of the brewery tour, I have to begin with some breaking news. In recent times the Carlsberg Visitors Centre has been renovated; and has been complemented by the Jacobsen Brewhouse, a micro brewery described in its website as “a live exhibition of beer culture and classic brewing skills”. This news gives the impression that the facilities now match the standards of the Guinness Storehouse and the Heineken Experience, and as a result the admission price has increased exponentially. That may seem like a substantial increase, which would be in line with the price of all things alcoholic in Scandinavia and at odds with the description of this leg as being the cheap leg, however this is far from the truth… it used to be free to get in. Let me continue…

You can walk to the Carlsberg Visitors Centre if you wish, go west down Vesterbrogade until you get to the gardens of Frederiksberg Have and Søndermarken then turn left and you’re pretty much there. As it was getting close to the end of the day however, I caught the number 6 bus from Rådhuspladsen (where the Town Hall is). The whole complex, including the brewery and other associated buildings, date as far back as 1847 and sit on a hill that the founder JC Jacobsen named after his son Carl (Carlsberg in Danish literally means Carl’s Hill). And just like Arthur Guinness and the three generations of the Heineken family, JC & Carl Jacobsen were noted philanthropists; not only being responsible for museums and scientific institutes in Copenhagen, it was Carl who commissioned the creation of perhaps Copenhagen’s most famous symbol, the Little Mermaid (when she’s not sans head or just plain blown off her rock).

To get to the entrance of the Visitors Centre, you walk past the Elephant Gates which is to Carlsberg what the old wooden gates with the gold writing and the harp is to Guinness. Made of granite and standing five metres tall, the elephants provided the inspiration (as well as the name) for Carlsberg’s line of strong beer. Entering the Visitors Centre, you receive a guide and tickets for two complimentary beers from Bar Carlsberg located at the end of the tour. Admission price nowadays is 40 kroner or €5.50, which is still cheap in comparison with other like-minded brewery attractions but, and let me say it one more time, it was free when I went. Coupled with the complimentary beers, this is the cheapest drink I had in Denmark hands down!

The tour itself was somewhat common-or-garden-variety for what it was exhibiting. It had the standard topics; the raw ingredients, the brewing process, bottling and packaging, the history of the brewer, and so on. A lot of things were explained with the help of dioramas and wooden figures. There were however a couple of differentiating features of the Carlsberg Visitors Centre. Halfway through the trip you go outside and walk through a garden containing many sculptures, presented by the Jacobsens as part of the Carlsberg Foundation. A little further on are the stables where the Jutland dray horses are kept. And unlike the Heineken Experience, you can actually go over and touch them. It may smell like a farm, but it’s all good fun. With the renovations undertaken, I’d expect things to be more modern and up to date, and hopefully more interactive.

As I mentioned earlier, it was getting rather late in the day when I arrived, so I must admit I pretty much kept to the yellow line on the floor which led me through the Visitors Centre, stopping briefly to admire the statues and pat the dray horses. At the end of the yellow line is Bar Carlsberg, and showing way more discipline than I’d shown thus far, bypassed the bar to hit the gift shop as it closes fifteen minutes before the Visitors Centre (and the bar). Purchases in the bag, I retraced my steps and headed back to Bar Carlsberg for my not-as-well-earned refreshments. While here, try some of the less well known varieties on offer, or some of the Tuborg-branded products (Carlsberg merged with Tuborg brewery in 1970). You can get Carlsberg and Tuborg most anywhere now, but some of the ales and stouts are fantastic. The Jacobsen Brewhouse also produces some specialty beers, and would be well worth a crack. Hopefully we’ll see some of them over here now there’s a Tasmanian in the Danish Royal family.

So there’s the brewery crawl, The Good The Fun and The Cheap. Before I finish let me give you some tips. While the Guinness Storehouse is open every day of the week, both the Heineken Experience and the Carlsberg Visitors Centre are closed on Mondays, so avoid the disappointment and go see something else on those days. Also give yourself a good couple of hours to see each one thoroughly, for with all three breweries there is no tour group to follow, so you can take as much time as you want and do your own thing; you are also able to savour the free beer instead of having to gulp it down before the place closes. Finally take a friend with you that doesn’t drink beer. Not only is the trip all the better for being shared, but you can also have the complimentary beers that they don’t want. Brilliant!

Let’s give three cheers then for those giants of the brewing world; to Arthur Guinness; to Gerard, Henry and Alfred Heineken and to JC & Carl Jacobsen; whose vision and sacrifice allowed me to discover the beer-pumping heart of some of Western Europe’s finest cities. Or as Ken Arrowsmith may note, let’s give three cheers to the men who made the beer that made the breweries that made my trip.

Slainte, Prost, Sköl!

(Note: first written in 2003, so some stuff will be incorrect. For example the Carlsberg brewery has been renovated, and you now need to pay to get in).


One thought on “The Good, The Fun and The Cheap (A Tale of Three Breweries)

  1. Pingback: This Life in Trips My Heineken Experience » This Life in Trips

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