Heineken Josh Lowensohn

Heineken the Global Dutch Brewer

“It is all or nothing.” The ambition of Gerard Heineken was crystal clear when he wrote a firm letter to his mother on June 30th 1863. The twenty-two-year-old young man was about to buy the smallest beer brewing company in Amsterdam with the money he had inherited from his father. With the investment, Gerard took a big risk: at that time he did not know anything about brewing beer.

In 160 years’ time, the small company became the largest brewery in Europe and the second-largest beer brewing company in the world. At the start in 1863, twenty people were working for Gerard Heineken. Over the years, the company remained a family-owned business as the fourth generation now controls a majority stake. Worldwide, more than 82,000 employees work for Heineken.

Since 1592, the brewery had been located at the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam. When Gerard Heineken took the helm in 1863 his ambition was far ahead of the brewery’s production capacity. So a year after the takeover he decided to move the company to the outskirts of Amsterdam, allowing the brewery to grow and expand its horizons.

Within twenty years, Gerard Heineken grew from a young ambitious beer brewer into an industrial magnate. He died unexpectedly in 1893, shortly before a shareholders’ meeting was about to begin.

His widow Mary Heineken took control of the brewery with the assistance of Julius Petersen, a family friend whom she married in 1895. Mary’s son Henry Pierre, or HP as his family called him, would later take the helm. Being aware of the importance of microbiology for the brewing process, he had obtained a degree in chemistry.

Just before World War II broke out, Henri Pierre resigned as chairman of the board of directors. In the best family tradition, he had not only tried to improve the quality of the beer, but like his father Gerard, he also supported organizations on social matters. Subsequently, a scientific award was named after Henry Pierre Heineken. To this day, it is still considered one of the most prestigious awards in the world in the field of biochemistry and biophysics.

With the arrival of Alfred Heineken in 1951, the third generation took the lead. He had spent his internship in the United States and had become aware of the importance of advertising and marketing. On his initiative, the Heineken logo was adapted, and the color green was chosen as the company color. The family name got a prominent position on the label with the three e’s slightly slanted as if they are smiling. The five-pointed red star that had been hanging above the beer kettles for centuries as a magic talisman also became part of the image.

On December 30th 1987, Heineken beer was brewed in Amsterdam for the last time, and production was moved to Zoeterwoude and Den Bosch. The former brewery on Stadhouderskade re-opened in 1992 as a visitor’s center. In 2001, the building was converted into the Heineken Experience, a contemporary museum about the history of a world brand.

Under the direction of Alfred Heineken, the brewery expanded to become a true global player. Following the death of the colorful beer magnate in 2002, his daughter Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken became the largest shareholder, and the fourth generation is now executive director at the Heineken Holding. Heineken is currently brewed in 165 breweries in over seventy countries.

To learn much more about the Heineken's history, read Issue 45, of Dutch the magazine.

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Original article by: Mark Zegeling