In my experience, Dutch-made Heineken is one of those beers that strongly divides opinions. Some people love it or enjoy the brand’s premium feel, whereas others are more than underwhelmed by it. Let’s start with a quick summary of what my experience with the beer is after years of tasting it:
Heineken is widely considered a decent beer, although its bitterness is stronger than American lagers. The stronger bitterness is caused because more hop is used in Heineken, which some think is unpleasant. Furthermore, Heineken tastes herbal/bread-like and has high carbonization, which can be felt on the tongue and the back of the throat.
However, that certainly doesn’t answer the question entirely. Below, we’ll walk you through the complete experience of drinking a Heineken (I’m drinking one while I’m typing this). We’ll talk about the flavor, mouthfeel, smell, and appearance of the drink. Also, we’ll tell you why a Heineken tastes the way it does. Read on!
Interested in the taste of Heineken Zero? Read my review here!
Having tasted Heineken many times over, I feel I have a pretty good grasp on the taste of Heineken.
Heineken has a malty flavor, although I wouldn’t say it’s very strong. This is a characteristic of international pale lager, which is the category Heineken Original falls into. Compared to many American beers, I would say that the flavor is more herbal than most light beers you’d ever taste.
Heineken is also a pretty bitter beer; on the scale of bitterness (IBU), it has a rating of 23. For reference, most American lagers (such as Budweiser, Coors Original, and Miller High Life) have an IBU between 8-18, whereas American light lagers (Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite) have an IBU between 8-12.
You can taste this bitter if you pay attention to it. Furthermore, it’s also what I feel divides Heineken for many people. Many people think the bitterness is too strong or experience it as unenjoyable. In other words, if you want something a bit more bitter than average, Heineken can be a good choice, but if you don’t like a bitter taste, Heineken can be a bit too much.
It has a malty flavor, although not very strong. The beer is pretty dry by itself, and this is a feeling you can feel expand throughout your mouth. The bitterness of the beer is something that I occasionally like, but I also know there are people for whom the strong bitter can be offputting.
The aftertaste of Heineken is, if I’m honest, not my favorite of them all. The reason for this is that the bitterness stands out here. The bitterness is then combined with pretty high carbonization (more on that in a moment), giving it maybe too much of a kick sometimes.
Overall, Heineken does have a pleasant mouthfeel for me. This is mainly because the beer is pretty high in carbonization, and I’m a fan of how this feels. However, if you’re a person who doesn’t like carbonated drinks, Heineken can feel unpleasant in your mouth. I’ve made a short video below that shows you the amount of carbonization that you can visually see; as said, it’s quite a lot.
Heineken is so high in carbonization because it uses quite an amount of hop, which is responsible for the bitterness in the beer. Furthermore, together with the malt, it’s also responsible for creating a more interesting herbal flavor.
One thing I do not always like about Heineken is the fact that it’s not smooth. The carbonization is especially present during the aftertaste period. This makes that Heineken is a nice beer on a terrace or a bar and if you’re enjoying one or two. However, it becomes a bit unpleasant to me after I’ve had a few.
For an international pale lager, Heineken has a pretty typical smell. The smell of Heineken is best described like its taste: herbal or floral almost. It’s not a very strong smell, and, to be honest, up until this point, I’ve never really considered the smell of Heineken because it’s not that present.
Is it an offputting smell? No, not in my opinion. However, I have to say that I’ve asked a few people for their opinion and some of them described it as the characteristic smell of old beer after a night out. I guess it depends on how you look at it.
First of all, there’s the Heineken bottle. Heineken is well-known for its green bottle and red star, and it has indicated ‘premium beer’ for a few decades already. It could be because I’m Dutch, but I do love the way Heineken is able to deliver its brand. Their marketing is on point in this aspect, and I think few people wouldn’t recognize the bottle when they see it.
Then the beer itself: one of the classic characteristics of international pale lager is the rich gold color the beer has. As you can see in the image below, Heineken lives up to the standard in this case. Personally, I would say that this color makes me happy when I see it since it’s almost royal-like.
One of the most underwhelming things about drinking an international pale lager (Heineken included) is the fact that the foam of the beer disappears relatively quickly. Since I’m Dutch (and Heineken is Dutch as well), I’m going to say that Heineken should be poured with a large foamy head.
However, from experience, I know this foamy head is almost halfway gone when you order the beer on a terrace by the time the waiter gets to you. Furthermore, the same thing happens in the house when you pour it yourself.
Why Does Heineken Taste Like This?
As we know, there are many different beer styles, and they all taste slightly different, at the least. Some beers are made with wheat and rice; others are made with barley, and so on. Heineken taste the way it does because of the following characteristics:
- Heineken is made with three ingredients: pure malted barley, hop, and water. Because Heineken is made with malted barley, it has this bread-like, herbal flavor and taste that we’ve discussed before.
- Heineken has a higher bitterness than American lagers: The bitterness is created by the hop although a brewer won’t tell you exactly what hop they use and in what quantaties.
Is Heineken Skunky?
Finally, we want to address the fact that some people refer to Heineken as skunky. This skunky smell or taste occurs in beers when certain hop acids are energized by UV light. This is an undesirable effect in beer, and it’s why most beers are or used to be stored in brown bottles. Brown bottles keep the light out more effectively.
Because of its green bottle, people assume that more light is let in, which creates a skunky flavor. The same myth is a problem for Stella Artois (which does taste slightly smoother than Heineken). However, this is not true. Heineken’s green bottle does let more light in but not in amounts that would be harmful to a beer. Therefore, if a Heineken tastes skunky, it’s the result of mishandling of the beer (e.g., keeping it in the sun for extended periods).