Heineken, a pale Dutch lager, is one of the most popular beers in the world. It’s easy to drink, and its loyal sponsorship of various international sporting competitions has seen Heineken become widely available all over the world. Its classic green bottle is a familiar sight in bars and clubs worldwide, but many drinkers wonder when Heineken first came out and why. Here’s our abridged version:

Heineken was first introduced in 1873 as the flagship product of Gerard Adriaan Heineken’s freshly purchased Amsterdam brewery. The beer was specifically designed as a Bavarian-style bottom-fermenting lager for Dutch drinkers and quickly amassed widespread recognition as a premium lager. 

That’s the brief answer to when Heineken came out and why, but there is plenty more detail to consider. In this article, we’ll take a close look at how and why Gerard Adriaan Heineken embraced scientific innovation to make his beer an international sensation, where it was first brewed, and how the beer has fared since then.

Stefan, the founder of Beveragebeaver.com, holding a can of heineken silver
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Why Did Heineken Come Out?

Gerard Adriaan Heineken purchased the De Hooiberg brewery, situated on the banks of the Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam, in 1864. The brewery had been operating since 1592 and was known for producing beer popular among Amsterdam’s working class.

Nine years later, in 1873, Heineken hired Dr. Elion – a student of legendary French chemist Louis Pasteur – to develop a yeast specifically with bottom fermentation in the Bavarian style in mind. It was this yeast that they used to brew the first batch of beer with the Heineken brand. 

By 1875, Heineken was earning awards and accolades. It was awarded the prestigious Medaille D’Or (gold medal) at the International Maritime Exposition in Paris that same year, spearheading Heineken’s push into the French market.

Heineken also earned the Grand Prix at the Paris Expo in 1889. More awards were to come, but these two remain on Heineken labels. By the end of the nineteenth century, Heineken was the biggest exporter of beer into France, supplying the Eiffel Tower restaurant with beer from 1890 onwards.

Going International

Heineken made their first push onto another continent when they began exporting the pale Dutch lager to South America in 1883. Heineken entered the Asian market in 1923, and today is available in over 200 countries. 

A huge part of Heineken’s branding is its consistent presence in sports sponsorships. In keeping with Heineken’s international outlook, the beer is a prominent sponsor of prestigious international sporting competitions. Chief among these is the UEFA Champions League, the top-tier club soccer competition in Europe.

Heineken is also the sponsor of the UEFA Super Cup, the UEFA Euro, and the Rugby World Cup. Curiously, Heineken’s sponsorship of international rugby began far from Amsterdam in Wales, with the beer’s involvement in the Welsh Premier Division.

Heineken has also ventured into motorsports sponsorship, becoming the official beer of the FIA Formula One World Championships in 2016. 

Bond and Beer

Although the British international man of mystery, James Bond, is best known for preferring a dry martini, Heineken has prominently featured in seven Bond films to date. Luxury brands have been paying top dollar to feature their products in close proximity to 007, and Heineken spent an estimated $45 million to appear in Skyfall as Bond’s beer of choice. 

20th Century Turmoil

The first half of the 20th century was rife with strife. The first World War tore Europe apart, and was followed by years of economic hardship in Europe and across the world. The Second World War shortly followed, further affecting countless lives and livelihoods.

Gerard Heineken’s heir, Henry Pierre Heineken, inherited the presidency of the Heineken brand in 1917, towards the end of the first World War. Heineken’s wholehearted embrace of science and innovation included protecting Heineken’s specially developed A-Yeast and retaining strict quality control.

Key to maintaining the integrity of the Heineken brand throughout these lean years was Henry Pierre Heineken leading Heineken’s bottling innovation. They were able to bottle their beer without it losing quality, which made international expansion into South America and Asia possible despite the Great Depression. Henry Pierre Heineken also pushed for expanded beer production while refusing to compromise on quality. 

Because Heineken was a European beer, it was not heavily affected by the Prohibition era in the United States. While American breweries struggled to stay afloat, Heineken enjoyed international expansion and a solid reputation at home in Europe. However, in 1933, with the Eighteenth Amendment on the brink of repeal, Heineken took a gamble.

They shipped a boatload of their beer to New York, believing that American drinkers would take easily to a high-quality beer in celebration of their newfound drinking freedom. Heineken became the first imported beer available in the United States in the post-Prohibition era. Heineken remains one of the best-selling imported beers in the US to this day.

Where Was Heineken First Brewed?

Heineken was first brewed in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The story of Heineken beer is intrinsically linked to the city of Amsterdam, which has several advantages that make it ideal for brewing beer. First and foremost is its abundance of water, and the original Heineken brewery’s position on the Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal canal allowed brewers to take full advantage of this.

Amsterdam’s system of canals allowed for rapid, efficient transport before railroads and cars were widespread and was specifically designed for this purpose. This allowed Amsterdam to become a major commercial center at the height of Dutch economic power.

As Heineken sought to expand internationally, Amsterdam’s position as a port city allowed Heineken to trade easily with other European countries. This, and international sailors’ frequent visits to the city, allowed Heineken to quickly amass a reputation as a premium beer for all drinkers to enjoy.

Selling Enjoyment

The next heir to the Heineken empire was Alfred Henry Heineken. He continued his family legacy by pushing Heineken to embrace powerful advertising and marketing techniques. His motto was, “I don’t sell beer; I sell enjoyment”.

He personally established the Heineken advertising department, pioneering Heineken’s “smiling E” logo, claiming the distinctive green color for the brand, and introducing the star, hop vine, and banner that make up the world-famous Heineken logo to this day. His tenure with Heineken began in 1951 and saw the brand become world-famous with its strong, consistent marketing approach.

During the Cold War, Heineken’s red star became tainted by connotations of Communism, as the red star became a symbol of Communist Russia and China. Heineken’s logo bore a white star during the Cold War, but the brand switched back to its red star in 1991 following the fall of the USSR.