Rising considerably later than normal, but still managing to get out on the beat for pancakes shortly after 11am, TheBeerNut navigated us to the old Heineken brewery. Well, it'd be a bit like going to Dublin and not visiting Guinness I suppose. I lived in Dublin, so that's my excuse for not doing that tour! Going into the big red-brick building felt like two kids going into an unlit cellar in a horror movie, and to a degree, the happy, chirpy employees unnerved rather than comforted. Ok, I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. The Heineken Experience took us through a few displays of old labels and adverts, and a virtual barman telling us about the three generations of Heineken, ending with Freddy, who is loved by everyone in the Netherlands. I'll give him one thing, he was a suave looking man, and clearly a man with marketing on his mind. We did raise eyebrows at the text in one of the display areas that stated "Heineken is proud to be one of the world's leading independent brewers". I suppose they are, and megacorp doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
Moving on from the display cabinets, the brewing room was particularly impressive, and the four huge copper mash tuns and kettles (pictured above) were quite a contrast to De Prael which we visited the day before. The smell of malt was hanging in the air, coming from the tun a curly-headed youth was stirring. TheBeerNut told me they actually make something out of this. Well, Ron told him some dude was making a triple in the corner in the past, and that it was sometimes available at the bar (not this time I'm afraid). As I write, TheBeerNut confirmed it was definitely a different guy from when Ron visited, and just as well, as the pheromones exuding from Frodo would have been infusing the mash, rendering any beer made from it undrinkable.
The self-guided tour isn't bad actually, and you do get a good idea of the beer-making process, including a "Brew You Ride" (not to be said in a flat Dublin accent) simulator that had my sore knee throbbing. TheBeerNut has already described the guided tasting of the Heineken, and it has to be said, they should be selling whatever that guy was pouring. The hops really jumped out with a fresh, fruity aroma, and it sizzled on the tongue. Right after the tasting we passed some curious pods, and we're pretty certain that if we had of gotten in, all Heineken would taste like what we just had. Or at least we'd believe it tasted like the one we just had. Instead, we ended up down at the bar for our freebies, trying the Heineken Ice Cold followed by the regular cold Heineken. TheBeerNut encouraged me with his usual "get it down ya" before we stumbled out, dazed and confused, into the light.
Clearly we'd had enough of quality beers the night before, demonstrating this by having a quick glass of Murphy's Red -- which although having a pleasing light caramel nose, was boring, thin and cardboardy with a light dusting of grassy hops, yes, yes, "get it down ya" -- before heading off for sustenance. Sustenence being a rather tasty sirloin steak with a bottle of 't IJ Struis from Brouwerij 't IJ, an apparently organic, unpasturised, unfiltered beer at 9% ABV with a pleasently fruity aroma, a flavour like summer fruits, raisins, caramel and a slightly farmyard earthiness finishing with an orange pith bitterness. Very tasty, and a great companion to a juicy steak. Another strong beer that goes down remarkably easy.
Collecting the bags, we headed stationward and stopped at 't Arendsnest for a few final beers. Another bar with a fantastic selection, I chose slightly randomly and went for the SNAB Otter Strong Bitter. A light amber with a head that didn't seem to want to die, it was a bit grainy, with a suggestion of buttered toast and a slight fruity element, like baked apples. A bit cakey perhaps. It wasn't terribly bitter at all, but did have a reasonably spicy finish. I was a little disappointed, so after a slight prodding, ordered a De Molen Mout & Mocca, a 10% (according to the board) coffee imperial stout. The aroma reminded me of fresh cut hedges or nettles (don't ask) with a slightly green, sappy character. The flavour was a little ashy, and certainly roasty, with some herbal notes. I can't say I got coffee or chocolate flavours, and frankly, I was disappointed. Yeah, I know, his face says it all: "get it down ya"!