Letter from Gerard Adriaan Heineken to his mother
30 June 1863
Amsterdam City Archives
‘Dear Mummy!,’ 22-year-old Gerard Heineken began this letter in curly handwriting to his mother. He had just spoken to two commissioners of ‘Den Hooijberg’ (The Haystack) on Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal. The famous brewery from 1592 was doing poorly, valued at only 86,400 guilders, ‘so not very much! Wouldn’t you agree?’
Anna Heineken-van der Paauw was lodging outside the city when she read, no doubt shaking her head, about Gerard’s ambitious plan to take over the brewery. Gerard was still a minor and not burdened by any knowledge of beer brewing. Moreover, beer consumption in the Netherlands had declined considerably since the 17th century. Respectable people drank wine, coffee, tea, or cocoa; for workmen, jenever (Dutch gin) was good enough, and kept better too.
The son of a merchant, Gerard Heineken was an entrepreneur at heart and believed that – with the help of an expert brewmaster – he could make De Hooiberg profitable again. He received indirect support from the government, which wanted workers to replace spirits with ‘healthy’ beer. An ideal investment for people with money and guts, like Heineken.
All or nothing
On 15 February 1864, Gerard Adriaan Heineken was declared an emancipated minor and signed the sales contract for De Hooiberg. As sole owner, he held the shares of all 80 stockholders. ‘All or nothing,’ he wrote in this letter.
There was only one driving force behind his new company Heineken & Co, namely Gerard himself. He worked day and night, rapidly expanded his knowledge, and energetically personally promoted ‘excellent November beer’ with the right to return the product. He set up a network of representatives, investigated foreign brewing methods, and imitated competitors’ beers. Heineken’s beer was here to stay.