Mather & Co has designed the newly opened Belgian Beer World in Brussels, which features a giant moving beer wall and a four-metre-high projected brewer’s head.
The studio won the work via a European tender process in 2015 and subsequently went over to Belgium to meet with participating brewers, of which there are over 150. On visits to the breweries, Mather & Co senior project designer Malissa Geersing says the team got to see “where the brewers’ passion lies” and aimed to translate this into the experience.
Over 1500 different beers feature across Belgian Beer World from a mix of smaller and larger brewers. Unlike attractions such as the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam and the Guiness experience in Ireland, Geersing says “no big organisation takes lead” in Belgian Beer World and “everyone is equally represented across the experience”.
The linear visitor journey starts with a localised zone, where you can “get to know Belgium, the culture and the people”, says Geersing. Then, it moves on to the brewing industry, meeting the brewer and learning about the process before opening up conversations about Belgian beer on a global scale.
Zone One – named Taste the Culture – had “the most design iterations”, as the studio felt pressure to accurately represent the “eclectic, energetic culture” of Belgium, particularly its parades and festivals, according to Geersing. Visitors are invited to join the Belgian Beer Parade, where eight key installations reveal how Belgian beer is intertwined with its culture, including a stained glass window installation showing a brewing monk and another that demonstrates a glass pouring ritual
A timeline of the Belgian brewing industry in Zone Two tells stories of how and when the first beer was created revealing surprising facts like how “drinking beer was actually healthier than drinking water” during certain periods when water carried a lot of diseases, says Geersing. Pipework extrudes out of the timeline wall, holding built in showcases that display beer branding through time while graffiti from local street artists helps to illustrate the narrative.
As its name “Discover Untold Stories” suggests, Zone Two features “elements of discovery”, as “sometimes things are not what they seem”, Geersing explains. At first glance, some graphics in this zone appear to be witches but they are in fact female Brewsters who often wore pointed hats. “Back in the day, women were mostly brewing the Belgian beers at home”, Geersing reveals
Standing at four metres high, a non-gendered, projected brewer’s head takes centre stage in Zone Three. Making the head unisex was important as “a lot of time people assume it is a man” but there are “a lot of women in the industry as well”, says Geersing. The giant head seeks to demonstrate the creative thinking behind the Belgian Beer process and how it effects the flavours.
Zone Four homes in on the specifics of the beer-making process, from the grinding and roasting of the barley to the distilling. Key aspects of this zone are the 4D cinematic fermentation tank with special effects and its use of materials, as Geersing explains how Mather & Co “tried to stay true to original materials used in the brewing and distilling process” to make then experience “authentic”.
The secondary processes behind the brewing of beer – like barrel ageing and cask flavours which are what make certain beers taste so different – come to light in Zone Five. This zone ends with what Geersing describes as “a massive moving beer wall” where visitors meet virtual bartenders who ask questions to determine “which beers will suit them best”.
In the final zone, named Inspire the World, visitors are presented with a digital globe that shows photos that people have taken with the virtual bartenders in the previous zone as well as tweets from people across the world using Belgian beer hashtags. This was included to “making visitors part of the Belgian beer world” and encourage them to “become a Belgian beer ambassador”, says Geersing, adding that it was a “technical challenge to make a rounded globe shape for AV purposes”.
The experience ends with a roof terrace where visitors can taste the beers, although Mather & Co was not responsible for designing this aspect of the experience.