It’s known as the home of beers so what better place than Belgium for a shrine to its brewing legacy?
That was the thinking behind plans for the ‘Temple to Belgian Beer’ project.
After a 15-month study the Brussels authorities authorised plans to create a “temple” dedicated solely to Belgian beer.
It will be housed, appropriately, in one of the city’s grandest (if currently rundown and totally empty) buildings: the Bourse, Belgium’s former stock exchange.
The Bourse is a wonderfully decorative and listed building which, like the country’s brewing traditions, is something that many feel should be cherished.
Even so, the proposal has not been totally without controversy.
Initially, it was thought the “temple”, which will comprise a museum and tasting rooms, would feature only bigger breweries.
But Brussels alderman for tourism Philippe Close said that as diversity is one of the “biggest strengths” of Belgian beer, there must be a place for small craft breweries.
Six architects from a field of 35 applicants were chosen to design it and the plan is that it will open by 2019, slightly later than originally planned, and attract over 400,000 visitors a year, said Fabrizio Bucella, who is official spokesman for the beer temple project.
He told The Brussels Times that the idea was for the beer temple to become the No. 1 tourist attraction in Belgium, adding, “As the person responsible for tourism, it is important for Philippe Close that the country’s top tourist attraction is in Brussels itself”.
Bucella said the beer temple will comprise an interactive museum, roof terrace, bar and restaurant. There will also be opportunities for visitors to do beer tastings.
“It won’t be a museum in the traditional sense but non stuffy and a hands-on experience that even people with no great interest in beers can enjoy”, he said.
“The focus of course will be on beers but there’ll be lots of other family-friendly features”.
He stressed that this “beer mecca” will not merely be for the preserve of big brewers such as AB InBev, saying, “It is intended to be a showcase for the best of Belgian beers so all brewers, from the largest to the smallest, will be included. That is the idea”.
The Belgian Beer Project (BBP), its formal title, is a public-private partnership, which is itself something of a novelty in Belgium where there are few PPPs.
It involves public and private sector partners. The private side comprises 30 Belgian brewers ranging from AB InBev and Maes to small entities and all others in between.
Krishan Maudgal is spokesman for the brewers involved and says, “The BBP will provide an ultimate entertaining experience centre that puts forward Belgian beer in a modern, interactive and dynamic environment. It should enable visitors to discover, explore, share and expand the richness, diversity and traditions of the Belgian beer culture”.
He adds, “We aim to develop the BBP as a landmark for Belgian beer and its culture in the world and create a must see visitor centre/attraction in Brussels, one that positions itself in Belgium as one of the top attractions/places to visit”.
“The BBP will not have the largest Belgian beer bar in the world and will not be linked to the number of beers in–or the size of–the bar. Rather, the bar will reflect the diversity for which the Belgian beer culture is known all over the world. The ambition of the stakeholders is to develop a personalized visitor experience”.
A multi-disciplinary design team was appointed last June and consists of Gent-based Robbrecht & Daem and Baneton-Garido as the architects, Base Design in charge of communications and UK-based Mather & Co as the designers. A master plan will be presented to stakeholders in the near future and the procedure for permits and approvals will be launched soon after.
Some of the smaller Belgian brewers involved might include a long-standing Belgian brewer Martyn’s, launched over 100 years ago by the famous British master brewer John Martin.
For over a century and thanks to a unique blend of English tradition and Belgian savoir-fair, Martyn’s has been producing excellent beers, including one to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo last year.
The whole beer project is estimated to cost some €25m, with this evenly split (that is, €5m each) from the City of Brussels, Brussels Capital Region, the Belgian federal government, the EU and the beer industry itself.