Now, Belgium is asking the United Nations’ heritage body to add its beer-making and drinking culture to a list of traditions worth protecting, saying that brewing fosters a unified identity in a country with three official languages.
The country is home to nearly 200 breweries making 1,500 different beers, according to the trade association Belgian Brewers, which prepared Belgium’s application. National dishes also include beer and the country has some 30 brewing museums.
Submitted by Belgium’s German-speaking region to UNESCO, the application says beer brewing improves the well-being of Belgian people by stimulating the economy, promoting local products and strengthening social ties.
“I think what is special to the Belgian beer culture is the combination of variety, innovation and tradition. We have more than 3,000 beers in Belgium, more than 200 breweries and also these breweries have created around them a beer culture. We have our pubs (bars), we have our museums, we have feasts, we have the ritual of how to serve beer,” the president of the Belgian Brewers’ Federation, Jean-Louis Van De Perre, told Reuters Television, adding that Belgium exports 66% of its beer production.
Founded in the 14th century, the guild is one of the oldest professional associations in the world and almost all Belgian breweries belong to it. It aims at defending the general interests of the brewery sector in the economic, social and ethical spheres.
Gregoire Lepoudre, a Belgian lawyer enjoying a drink after work at a popular Brussels cafe, said beer is a point of national pride. The beer he was drinking was brewed in his hometown and recommended by his grandfather.
“I think this is a great recognition for our country. I think that it is something that has always been alive in our culture and in the history of our country. I think that every Belgian knows that Belgian beer is recognized worldwide. When we travel around the world, this is the first thing that people mention. It’s chocolate and Belgian beer. I think that this is great recognition because I believe that there is a real know-how in our country,” he said, adding that a UNESCO could help preserve the beer-making tradition.
“It’s amazing to see kind of the traditional ways that they are still making their beers and that people are still enjoying it today and I think it’s very important to kind of be able to put an internationally recognised stamp on this process and this wonderful beverage that is really unique to this country, so I think it’s fantastic,” said U.S. tourist Katie Mitchell, who had just visited a brewery as part of her 10-day trip to Belgium and The Netherlands.
The U.N. created its list of intangible cultural heritage in 2008 for traditional events, rituals and social practices. To be considered, the tradition should be passed down through generations and give those involved a sense of identity.
UNESCO’s ‘intangible heritage’ committee meets next week in Addis Ababa and will determine whether Belgian beer culture and 36 other practices such as Indian yoga and Czech and Slovak puppetry should enter its list.
Inclusion on the list confers on the state an obligation to safeguard the tradition. In some cases, states can apply for financial help to do so.