Belgian beer added to global culture list

  | James Innes

Belgian beer has joined illustrious company after UNESCO, the United Nation’s heritage body, accepted an application for the country’s brewing and drinking to be added to their intangible cultural heritage list. This puts it on a par with French gastronomy, the Argentinian tango, the Mediterranean diet and the Cuban rumba as symbols of identity recognised by UNESCO as unique to a country or region.

The list was created by the UN in 2008 to recognise traditional events, rituals and social practices. To be considered, a tradition should be passed down through generations, and give those involved a sense of identity. Inclusion on the list confers on a state the obligation to safeguard the tradition.

Belgium is home to nearly 200 breweries, producing 1,500 different beers which range from brown ales to golden lagers, and the strong Trappist brews associated with the monasteries. Many national dishes also contain beer and the country has some 30 different brewing museums. Belgian brewing dates back to medieval monks and is widely celebrated in paintings by Peter Breughel and in popular songs. Previously only name to a local audience, Belgian beers have become well-known exports, and names such as Duvel, Hoegaarden, Leffe and Chimay can now be found on supermarket shelves throughout the world. Beer represents a rare unifying force in  a country of 11 million people which is often bitterly divided on linguistic and cultural lines between Flemish and French-speakers (although it was the minority German speaking population that made the original application to UNESCO).

Sven Gatz, the former head of the Belgian Brewers Foundation and now culture minister for the northern region of Flanders, compared the recognition by UNESCO to winning the World Cup. “We love our beer and appreciate the endless diversity within it, something that can’t be equalled anywhere else in the world. In Belgium, beer doesn’t have to give way to wine or other drinks in terms of quantity and diversity”.

Meanwhile, Brussels regional leader Rudi Vervoort said that beer “has been part of our society since time immemorial”.

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