UNESCO is right; of course Belgium’s beer culture is a treasure of humanity


And who am I to argue with UNESCO? Here’s the link from National Public Radio.

Citing Belgian beer’s integral role in social and culinary life, UNESCO is putting the country’s rich brewing scene (with nearly 1,500 styles) on its list representing the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Belgium’s beer culture is one of 16 new additions that were announced Thursday.

Other honorees include the making of flatbread in Iran, Turkey, and elsewhere; Cuba’s rumba music, Egypt’s Tahteeb stick game, and long-observed festivals in Japan, France, Spain and Greece.

Thinking back to my beginnings in beer, it took me a while to “get” the Belgian styles. In the 1980s, examples of Belgian ale in the Louisville metro area were far fewer in number than German, or even British. Consequently, the learning curve was lengthy. By the mid-1990s and the ongoing escalation of global beer consciousness, importers began popping up or expanding their existing selections. Consequently my travels began to include Belgium far more often than before.

One of my favorite Belgian beer travel stories is about the time five of us took the train from Brugge to just outside Ghent, and a brewery tour at Huyghe (the brewers of Delirium Tremens). To make a lengthy story short, Alain the owner forgot we were coming and there were a few awkward moments, but he rallied and it was one of the best-ever visits of its type, concluding with a ridiculously extensive sampling on empty stomachs, with predictable results.

But what brought me back to reality was when Alain proposed a toast from somewhere behind a thicket of glasses and empty bottles atop the tasting room bar, paraphrased: To all the beer-loving Americans who have done so much to support the Belgian brewing industry, the ones who know quality, who appreciate the best, and who share in the universal love of beer.

This happened in the year 2000. That’s hard to believe.

Two months into 2021 at Pints&union, I’m gradually working toward stocking a greater range of Belgian ales, although not Stella Artois, which is a golden lager, and consequently not of Belgian extraction. Nothing against immigrants, mind you, but when you’re already pouring Pilsner Urquell, why bother with the second tier?

For now, UNESCO’s own explanation as to why Belgian beer culture matters. If it hasn’t already dawned on you, the Belgians possess something very rare, and even if I could round up ALL the ales I’d like to have available in New Albany, it’s not the same as beer occupying a place in Belgian culture. That’s why soon we’ll make it back for a refresher course.

Belgium— Beer culture in Belgium

Making and appreciating beer is part of the living heritage of a range of communities throughout Belgium. It plays a role in daily life, as well as festive occasions. Almost 1,500 types of beer are produced in the country including by some Trappist communities. Craft beer has become particularly popular. Beer is also used by communities for cooking, producing products like beer-washed cheese, and paired with food. Knowledge of the element is shared in the home, social circles, breweries, universities and public training centres.