Postcard from...Brussels


When US President Barack Obama visited Brussels last month, he could not help but make the obligatory reference to Belgium’s great consumables – beer and chocolate – at his keynote speech at an arts institute, provoking an appreciative little cheer from the native population in the audience.

Belgium generates huge amounts of revenue from its exports of chocolate and beer, with companies and trade bodies well aware of the potential in emerging markets in Asia and America. Making sure the brand is protected is key.

Now a group of Belgian ministers have launched a campaign to have the country’s beer recognised by the United Nations as a product of intangible cultural heritage. This Unesco designation is aimed at promoting a tradition and protecting it for future generations, and the government is hoping the nation’s 1,000 plus local brews will benefit.

It is not the first Belgian consumable to seek recognition. In January, the chip industry suggested giving the humble frite a domestic designation as a tradition of cultural heritage, which would be the first step on the path to a Unesco listing. They may, however, face some resistance from France.

One industry has already nabbed the honour, although it may not be one so recognisably Belgian as chips, chocolate or beers. A Unesco designation was last year handed to the Belgian fishermen of Oostduinkerke, who trawl through the North Sea on horseback hunting for tiny grey shrimp.