BRUSSELS (Reuters) - From brown ales to golden pilsners to the strong trappist brews produced in monasteries, Belgian beer is enjoyed around the world.
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.
The history and broad variety of brews available make Belgium's beer industry stand out from other brewing traditions around the world, the submission says.
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.
It would join the likes of Spain's Flamenco, China's dragon boat festival and last year's entrants from Arabic coffee to bagpipe culture in Slovakia.
Belgian beer has a good chance after an advisory body recommended its inclusion. Belgium already has 12 items on the list, including horse-drawn shrimp fishing and the Carnival in the town of Aalst.
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. UNESCO also has a separate list of heritage in need of urgent safeguard. There are five applicants this year.
Manu Pauwels, spokesperson for the International Trappist Association, said the UN designation would make Belgian beer culture more distinct than its global counterparts.
"There are more and more countries developing a beer industry with more variation, but they always refer to the Belgian beer style," he said.
"It is good that we can say that we are the reference and the origin of a lot of beer activities in the rest of world."
Gregoire Lepoudre, a Belgian lawyer enjoying a drink after work at a popular Brussels cafe, said beer is a point of national pride.
"I think it's a nice recognition for the country," he said. "Every Belgian knows that Belgian beer is recognized around the world."
He said recognition on the intangible heritage list would help preserve the tradition. Lepoudre was drinking a beer brewed in his hometown and recommended to him by his grandfather.
The UN 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.
Reporting by Marilyn Haigh; Editing by Toby Chopra