Food & Beverage | Cheers! Culture you can drink: Belgian beer gets UN approval

Belgium Beer Culture

Next time you raise a glass of Belgian beer, rest assured: It’s a cultural experience.

UNESCO added Belgian beer to the list of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” this week.

Belgium is known throughout the world for its wide array of tastes, from extreme sour to bitter, produced in just about every city and village across the west European nation of 11 million people. The history of Belgian suds stretches back centuries to medieval monks and has been celebrated in paintings by Pieter Brueghel and in countless songs since.

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

It is not all history with Belgian beer though. Only this year, one brewer, Brugse Zot, moved very much with the times, building a beer pipeline out of the medieval center of Bruges to a bottling plant on the outskirts out of environmental and architectural concern.

And at a time when many pubs are closing or falling on hard times as overall beer consumption declines, such international recognition is more than welcome.

Sven Gatz, who went from being head of the Belgian Brewers Federation to becoming Culture Minister for the northern region of Flanders, compared the recognition to winning the World Cup.

“We love our beer and appreciate the endless diversity within it, something that can’t be equaled anywhere else in the world,” Gatz said. “In Belgium, beer doesn’t have to give way to wine or other drinks in terms of quality and diversity.”

In days when alcohol abuse becomes an ever bigger concern, UNESCO said it was about more than just drinking.

“Beer is also used by communities for cooking, producing products like beer-washed cheese, and paired with food,” UNESCO said in a statement.

For Belgium, it is the spirit of beer that seeps through society, be it from the Dutch-speaking north, the Francophone south or the tiny German-speaking region in the east.

“This beer culture is really deep for Belgians,” said Isabelle Weykmans, culture minister for the German-speaking region.

“It is more than just drinking beers,” she told The Associated Press, saying it is about culture and the skill of beer-making.

Despite the decline of many pubs, the spirit is now carried onwards by small craft breweries like the Brussels Brasserie de la Senne, where owner Yvan De Baets works the taps.

Le Big Mac Creator of McDonald’s flagship sandwich dies

Jim Delligatti

Big Mac creator Michael “Jim” Delligatti

You probably don’t know his name, but you’ve almost certainly devoured his creation: two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.

Michael James “Jim” Delligatti, the McDonald’s franchisee who created the Big Mac nearly 50 years ago and saw it become perhaps the best-known fast-food sandwich in the world, died this week at home in Pittsburgh. Delligatti, who according to his son ate at least one 540-calorie Big Mac a week for decades, was 98.

Delligatti’s franchise was based in Uniontown, not far from Pittsburgh, when he invented the chain’s signature burger in 1967 after deciding customers wanted a bigger sandwich. Demand exploded as Delligatti’s sandwich spread to the rest of his 47 stores in Pennsylvania and was added to the chain’s national menu in 1968.

“He was often asked why he named it the Big Mac, and he said because Big Mc sounded too funny,” his son Michael Delligatti said.

However, McDonald’s in 1985 honored Esther Glickstein Rose with coming up for a name for the burger and presented her with a plaque etched with a likeness of the best-selling sandwich and french fries between the Golden Arches. She was a 21-year-old secretary for the company’s advertising department in 1967 when, the story goes, a harried executive dashing to a board meeting asked her for a name nomination.

Jim Delligatti’s family disputes that Rose came up with the idea. The company didn’t immediately clear up the dispute Wednesday.

Delligatti told The Associated Press in 2006 that McDonald’s resisted the idea at first because its simple lineup of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries and shakes was selling well.

“They figured, why go to something else if [the original menu] was working so well?” Delligatti said then.

McDonald’s has sold billions of Big Macs since then, in more than 100 countries. When the burger turned 40, McDonald’s estimated it was selling 550 million Big Macs a year, or roughly 17 every second. Delligatti received no payment or royalties for coming up with the burger, the company said.

“Delligatti was a legendary franchisee within McDonald’s system who made a lasting impression on our brand,” the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company said Wednesday in a statement. The Big Mac “has become an iconic sandwich enjoyed by many around the world.”

Ann Dugan, a former assistant dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business and an expert on business franchises, said Jim Delligatti’s genius was simple: He listened to customers who wanted a bigger burger.

“In franchising, there’s always this set playbook and you have to follow it. Jim saw an opportunity to go outside the playbook because he knew the customer,” Dugan said. “He persevered and [McDonald’s] listened, and the rest is history.”

It is the universal appeal of Belgian beers that he cherishes.

“I especially like the fact that they are global, universal, they make people gather, and I think that is what touched UNESCO,” he said. “It highlights our traditions, our own culture that is linked to beer. So, as Belgian brewers, we are very happy.”


Categories Taste of Edesia