What Will Become of "Belgian Beer" if Belgium Divides?
Belgium may be a country divided by language--but zymurgically, it is distinctive. In the Flemish region, sour reds and browns of Flanders; in the French region, sour lambics. In the Flemish region, Trappist breweries (Westmalle, Westvleteren); in the French, Trappist breweries (Orval, Chimay). In the Flemish region, strong goldens (Huyghe, Moortgat); in the French, strong goldens (Du Bocq). No country produces more indigenous beers of greater diversity, and so certain styles are region-specific; still, it's hard not to argue that "Belgian," when applied to beer, means something.
Beyond the brasseries and brouwerijs, however, things are less coherent:
The southern region of Wallonia - poorer, with higher than average unemployment - is home to mostly French speakers, who make up about 40% of the population. The other 60% are Dutch speakers who live in the more prosperous Flemish north. To add confusion, the capital Brussels is officially a bilingual (but largely francophone) enclave in Flemish territory.If the country breaks in half, how will we describe the beer? "Belgian" may become a politically-charged term--like "Bombay" in India--and beer fans will be caught wondering what to call their beer. Will we have to learn the location of every beer in order to know what to call it? Calling a Scot "English" instead of "British" is a grave insult; will our future be fraught with similar unwitting low country slights?
The linguistic gulf runs deep. There are no significant national political parties - they too follow the language split, so there are both francophone and Flemish versions of liberal, socialist, Christian democrat and green parties. Likewise, there are no national broadcasters, no national newspapers or magazines.
Not the most pressing concern for Belgians (or should I say Walloons and Flemish?) perhaps, but something about which beer aficionados may fret.