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eer guide latvia

summer 2011


2

I love good beer,

but a few years ago I noticed a complete absence of a detailed and up-to-date source of

information regarding Latvian beers and breweries in English. I feel disappointed when

I see tourists buying beers with the most colourful labels and presumably thinking that

these would be the best representatives of the Latvian brewing tradition. I can well imagine

their disappointment afterwards.

This guide has been intended as quick help for those who are short on time, but would

like try the best Latvian breweries have to offer. In this second edition I have corrected

some of the errors of the first and second edition, added pictures and expanded on more

interesting subjects.

And on a side note, there is no paid advertising in any form here, I have written all of this

as a part of the rather time consuming hobby. I hope you will enjoy it.

Cheers!

Atis

Latvijā, tāpat kā visur pasaulē, pastāv dažādi ceļveži. Domāju, ka visai loģiski būtu, ja

tāds taptu arī attiecībā uz alu, turklāt redzot, ka ārzemju tūristi dzer gaišas krāsas ūdeni

ar alus garšu, visuresošās reklāmas un pietiekoši pievilcīgās etiķetes iespaidā uzskatot to

par Latvijas aldaru domas augstāko lidojumu, man galvā rosās visai nelabas domas.

Jāpiebilst, ka viss te aprakstītais ir manas personīgāss un subjektīvās domas. Vienam garšo

viens alus, citam - cits, tas ir tikai normāli. Pieļauju, ka manam viedoklim bieži pietrūkst

nacionālpatriotisms, bet akls patriotisms lielās devās, pilnīgi bez jebkādas kritikas, nekad

nav bijis veselīgs.

Šādam pasākumam latviešu valodā neredzu jēgu, Latvijā ir maz alus darītavu, turklāt

lielākā daļa Latvijas iedzīvotāju tās pazīst tāpat un katram jau sen ir savs iecīnītais alus.

Diskusijas par šo tēmu būtu pārāk neproduktīvas, sanāktu kas līdzīgs mobilo telefonu

modeļu vai automašīnu marku salīdzināšanai. Vairāk informācijas latviešu valodā par

alu var lasīt manā blogā labsalus.lv

Atis (twitter - @dzerualu)

Control panel of malt mills in

Aldaris

Aldaris is the largest Latvian

brewery and its malt is grinded

using six Czechoslovak mills

installed in 1984

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Table of contents

General Information

“Latvian” beer style.................................................................................................... 6

Most highly regarded Latvian breweries................................................................ 7

A short history of Latvian beer................................................................................ 6

Dzīvais alus (Live beer)............................................................................................. 13

Kvass............................................................................................................................ 14

Homebrewing............................................................................................................. 16

Jāņi - the ultimate Latvian beer holiday.................................................................. 18

Date of foundation of still existing Latvian breweries.......................................... 20

Latvian beer - the best beer there is?....................................................................... 22

How is the guide organised....................................................................................... 23

Breweries

Abula (Brenguļu)....................................................................................................... 24

Aldaris......................................................................................................................... 28

Bauskas........................................................................................................................ 34

Brālis............................................................................................................................ 36

Brūveris....................................................................................................................... 40

Cēsu............................................................................................................................. 44

Krāslavas...................................................................................................................... 48

LIDO........................................................................................................................... 50

Līvu/Lāčplēša............................................................................................................. 54

Madonas...................................................................................................................... 58

Piebalgas...................................................................................................................... 60

Rēzeknes...................................................................................................................... 62

Tērvetes........................................................................................................................ 64

Užavas.......................................................................................................................... 70

Valmiermuižas............................................................................................................ 74

continued next page...

Practical information

Excursions to Latvian breweries.............................................................................. 78

Five beers to bring home from Latvia..................................................................... 80

Where to get beer - general advice on stores, pubs and bars............................... 82

Some of the best beer locations................................................................................ 86

Latvian beer vocabulary............................................................................................ 88

Copyright, disclaimer and contact information.................................................... 89

5


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“Latvian” beer style

With regards to Latvian beer, it is quite similar to average European lagers. There is no

distinct Latvian beer style, but usually plain and bittery pale lagers and overly sweet, possibly

diacetyl-laden dunkels are considered to carry Latvian characteristics. Dominant

sweetness in beer is not considered as a flaw by many of Latvian beer drinkers, even

opposite is often true - although the sweetness masks the flavour deficiencies, it helps

to hide the alcohol as well. This from the point of view of a beer drinker for whom the

overall aim of the evening is to get totally drunk, greatly increases drinkability.

If there was once a significant German influence to Latvian beers, especially during the

19th century, it disappeared almost completely already by the end of the 1920s. As the

G. Mīlbergs, Member of the Saeima (Latvian Parliament) mentions in the newspaper

in 1932 - “Czechoslovak beer is at least three times cheaper and better than Latvian beer”.

Sadly, there have not been as many changes as one could have expected since.

Currently the only clearly distinguishable German roots can be found in beers whose

recipes and equipment has been imported from Germany and Austria in the 1990s and

2000s, such as LIDO, Užavas, Brūvera, Valmiermuižas and partly Abula (Brenguļu).

There is one pleasant exception - Baltic Porter that is produced with lager yeast in this

region. Although the style did not originate in the Baltic States, Baltic Porter was highly

regarded in the Russian Empire (as the name of a similar style - Russian Imperial Stout

style suggests) to which Latvia belonged during these times. There are pitiable remnants

of this industry remaining in the region, but one or two occasional Baltic Porters are still

produced in Latvia.

There is no tradition of bottle-conditioning beers and 99% of Latvian beer (except for

one or two Hefeweizens) are lagers. Almost all bottled beer is filtered, only two or threee

unfiltered and bottled seasonals can be found. Of course, there are a couple more of unfiltered

beers available on-tap, but to much smaller extent than one would desire.

With regards to beer ingredients, although a significant portion of Latvian beer drinkers

assume otherwise, everything from yeast to grain (except, of course for water), is

imported as there is no commercial maltster in Latvia. With some exceptions during

the Soviet time, it has been mostly like this for the last century, but most of the breweries

do not want to admit this fact to the public as they often market their beer as a very

traditional drink.

Most highly regarded Latvian breweries

During April and May 2010 a survey was conducted by labsalus.lv asking 350 Latvian

beer drinkers to evaluate the Latvian breweries and beers they produce. Of course, it is

no easy and highly subjective task, as everyone has its favourites. Results obtained provide

some glimpses what beer savy locals consider to be as the best Latvian brews. I have

to add that I mostly do not share this view.

The score is plain and simple: 5 is maximum, 1 is minimum. As expected, the three

largest breweries have scored the worst, although there is no doubt that most of their

critics do not hesitate to consume this beer on a regular basis. But that is a part of human

nature.

1. Tērvetes 4.51

2. Užavas 4.39

3. Abula (Brenguļu) 4.21

Bauskas 4.07

Valmiermuižas 4.06

Piebalgas 3.90

LIDO 3.57

Brālis 3.16

Brūveris 3.09

Krāslavas 2.86

Madonas 2.83

Rēzeknes 2.80

Cēsu 2.55

Aldaris 2.50

Lāčplēsis/Līvu 2.36

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A short history of Latvian beer

Latvians tend to pride themselves as a beer drinking and brewing nation with beer as

the national drink and so on and so forth; they are no different from any other European

nation in this aspect. In addition, the Latvian and Lithuanian word alus is amongst some

of the most ancient words meaning beer in Indo-European languages. Unfortunately

the grim reality as well as the recent history clearly shows that Latvians during the last

couple of centuries have also shown quite a keen interest in spirits and the production

and consumption of vodka in Latvia (in the terms of absolute alcohol) has exceeded that

of the beer for the last 200 years. In addition, average beer consumption pre capita is one

of the lowest in Europe, hovering slightly below 70 litres per year.

Former Aizpute

Castle pub.

Aizpute, a town

of 5500 in central

Kurzeme, it

boasted at least

30 pubs during

the second part

of 19th century.

Now there are

none.

Beer, for sure, was very important just a dozen decades ago - in the 19th century there

were several hundred small and more than 60 larger breweries in Latvia, producing beer

both for the local population as well as export to the vast Russian Empire. Riga at this

time was one of the most important industrial hubs (just after St.Petersburg and Moscow)

of the Russian Empire and that was true also with regards to brewing.

Things went pretty well until the First World War that saw most of breweries closed

and their equipment was “evacuated” to Russia in order to avoid it falling into German

hands. Of course, most of it never returned from the Soviet Russia, as newly established

Soviet state invented many reasons why it can not be handed back. And a large portion

of it was looted anyway.

Although a fresh start was difficult, things started to improve again in 1920 - immediate-

ly after the independence was gained. About 100 breweries re-opened, the future started

to look bright, despite the loss of the largest export market - Russia. Unfortunately this

development lasted only till 1925 when new anti-alcohol measures were passed that saw

70% of the breweries closing during the following years and the total output dropping by

almost 40%. Although these laws were repelled in a few years time, commercial production

of the beer was further hampered by extortionate import tax, incredibly high excise

duties (the highest in Europe during that time) and a cartel of five largest Latvian brewers

that resulted in high prices - from double to triple compared to those e.g. in Germany

during that time. It meant that average worker simply could not afford to drink commercial

beer and spirits provided much better price/drunkness ratio. This is verified by

the official statistics that shows that in 1927 only 3.5 liters!!! of beer annually per person

were consumed (15 - 25 times less than in pre-war years) in Latvia. There is no doubt the

actual consumption was many times greater, as most of the beer was produced by homebrewing.

Still, the government policies during the 1920s and 1930s can be considered as

the most severe blow to the Latvian beer industry (surpassing even changes caused by

the both World Wars) that caused most of the smaller breweries to close and paved the

way to mass-produced and boring beer.

In 1937 the authoritanian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis decided that foreign capital is not

needed in a healthy nationalist state. The most succesful businesses in all industries were

simply taken away from their owners, but at least they were adequately compensated for

their loss. Similar things took place also in the brewing industry - three breweries “voluntary”

sold their operations to the state that established a new central brewery, called

Aldaris. It is interesting that the necessity to nationalise a significant portion of the brewing

industry was explained by arguing that the beer was becoming too expensive for ordinary

Latvian peasants that were the backbone of the great Latvian nation. Never mind

Former Aizpute

brewery.

Established in the

19th century, the

brewery finally

ceased operations

during the 1950s.

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that it was mostly state set excise duties and customs policies behind the high price. To

further provide a proof that nationalisation was required, breweries were ordered to increase

beer prices in 1938 - and what a suprise - the chief of the State Price Inspectorate

soon became the chief of newly established brewing company. One year later, maximum

price was lifted back again to previous levels and the show was over.

During the course of subsequent Soviet and German occupations from 1940 till 1945

many changes occurred - repeated nationalisation of breweries, newly established Aldaris

was split and merged again, centralisation, introduction of common standards and

recipes.

In Soviet times all breweries brew more or less the same brands of beer - Rīgas, Marta,

Žiguļu, later Senču (Ancestor) was introduced. Similarly to other Soviet industries, beer

standarts were well developed and theoretically should have produced excellent beers.

Unfortunately standarts did not take into account widespread stealing and negligence

from the side of workers, after all, who cares about the state property. Most famous of

them all were shortages. Shortages of everything - equipment, raw materials and ingredients

that were solved only in the most ingenious ways only Soviet people are capable

of. It would be unfair to say that beer was always bad - some of it was good, much larger

portion - not that drinkable, sometimes spoiled and sour, but as there was a very limited

access to imported brews (some Czech beer was available) and even the domestic produce

was often in very short supply, there were not too many comments heard. You were

lucky enough to get any beer at all.

In the 90ies, just after the USSR collapsed and the Soviet occupation was over, the Latvian

beer industry was not in a good shape - there were several inefficient, previously state

owned breweries. Of course, they all could be bought cheaply (that is, from the Western

point of view, local companies did not have neither too much money, nor too much access

to loans and other industries, such as looting scrap metal, were more profitable).

Many of the largest breweries landed in the hands of Scandinavians in a result, such as

Carlsberg, Harboe and Olvi. From those few who were still owned by the locals, all, but

three, went under during the course of next 5-15 years.

Nowadays the situation is similar to the most of the developed world - roughly 90% of

the market is possessed by gargantuan international brewers while the rest is shared

by imports and smaller local breweries. It is also worth noting that the ABV of Latvian

beers has gone up from about 4% during the 1920s to about 5.5% nowadays.

None of the Latvian beer ingredients, but water originates in Latvia. Only barley for

Tērvetes brewery is a notable exception. Malt for the rest of the breweries is imported

mostly from Lithuania and a couple of other European countries. Hops are mostly purchased

in the Western Europe - Latvian climate is not well suited for growing them,

although many homebrewers use Latvian wild hops and sometimes achieve suprisingly

good results. During the nineties, Piebalgas brewery had their own hop fields, but the

idea was soon abandoned because of financial reasons.

Of course, homebrew has always co-existed along its commercial

relatives. Most of the Latvian homebrew is made

using rather old and time-tested methods that include little

or no maturing whatsoever, so the final result can be murky

brown/yellow liquid, not too pleasant for the eyes, but sweet

and quite high in alcohol, one should expect between 7- 10%

ABV. The largest proprtion of traditional homebrewers remaining

today can be found in Latgale region, but only a few

of them brew regularly, most opt for the largest holidays once

or twice per year. Sadly, but it could be expected that these

brewing traditions will be almost extinct within a decade or

two.

Current affairs

There is a clear distinction between small and large breweries, as the Latvian legislation

grants a 50% excise tax discount for breweries brewing less than 5 million liters annually

(the discount applies to the first million though). Exactly this exemption was the

main reason why three largest brewers left the Society of Latvian Brewers (LADS) a few

years ago to found their own similarly named Association of Latvian Brewers (LACA).

Neither of these associations with fancy names is doing much to promote beer, except

for neverending quarrels between each other and occasional rants towards homebrewers

that are blamed for providing cover to illegally imported alcohol.

Large breweries

There are 3 large breweries in Latvia, all owned by large Scandinavian breweries, the

biggest of them Carlsberg. All operate under the same principle as large international

breweries all over the world, producing mostly low quality bland lagers. Some of the

“Latvian” beers are not produced in Latvia at all, they can be imported from either Lithuania

or Estonia where they are produced in sister breweries and vice versa. It is quite

easy to imagine that it is far more profitable to brew large batches and distribute them

all across the Baltic States than to brew smaller and more diverse beers. Sometimes even

the labels are the same (just translated) for otherwise seemingly different beers from different

breweries. In general, I would suggest keeping away from most of their products

except for select beers, such as Aldara Porteris or Cēsu Nefiltrētais.

Small breweries

Special edition 1 LVL coin

In June 2011, a special edition

coin was released by

the Latvian Bank with beer

mug on the front, honouring

Latvian beer traditions

With smaller breweries it is a different story, as very diverse quality beers can be expected

from these brewers. Sometimes it is good, sometimes not that all right. A common

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practice for some small brewers involves selling the same beer with different names or

using one beer as a ‘base’ and introducing small tweaks (such as extra carbonation) to

obtain a ‘different’ beer, so the range of beers can appear larger than it actually is. Often

some of the smaller breweries go bust, during the last years it has happened to Gulbenes,

Lodiņa, Latgales and previously to many others.

In general, smaller breweries are not doing well as the most, but few have been on decline

for the couple of years and I believe it is mostly due to bad management practices.

Latvians seem to embrace ‘hit and run’ tactics - at first a fair quality beer is introduced,

but after the demand increases, the owner immediately puts a ridiculous surcharge, possibly

even sells a beer brewed elsewhere under its name that leads to inevitable quality

issues.

Unfortunately it does not seem that all brewers are seriously involved in any long-term

planning, some just go with flow, blaming everyone else, mostly government and homebrewers

for their own faults. This type of tactics has clearly not yielded any results, as the

market share of small Latvian brewers has fallen below 10% in 2010. It was more than

20% just less than a decade ago and there is no sign for this tendency to decline.

Lodiņa Brewery in

Bauska.

Lodiņa brewery,

operating from 1873

- 1950s was opened

again in 2004 in the

historic buildings

under a new owenership

and with lots of

promises. It managed

to last for just under 5

years. There are plenty

of similar stories

in Latvia - Gulbene,

Vārpa, Kimmel, just

to name a few.

Dzīvais alus (Live beer)

Live beer is an interesting concept that is quite popular in Latvia and some surrounding

countries, most notably Russia and Lithuania. It is generally assumed, mostly by supporters

of the national beer (meaning that origin of the beer is far more important than

its taste), that there is a special type of beer that has significantly better flavour, in addition

to being healthy. This beer is called ‘live beer’ and this definition has nothing to do

with CAMRA’s cask ale.

Although many locals tend to assume that this concept has been known for many years,

its origins in Latvia can be traced back to mid-nineties when Lāčplēša brewery released

its Dzīvais alus (Live beer), the same term was also used by Užavas brewery. Prior to that,

this term was rarely used and never in this particular context. It is quite possible that

Latvian simply borrowed the term from Russia where it has been utilised much more

extensively. During the Soviet times, only state approved names for beer could be used

and all-pervasive state standartisation system would not allow for such loosely defined

criateria to exist.

In order for beer to be considered live, usually several arbitrary conditions have to be

met. Some of them are mentioned below; the concept of live beer usually includes not

all, but a few of them:

- live beer can not be pasteurised,

- live beer can not be filtered and pasteurised,

- beer only from small breweries can be considered live,

- live beer does not contain any E-substances (any food supplement classified by the

EU and containing a letter E in its abbreviation. E300, E209, you know the drill),

- only draught beer is live.

What is more important, many breweries, instead of trying to educate customers about

properties of beer, try to use this obscure term for their advantage as a marketing tool.

One of tricks used include not filtering the beer, but pasteurising it. Yest is dead and does

not contribute to the taste, but public seems to love the haze it generates. And the brewer

can safely claim that he is brewing live beer - there is yeast in the bottle, after all.

No Latvian brewery who actually claims to be a brewer of live beer would be able to

define precisely what live beer actually is and why his own beer qualifies for it and others

not. Only one thing is certain - live beer can be sold for much better price than ‘industrial’

beer.

I would suggest not paying any attention to live beer and waste your time seeking for

it. Some of the most acclaimed live beers are bad and there is no need to overpay just

because of some local hype.

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Kvass

In addition to beer, another similar beverege - kvass, has been popular for several centuries

not only in Latvia, but also in other parts of the former Russian Empire and the

Soviet Union. Historically it is a traditional low alcohol drink made from barley and rye

malt. As Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire up to 1917, kvass gradually became

popular also in this region.

Kvass is brewed similarly to beer, but with different yeast strain and its ABV does not

exceed 1.0%; usually it is even lower, less than 0.5%. However, according to the Latvian

legislation, a substance can be regarded as alcoholic only if its ABV exceeds 1.2%.

Kvass barrel from

Soviet times

Once a common sight

in many public places,

it was prohibited from

use citing to health and

safety reasons, however

one can still find then

in Russia and Ukraine.

It always brings back

nostalgic memories

and urban myths

about worms that were

reportedly frequent

inhabitants of dirty

barrels.

Kvass gained immense popularity during Soviet times and was frequently purchased on

draught on the street from barrels such as one visible above. It was often accompanied

by another barrel containing beer.

Nowadays one has to be careful when buying it. First of all, it has been defined in the

national legislation that only naturally fermented drinks can be called ‘kvass’ (or ‘kvasa

dzēriens’ (kvass beverage) or ‘iesala dzēriens’ (malt beverage)). This incentive was introduced

because supposedly more and more artificial lemonades, bearing similar look and

aroma to kvass were introduced in the market. Still, that same legislation implies that

addition of lactic acid, ascrobic acid, citric acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate

also can be regarded as a part of a natural process. However, the most important is the

addition of sugar, therefore read the label carefully, it may turn out that even very natural

kvass is not so very healthy after all and has the same health benefits as Pepsi or Coke.

It has to be kept in mind that not all companies that sell kvass, really produce it. It is also

imported from Ukraine and Belarus bearing “traditional Latvian” labels. On the other

hand, it is difficult to deny that kvass is a geniune Russian/Ukrainian drink therefore it is

best made in its fatherland. Currently several Latvian breweries (Aldaris, Bauskas, Cēsu,

Piebalgas) brew their own kvass, but it can be expected that more breweries will follow

soon. It is no secret that kvass and bottled water is easier money than beer.

There is one dedicated kvass-only brewery in Latvia that is also the sole producer of malt

extract - Iļģuciema brewery or Ilgezeem as it has fashionably renamed itself, mimicking

Latvian spelling of the 19th century. Iļģuciema has a long history of brewing both kvass

and beer under different names, its production has ceased from time to time during

the 20th century, but since 1998 it is producing only kvass. They also sell beer under

Ilgezeem brand name, but it is EU brewed with unknown origins. Most of Iļģuciema

customers do not notice it anyway. Iļģuciema is currently expanding and installing new

equipment as demand for its kvass has grown considerably not only domestically, but

also abroad.

Iļguciems kvass brewery, located in a historic brewery building in Riga suburbs

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Homebrewing

For a very long time homebrewing in Latvia has been mostly associated with “traditional”

country style beer that frequently is treacherous. This beer is often made in all-wood

barrels and pots from homemade malt, wild hops, bread yeast and more often than not,

has not been matured enough. A popular wisdom is that 1 or 2 days of primary fermentation

is more than sufficient and sugar can been added generously to aid a swift formation

of alcohol. The second fermentation can take place in a wooden barrel for 2 more

days, but not much longer as a multitude of bacteria usually present in such barrels start

to manifest themselves. The result, as expected, can be quite varied and unpredictable.

Even swift arrival of drunkness and intense hungover can be considered to be a part of

homebrew tradition as well.

During the last decade American homebrewing traditions have reached Latvia and have

been embraced by mostly younger generation that are not used to above mentioned

country drinks and often do not find their flavour palatable. Currently one of the biggest

difficulties is the availability of brewing ingredients as some speciality malts have to be

ordered from the Western Europe and the USA, but situation is improving rapidly.

Still, if one mentions geniune Latvian homebrew, in 90 cases out of 100 Latvians would

associate it with sweet, possibly diacetyl laden beer, brewed with the same methods and

wooden vessels used two or three centuries ago in the Latvian countryside.

Homebrew meet

Similarly with such meetings all over the world, Latvian homebrewers regularly meet all year long to

taste beer and hold collaborative brewing sessions. Consult forums.kupla.lv for more details if you would

like to attend one.

Annual Aizpute homebrew meet

Gordon brewing on his

HERMS during Aizpute

2011 homebrew meet

Although Gordon who

moved to Latvia from the

USA a few years ago was

the first to homebrew using

HERMS (Heat Exchanged

Recirculating Mash System),

several other Latvians now

have built or are building

their own systems

In May 7 and 8, 2011 many Latvian hombrewers met again for the second homebrew

meet in Aizpute (town in Kurzeme region) where during the course of three days many

kegs and bottles homebrew is consumed, homebrew competition is held and several collaborative

brewing sessions take place using both modern and more older techniques.

Also Lithunian homebrewers as well as other international beer enthusiasts have attended

this meeting and in order to gain more homebrew “converts”, general public is invited

to attend brewing sessions. It is expected that a similar event will take place also in 2012

- consult kupla.lv for further details.

KUPLA (movement for good beer) - kupla.lv

In 2010 a non-governmental organisation was started by several homebrewers. One of its

main aims is spreading knowledge about beer, as most of the current Latvian beers lack

diversity and character. KUPLA is heavily involved in homebrew activities and hosts the

only Latvian homebrew forum (forums.kupla.lv), organises regular meetings as well as

trips to breweries. If you are in Latvia for more than a couple of weeks, but do not know

where to get the necessary ingredients or just want to chat with fellow homebrewers, feel

free to visit the forum (English posts are ok) or drop an email to alus@kupla.lv.

17


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Jāņi - the ultimate Latvian beer holiday

There is a holiday and then there is Jāņi - certainly the largest and by far most significant

Latvian holiday. It is supposed to be set around the summer solstice, but is actually

celebrated a day or two afterwards - on the evening of 23 June (it is called called Līgo

evening) and 24 June when it is called Jāņi (it is no coincidence that Jānis is also the most

popular Latvian male name).

Jāņi is an official 2 day holiday that is often extended, e.g. there were three official holidays

in 2010 in addition to a weekend, so it made five days of uninterrupted celebration

in total. Jāņi are based solely on ancient pagan traditions that pre-date the introduction

of Christianity during the 12th century and even 700 years of forced Christianity could

not make a difference. Although some loose mention of St.John can be found around

this time, even seemingly devout Latvian Christians seem not to mind actively taking

part in pagan celebrations. During Jāņi most people try to leave the city, therefore Riga

and other larger towns might look like they were hit by a deadly virus, so certainly it is

not a good idea to make a pub crawl during this time. Many business are closed during

this holiday.

The true meaning of most Jāņi traditions have not survived, except for food consumption

habits, bonfires and careless mating. One of the main elements is to consume as

much as beer as possible, eat cheese, sit by the bonfire (as well as to jump over it), sing

and possibly look for a love affair during the short night - it is euphimistically called

searching for the flower of the fern (meklēt paperdes ziedu). The part with regards to

beer is always succesfully realised to the full extent and not much energy remains for

the search of the elusive flower. Police and emergency services would easily testify that

as a large number of accidents almost exclusively caused by drunk driving take place

around Jāņi.

Jāņi is also the time to taste the real Latvian homebrew. There are many, especially elderly,

farmers who brew only once a year - just before Jāņi to provide refreshments for

the celebration, using decades old techniques, old wooden barrels and other interesting

pieces of equipment that might belong in the museum. It is always exciting to watch this

process, so if there is an opportunity to see it, do not miss it.

Jāņi is obviously also the most important time of the year for any Latvian brewery, as a

significant part of the total yearly production (demand is at least triple if compared to

any other month) is sold just within a few days, often at elevated prices. Retail stores may

place orders as early as several weeks in advance, sometimes even pre-paying to ensure

enough stock. During 23 June, just before the main celebration kicks in, one can be sure

that almost not a drop of beer remains in the maturing tanks of the small breweries.

Most people plan their beer purchases for Jāņi well in advance.

Traditional style homebrewing

After mashing (on the left - it takes some effort to mix the malt with water in the large wooden barrel

all through) the wort is being transferred to lauter tun (it is filled only partly in the picture on the

right) where it rests for up to one hour before it is sparged and filtered through juniper branches, but

also straw may be used. According to more traditional approach, the wort is not boiled (only hops,

usually Latvian wild varieties, are boiled separately), but goes straight to the fermenation vessel.

Although it might seem a golden time for everyone in the beer industry, Jāņi also has

its negative sides that are felt mostly by consumers. Brewers are very tempted to mature

their beers just for a couple of days less than they should and to perform other operations

that enable breweries to produce more beer and help to cope with demand. Even

so, during the last years, aided by the financial crisis, brewers have realised that abusing

the trust of their customers for a short-term profit may have negative consequences in

the long-term and such a behaviour has become much rarer now.

On the other hand, maybe one should not worry about quality issues around Jāņi too

much as also simple drinks are more than sufficient for getting drunk.

19


20

Cēsu

dubious claims

back to 1590

Aldaris

dubious claims

back to 1865

Date of foundation of still existing Latvian breweries

Lāčplēša

brewery closed

and brand merged

with Līvu in 2008

Abula (Brenguļu)

Tērvetes

Although some (Aldaris and Cēsu) often state that their breweries were founded earlier than 20th century, these

claims can be easily dismissed as marketing fairy tales. It has to be noted that Aldaris, Cēsu and Lāčplēša all do not

even operate in their historical buildings and all have changed their ownership and management completely for several

times during the 90ies.

Bauskas

Piebalgas

Krāslavas

Brūveris

The only truly historical brewery, operating in the historical premises and under the successive management is Brenguļu brewery, followed by Tērvetes and

Bauskas, all founded during the Soviet times. The rest of breweries are relatively new operations.

Līvu

LIDO

Brālis

Madonas

Valmiermuižas

Rēzeknes

21


22

Latvian beer - the best beer there is?

Latvians, just as almost any European nation take pride in their beer. There are enough

breweries to choose from and everyone has their favourites. On the other hand, many

Latvians, just as almost any other nation, despite constant bickering about the decline of

the beer industry, do not take the the criticism from outside too well.

It is difficult for me to describe the Latvian beer industry on strictly objective terms.

Firstly, despite being a small-scale homebrewer, I have never studied brewing other than

reading a couple of homebrew books and subscribing to beer magazines and my day-job

does not involve any beer related matters. Secondly, I am a Latvian; in Latvia everyone

knows each other and the least thing you want to do is to say anything even remotely bad

in the public about someone you might encounter sooner or later.

However, I do not think sweet lies are the best option. Many of the Latvian printed

tourist guidebooks would not agree, most probably because they do not care. Or their

advertisers prefer that way.

It should also be mentioned in the beginning that it would be impossible to judge the

current selection of Latvian beer entirely by the same standards as American or British

craft beers; unfortunately many of the Latvian brews still have a long way to go. This is

accompanied by almost extreme reluctance from the side of Latvian breweries to try

brewing anything else than standard European pale and dark lagers. Unfortunately it

seems there is a also a certain lack of qualified Latvian brewers - it is no secret that

almost all new Latvian beers that have been introduced since 1990 have been either

bought abroad or have been introduced under the supervision of foreign, mostly German,

brewers.

Of course, not everything is very gloomy, as the situation is improving steadily, there

are some nice beers to be found therefore I hope you would be able to bring home some

pleasant memories about the Latvian beer.

How is the guide organised?

It is no easy task to provide a good overall information about the breweries, especially

to someone who has not heard neither anything about the brewery, nor the beer that it

produces. It also has to be taken into account that Latvian breweries rarely make any

other information public except for fairy tale style legends. Unfortunately that is why

one should not trust what breweries are saying, even on official tours one can hear outright

lies.

Most numbers mentioned are my estimates, but they represent the reality well enough

(errors of up to 15% are possible). Information on precise production volumes is regarded

as sensitive information and there is no official data available.

In addition, all the beers have been rated to some extent. Although in the previous edition

my personal rating for each and every beer was added, now I have combined my

thoughts with the opinion of almost 400 readers of my blog to evaluate which are the

best brews.

Only up to five of beers are highlighted for each brewery, as I did not feel there was any

need to include all average and below average beers, in most cases they are not worth

drinking and only a serious ‘ticker’ might be interested.

It can be suggested you try this beer. It is also one of the

most favourite brews of many Latvian and it may represent

some of the better traditions of local brewing

The beer is generally regarded as good, it might be a good

idea to try it

This beer is quite suitable for drinking

It has to be mentioned that RateBeer people are also doing a good job of keeping very

close watch on current offerings of Latvian breweries and it might be a good idea to have

a look there as well. BeerAdvocate would much poorer choice, as its information on

European breweries leaves a lot to be desired.

23


Abula (brenguļu)

24

Beverīnas novads

Brenguļi

190

thousand litres

brewed annually

no website

production stats of the brewery in 2010

0.13 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Their beer is known by two names, it is the most commonly called as Brenguļu (after the

village where the brewery is located) yet the brewery still often refers to itself as Abula,

its legal name. It is often true that many Latvians know this brewery only by the name

Brenguļu, so be sure to use the latter when asking someone where to get it.

Abula is a tiny establishment that could be regarded as the most well-known of Latvian

nano breweries. None their beers are not bottled. Nowadays many beer drinkers still

visit the brewery to buy the fresh produce on the spot, but their beer is widely available

on-tap also in Riga and other large Latvian towns.

Abula brewery was started in 1969 by a local collective farm and produced just one sort

of beer for several decades. The beer was never inteneded for a large-scale production

and it was mainly sold to thirsty locals. In 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union,

the brewery and the small hydropower plant on Abula river (both are located in the

same building) was privatised by the Freivaldu family who continued brewing and with

a help of a German brewer expanded the selection of beers available to two, starting to

brew a pale beer as well, so now there both a pale and a dark lager is available. Just until

a few years ago the brewery used only locally grown grain from the neighbouring farmers,

but cheaper and easily available Lithuanian malt has taken a firm hold also in the

Brenguļu brewery, just like in all others.

In my opinion, Brenguļu beer represents some of the most common features that would

characterise a typical and slightly older tradition of Latvian beer – dominated by sweet

malt, but quite drinkable. Brenguļu beer is sometimes blamed for producing amazing

headaches and sickness the next morning if consumed in large volumes, but one should

not expect that excessive drinking would bring any health benefits anyway.

For several years in a row the brewery has been expanding rapidly, mostly by adding new

fermenting tanks and its sales volume rose significantly even during the recent financial

crisis.

The building of Abula brewery

The building of the brewery is located on the dam of Abuls river, a few kilometers before it

flows into Gauja river. Tha same building also houses a small hydropower plant.

sights and attractions around the brewery

Brenguļu brewery is located in a small and otherwise rather insignificant village. However,

just a few kilometres away there is a town of Valmiera – the largest town of Vidzeme

region with enough activities to fill at least a day, if not the entire weekend.

• www.valmiera.lv

25


26

brenguļu beers

gaišais 5.6% (pale lager)

tumšais 5.6% (munich dunkel)

both draught only

You love them or you hate them - there is no other option. For some it is the best Latvian

beer, for others - a diacetyl bomb, promting discussion whether the buttery taste, quite

often found in Brenguļu brews can be regarded as brewing fault or part of the national

taste preference.

If one wants to know what a traditional Latvian miestiņš or a homebrew is, after trying

Abula and Krāslavas beers - both Pale and Dark, quite good impression could be formed.

Abula (Brenguļu) Tumšais

ABV 5.6%, Munich Dunkel

The original beer that for long time was known mostly locally, but its fame spread fast

soon after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Tumšais is murky dark brown with thin, almost

non-existent lacing and full of very small carbonation

bubbles. Aroma reminds of sweetish straw,

slightly reminds of a farmhouse.

Taste is malty sweetness, quite similar to the Pale

with more alcohol leaving a thick layer of sugary

coating. Mouthfeel is thick and even slightly creamy,

certainly not loaded with carbonation. Despite the

ever present sweetness it suprisingly has a very good

drinkability.

Brenguļu Tumšais is a dark country brew at its best,

especially if compared to its direct competitors -

Madonas and Krāslavas and a golden standard for

many Abula fans out there.

Abula (Brenguļu) Gaišais

ABV 5.6%, Pale Lager

This is not the original beer as Abula Gaišais (Pale) was developed later in the 90s, before

that, only its dark brother was brewed. The beer is neither filtered nor pasteurised,

it is not bottled as well, so it would be difficult to bring to back home. Try visiting any

draught beer shop to buy this beer in plastic bottle that will hold for a couple of days.

Also quite many bars in Riga carry this beer on-tap as well.

Abula Gaišais pours yellow golden with a small and foamy head that fades rather soon,

aroma is faint, almost non-existent.

Taste is sweet. Almost a blow of sweetness that lets out some minor herbal bitterness

after a while, but sweetness certainly dominates; it is not cloying. At the end of the glass

notes of alcohol and faint yeasty flavours

can be felt as well, overall the taste does

not seem to be a very pleasant experience.

One more disadvantage is that the quality

of Abula/Berguļu beer is not consistent,

its taste can be rather varied from

time to time and it often feels that the

beer has not been matured enough. It

is not that I always enjoy such games,

especially taking into account its rather

elevated price and restricted availability.

27


28

Rīga

Tvaika iela 44

aldaris

62 000

thousand litres

brewed annually

aldaris.lv

@aldarisalus

production stats of the brewery in 2010

43 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Aldaris is the biggest Latvian brewery, owned by Carlsberg and currently controls about

half of the Latvian market - its market share has remained steady from the beginning of

1990ies and there is little doubt it will continue this way. Carlsberg is clearly the biggest

player also in the Baltic beer market and it churns out the same typical standard European

lagers as in the rest of Carlsberg plants all over the world.

Although Aldaris boasts that it was established as early as in 1865, it all really started in

1937 when the authoritarian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis in a true spirit of populist ideas

decided it was time to privatise the most profitable businesses, conveniently owned by

foreigners. Mostly Jews and Germans; both were not liked. With regards to nationalisation

of breweries, it was publicly claimed that swift actions are required to to finish with

the beer cartel that controlled most of the Latvian beer and was partly responsible for

the high beer prices. Latvijas Kredītbanka, operating under the State protection and using

suspect methods acquired Iļģuciema brewery and several others, closed all of them

and purchased state-of-the-art brewing equipment that was installed in the premises of

former Waldschlosschen brewery to provide cheap beer for the thirsty masses.

The brewery remained almost intact during the Second World War and produced loads

of beer for both German and Soviet soldiers. During the Soviet times Aldaris still remained

as the largest brewery in the Latvia and was one of the showcase breweries of

the Soviet Union. It was bought in 1993 by Finnish Pripps (later sold to Carlsberg) that

simultaneously acquired the largest breweries in all three Baltic countries and merged

some of their operations.

All of the current beers were introduced in the mid-nineties and the offer has remained

almost constant since. It has to be noted that no one missed the Soviet brews too much

- although the recipes were not bad, often the beer turned sour within days as the most

workers could care less about the quality of brew they produced. Aldaris, taking the

best from the Western brewing traditions, also is one of the few Latvian brewers to use

adjucts, such as corn, but usually is too shy to admit this fact to the public. It, in par with

other large Latvian breweries does not list ingredients on labels.

In general, it will be impossible to miss Aldaris products while in Latvia. It has enough

funds to provide for ample advertising and promotion, but despite this, many Latvian

beer lovers publicly reject most of Aldaris beers and calls it names. Still, Aldaris brews

are hugely popular amongst general Latvian population, mostly because of the extremely

attractive price (cheaper than bottled water) and the brewing giant undoubtedly does it

best to promote their modern industrial lagers as a part of older Latvian tradition.

Although it might seem that Aldaris brews a large variety of beers, unfortunately most of

them are too similar to each other. The selection mostly is represented by low priced and

not so high quality watery lagers, so called ‘economic beers’. There are a few exceptions

though, most notable being Porteris that is discussed in more detail in the proceeding

pages.

Aldaris, following the latest craze with regards to live beer, also released an unfiltered

beer in 2010, although the former head of the brewery V. Gavrilovs had always voiced

an opinion in the media that unfiltered beer is a low quality product. Aldaris version

(Dūmaku that means Smoky) is also an interesting product, because the beer is pasteurized

meaning that the bottle is filled with loads of dead yeast cells - that haze is for the

looks, not the taste.

In addition, Aldaris also brews Carlsberg for distribution in other Eastern European

countries, as well as beer for its sister breweries in Estonia and Lithuania - Saku and

Švyturis. There is no canning line in Aldaris, therefore most of canned Aldaris beers are

brewed in Estonia, but its wheat beer (Kviešu) is brewed by Lithuanian Švyturis.

sights and attractions around the brewery

Sarkandaugava is a former industrial district that was not even a part of Riga when the

pre-Aldaris brewery was founded in the 19th century. If abandoned industrial areas and

typical Soviet style housing is your main interest, the surroundings of Aldaris might be

even worth visiting. It would be a nice idea to take a bicycle and pedal around, because

large distances might be too exhausting on foot.

29


The main boiling room (above) and control panel of the boiling room (below)

Aldaris certainly boasts the most impressive boiling room of all Latvian breweries with six huge boiling

kettles that operate round the clock for most of the year. In the same time, the brewery, in contrary

to other large and small Latvian breweries, relies on Chzechoslovak equipment installed in the beginning

of 1980s. In many locations throughout the brewery, a combination of old and new co-exist side

by side, as in the main control below, visible below.

30

aldaris in the world beer cup

Aldaris is the only Latvian brewery that has taken part in the World Beer Cup on a regular

basis since the end of the 90ies. It has had success, mostly with Aldaris Luksus, but is

hard to say whether or not also other Latvian breweries would bring some medals home

if they chose to participate.

Some people have been rather suspicious about this success and rumours had been

heard that Aldaris Luksus used for presentation purposes tastes way better than the one

in the shops. On the other hand, that difference can be also easily attributed to storage

temperatures, freshness, exposure to light and many other factors.

Bronze

Gold

Bronze

Silver

Luksus 1998 Dortmunder/Export

Luksus 2008 Dortmunder/Export

Latvijas Sevišķais 2008 Märzen

Tumšais

(no longer brewed)

2000 Schwarzbier

Despite the criticism, no other brewery has had any significant international fame during

the last two ot three decades. From time to time local tasting events are held by the

Latvian Breweries Association where some of the Latvian breweries participate and all

claim awards - during the last couple of years all entries have been declared as being

either very good or excellent.

There is no way these tastings could be regarded as even remotely objective, as judges

usually work in the participating breweries and might have rather significant influence

on the final result. It would be more appropriate to say that such competitions are more

publicity stunts to pay attention to beer when the beer drinking season starts in May.

31


32

aldaris beers

porteris 6.8% (baltic porter)

luksus 5.2% (dortmunder)

zelta black 4.2% (schwarzbier)

zelta 5.2% (pale Lager)

pilzenes 4.2% (german pils)

latvijas sevišķais 5.0% Märzen

Aldaris brews mostly cheap-end beers, that is the fact. Especially be aware of Apinītis series,

do not buy it under any circumstances, as seldom worse beers can be encountered;

it is very ironic that one of Apinītis beers is called ‘premium.

On the other hand, all these beers can be easily excused if Porteris is considered. Aldaris

is the only Latvian brewery to brew Baltic Porter on a regular basis and is very careful

about not compromising its excellent quality.

Luksus

ABV 5.2%, Dortmunder/Export

Currently one of the finest pale lagers brewed by Aldaris, this one

was the first “Western-style” beer introduced in the Latvian market

after the takeover by Pripps in the beginning of 1990ies. It was

brewed in Finland before the brewing operations were transferred

to Riga and many people swear this move made it taste much

worse.

The beer was expensive when it first appeared, in a new type of

bottles and it seemed as a luxury to many people indeed. Luksus

has lost some of its appeal over the years, but still it is one of the

flagship beer of Aldaris, although many other beers outsell it by a

great margin.

It pours pale golden with noticeable grassy hops aroma. Taste is

sweet malt with refreshing and spicy hoppy background, but not

much. Refreshing beer to be drunk during hot summer day, but

not very memorable. Still, it tastes way better than most of semibland

juices produced by Aldaris.

Porteris

ABV 6.8%, Baltic Porter

Aldara Porteris is the two remaining representatives of Baltic Porters in Latvia. Beers

that belong to this interesting style, were brewed throughout Latvia along Imperial

Stouts, mostly for export to the Russian Empire as the local population could not afford

it. It was a good business until the First World War when the Russian Empire collapsed

and there were no more export possibilities.

Curiously enough, the style was revived only during

the Soviet times in 1950s and in contrast to

nowadays, Porteris was not brewed continuously,

but was available just a few times a year.

Porteris is almost black with small brownish head

that does not seem to last too long. Aroma is nice

malty with notes of bittery coffee and dark chocolate.

Taste is is even better mild roasted and sweetish

malt with coffee bitterness, notes of liquorice and

molasses, bits of raisins. The full body is smooth

and creamy with smooth carbonation - certainly

not a session beer, but for cosy winter evenings

next to the fireplace.

Clearly a king amongst Latvian dark beers, it

would difficult to imagine any other coming even

close.

It is worth noting that none of the small Latvian

breweries brews Baltic Porter citing complexity of

brewing and long maturation times as the biggest

obstacle. The only other Latvian brewery to release

any kind of Porter on a semi-regular basis, usually

for Christmas, is Cēsu - it is usually a different

recipe each year.

33


34

“Imantas”

Bauskas novads

bauskas

2 850

thousand litres

brewed annually

bauskasalus.lv

production stats of the brewery in 2010

2 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

One of the most well-known Latvian breweries opened in 1981 and from the start it

was associated with the one of the most famous Latvian brewers of the late 20th century

Kārlis Zālītis. He is over 80 now, but supposedly still works in the brewery part-time.

Kārlis Zālītis had also helped to establish Tērvetes brewery and was involved with several

other breweries before starting his very successful career in Bauskas in 1979. During

the last 10 - 15 years he has also taken part in tweaking and improving the recipes in one

way or another for nearly all Latvian breweries.

Bauskas brewery is located just outside of Bauska town, in Īslīce village. Their building is

certainly not attractive - a grey concrete construction representing the best of the typical

Soviet countryside architecture that seems to have lacked maintenance for a number of

years. But it is not the looks that matter in this case - from all the breweries that pre-date

1990s, Bauskas, Tērvetes and partly Abula are the only ones to successfully use older

recipes developed during the Soviet times that, although modified, have been able to ensure

a continuous support from beer lovers all across Latvia. The support has dwindled

for Bauskas beers a bit, as it experienced almost a 50% fall in production in 2009, but it

seems the brewery is slowly recovering and in 2011 it started to brew kvass.

Almost all Bauskas beers could be considered to be decent. Of course, many complain

that the quality of Bauskas beer is declining, because of the “commercialisation”, “globalisation”

and other rather obscure reasons, but the same talk can be often heard about

most of the Latvian breweries, maybe about Bauskas more often than about other. A few

years ago Aldaris started distribution of Bauskas beers that lead to many rumours about

possible takeover.

bauskas beers

gaišais speciālais 4.8% (pale Lager)

tumšais speciālais 5.5% (dark lager)

tumšais premium 5.5% (dark lager)

senču 4.0% (pale Lager)

Tumšais Speciālais

ABV 5.5%, Dark Lager

There are two dark lagers produced by Bauskas - Speciālais and Premium. The latter

was introduced in around 2004 to provide Bauskas customers with a beer that would

cost slightly more and would have more “exclusive” feel to it. Unfortunately it seems

that despite these efforts Speciālais still tastes better than the Premium.

Bauskas Speciālais pours dark copper with medium off-white

head that slowly fades. Aroma is mostly sweetish malt, quite

reminiscent of the black Latvian rye bread, slightly toasty.

Taste is dominated by the sweet malt with hints of caramel, some

notes of burnt and slight bitterness in the finish. Sweetish honeylike

residues are left in the aftertaste, and notes of alcohol can be

occasionally felt. It possesses that same sweetness Latvian dark

beers usually have, but at least there is not too much of it.

The feel is quite thick, certainly above moderate. I am not sure

that Tumšais Speciālais is something of unique quality - just a

good Latvian Dark Lager. If compared with Tumšais Speciālais,

Premium feels far more sweeter and certainly more watery and I

am not sure if it is worth the money.

sights and attractions around the brewery

Bauska is one of the largest towns of Zemgale region, located at the confluence of two

rivers that form Lielupe, completed with impressive ruins of a medieval castle, tolerable

Old Town and impressive Rundāle castle just nearby. • www.tourism.bauska.lv

35


36

“Ojāri”

Inčukalna novads

810

thousand litres

brewed annually

brālis

bralis.lv

production stats of the brewery in 2010

0.6 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Name of the brewery means Brother in Latvian, but some of their beers carry the label of

Inčukalna brewery and sometimes their legal name SIA “Alus Nams” (The Beer House,

Ltd.) is listed as the brewery name on bottles.

This small brewery with various names was set up in 2002. Sadly, but it concentrated on

quantity instead of quality first and payed for the mistakes by losing a significant number

of customers. Now the quality is back on track and for more than a year now their

market share is slowly, but constantly increasing, but still, it can be estimated that Brālis

uses not more than 20% of its capacity.

One of the most important facts about this brewery is that for few years were are only

ones in Latvia to bottle unfiltered beer (the ones with Nefiltrēts in the name) and what is

more important, this beer has been quite drankable.

During the winter also a spiced Christmas seasonal is available that is made using

Tumšais as a base.

Brālis brewery

It is located about 20km from Riga, in Vangaži on the right side of Riga-Sigulda highway. It is interesting

that are two shops in the front of the brewery - pub “Pie Brāļa” and shop “Brālis”. Just the

latter is owned by the brewery.

Inside the brewery, some of the fermentation tanks

Brālis theoretically is one of the largest of the small Latvian breweries, able to brew almost 50

thousand hl if operating at full capacity, but currently not doing exceeding 20% of that. It has also a

postive side, as all beers are allowed mature for some extra time.

37


38

brālis beers

gaišais nefiltrēts 5.3% (pale lager)

tumšais nefiltrēts 6.6% (dark lager)

stiprais 6.7% (strong lager)

senču 4.0% (german pils)

gaišais 5.3% (pale lager)

The range of Brālis brews is changing constantly, but most of its pale lagers are very similar,

if not the same beer with different labels. Brālis is also contract brewing the same for

Lithuanian and German breweries.

In 2010 Brālis brews started to appear also in supermarkets, but only a few of their beers

are available this way. On the other hand, enough small shops and bars in Riga carry

Brālis brews.

Brālis Tumšais Nefiltrēts

ABV 6.6%, Bock

Just a few years ago Tumšais (Dark) was a strictly seasonal beer,

available only around Jāņi and Christmas (last year a spiced version

was offered as well), but for at least half a year or more it is

available on a constant basis.

Brālis Tumšais is not that very similar to other Latvian dark lagers

- it is not even half of the usual sweetness with somewhat nice

Bock qualities.

Beer pours semi-hazy orange brown with small, but dense offwhite

head. Aroma is wonderful light sweet malt with a touch of

alcohol. Taste is malty with harsh bittery tones and ever increasing

presence of alcohol.

Overall, an interesting beer, but the whole 1l bottle (it is not available

in smaller volumes) seems to be too excessive for a single

person use. A similar beer to Tumšais is Brālis Stiprais, but the

taste of the latter seems to vary from time to time.

Brālis Gaišais Nefiltrēts

ABV 5.3%, Pale Lager

The name simply means Brālis Pale Unfiltered. For many years it was the only unpasteurised

and unfiltered Latvian beer that is bottled. It can be easily confused with its

filtered version, labels are almost identical, so read them carefully. Gaišais Nefiltrētais

can be bought only in a few locations.

Beer is slightly hazy pale yellow with bubbly

head that soon fades to white layer, it is by no

means not the most attractive one around.

Smell is mostly faint citrus malt.

But is the taste that matters the most in this

case - malt is very well balanced with grassy

bitterness and a touch of fruit; medium-dry finish

with long lingering bittery citrus aftertaste.

Clean, refreshing and drinkable - this is very

seldom the case with other typical Latvian pale

lagers that frequently are too sweet and with

repulsive flavours.

Brālis Gaišais Nefiltrēts could be considered

nothing too particular in most of more popular

beer destinations in other regions, but it is

something worth its quite high price in Latvia.

I usually give this beer some extra credit for

showing to sometimes very conservative

Latvian commercial brewing scene that also

unfiltered beers can be fine even if bottled.

39


40

Podraga iela 1a

Rīga

brūveris

390

thousand litres

brewed annually

bruveris.lv

production stats of the brewery in 2010

0.3 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

This brewery with rather mundane name meaning The Brewer was founded already in

1993 and is quite a good example of very interesting businesses practices that developed

in the beginning on 1990s in post-communist Latvia.

Brewery was called “Sandriko” first and the company initially intended to produce telephones.

It soon switched to become a factory of premium quality crystal lamps and

only then, after considerable Austrian investment, it started brewing and production

of food. It is even more interesting that its director for some period of time was former

Latvian minister of interior who, in a newspaper interview in 1997 when asked when the

initial four million USD investment in the brewery would pay back, answered that never.

However, already by the next year Sandriko bought the premises of the former Liepaja

brewery that has been recently closed and promised further 4 million Ls investment that

would enable to commence brewing on a grand scale there. These plans never materialised,

possibly because much larger investment was required.

Still, the original brewery in Riga survived, albeit under a different legal name and currently

some of its beers are known under the brand name “Ingvera” (Ginger) and are

still produced using Austrian recipes. As the name says, these are ginger beers - average

according to European, but quite good for Latvian standards.

During the recent years a couple more interesting brews by Brūveris have appeared and

currently this brewery can be considered as a leader in Latvia with regards to different

beer styles. However, not all of its beers are drinkable, but at least their range of products

is not as boring as it is for several other Latvian brewers. .

Despite the large range of beers and presence in most Latvian supermarkets, Brūveris is

not very well-known to Latvian consumers. on the other hand, it seems that the brewery

is satisfied with the existing fan-base it has and the output has been steady for years,

although during the last years Brūveris has not fared as well as expected. It has also shut

down some of its beers, although one can not be always certain as they sometimes keep

re-appearing several years later.

The sign says - Production premises

The brewery is located in the outskirts of Riga,

in rather unattractive industrial area. It does

not seem that anyone from the brewery really

cares about the appearance.

sights and attractions around the brewery

The district of Iļģuciems has solid a solid history of brewing and manufacturing in general.

It is still very industrial and unattractive area located in the vicinity of the busy Riga

port. However, the brewery is surrounded by a high fence and there is absolutely nothing

to see. Excursions are not available.

41


42

brūveris beers

ingver alus sarkanais 5.4% (vienna lager)

ingver alus melnais 7.0% (schwarzbier)

ingver alus gaišais 4.7% (pale lager)

kviešu 3.9% (american wheat)

rīgas gaišais 5.2% (pale lager)

Brūveris brews a large and ever changing variety of beers. During the last years it has

become as one of the leading producers of unpalatable artificially flavoured beers (grape,

pear, apple and raspberry) that should be avoided. It also is the first one to produce a

‘bio-beer with similarly awful taste.

Kviešu

ABV 3.9%, American Wheat Beer

The first original Latvian wheat beer, made using Austrian recipes - I

did not invent this, it says so on the bottle. On a side note it also adds

that ‘live’ yeast found in the bottle is healthy. Brūveris Kviešu is rather

strange wheat beer that can be seldom found in Hefeweizen dominated

Europe - a wheat lager. It is even not filtered.

Altough the appearance of the beer is not too bad - murky brown liquid

with soft and dense slightly off-white head with excellent retention

that forms good looking and slowly downsliding lacing, it gets worse

when it gets to smell. Aroma is dominated by bready yeast, reminding

of all those hastily brewed Latvian homebrews made with bread yeast

and an addition of sugar to speed up the fermentation.

Taste does not seem to fare better - thick and somewhat flat sweet and

sour beer with significant presence of not very pleasant yeast that also

dominates the aftertaste. It all does not seem to be a nice and enjoyable

combination. It might be interesting to try Brūveris Kviešu out of

curiousity, but not as way to quench thirst on a hot summer day.

Ingver Alus Sarkanais

ABV 5.4%, Vienna Lager

Name of the beer means “ Red Ginger Beer” and it has ginger listed as an ingredient.

It has to be noted that Brūveris one of a handful of Latvian breweries to actually list all

the ingredients on the bottle, meaning that some breweries use cheaper adjuncts quite

happily.

The beer is reddish coppery with dense generous and creamy off-white head that leaves

large thick and patchy lacing. Aroma is malty, some

slight fruitiness and spice.

Taste seems to be dominated by bready malt with

hints of toasty and an interesting touch of ginger.

Medium-dry finish, malty and long lasting aftertaste

with low hoppy bitterness setting in. The beer

has quite thick and sticky feel to it with some sugary

residues remaining on the lips.

This beer, along with other Ingver brews by

Brūveris is quite distinct from the beers offered

by other Latvian breweries and although Austrian

recipes are to blame, the result is quite satisfactory.

43


44

Aldaru laukums 1

Cēsis

39 800

thousand litres

brewed annually

cēsu

cesualus.lv

@cesualus

production stats of the brewery in 2010

27 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Cēsu promotes itself as the oldest Latvian brewery and claims it was started as early as in

the 16th century in one of the most impressive Livonian castles, now in the form of im-

pressive ruins (a must-see if visiting Cēsis). As usually, most of the story is exaggerated

as it well known that there were breweries in also other castles and manors during that

time, but were not properly documented. Almost until the end of the 20th century Cēsu

brewery was a small locally owned operation that made reasonably good beer.

Its hour of glory came in 1999 when Finnish Olvi (via Estonian A. Le Coq) bought the

brewery, constructed completely new production premises in 2001 in the outskirts of

Cēsis and started production on a far grander scale. Unfortunately several Cēsu beers

are watery, lack both flavour and aroma, but occasional brews are fine, such as their seasonal

Porters or unfiltered pale lager. Otherwise Cēsis produces an impressive array of

American Adjunct Lagers - all the light and extra light beers one could possibly imagine.

Most of them are filled in 1,5 and 2 liter PET bottles and intended for folks with little

money, but very unhealthy drinking habits.

Cēsu Alus and its sister breweries in Lithuania and Estonia (Ragutis and A. Le Coq

respectively), similarly to other large Baltic breweries, do not hesitate to distribute the

same beer with almost identical labels in all the Baltic countries. Cēsu Special 1590,

brewed just until recently, is a good example. If you would happen to visiting either Lith-

uania or Estonia you would notice the same looking beer (label and bottle), but under

the different name - it is called A. Le Coq Special 1807 in Estonia and Wolfas Engelman

Rinktinis in Estonia.

When visiting Cēsis, it might be interesting to have a look at the old brewery, still intact,

but not accessible to the public. The building is located close to the Cēsu castle.

Boiling and mashing vessels of Cēsu brewery

Head brewer of Cēsu Māris Grambergs can be seen inspecting the results of the boil.

Canning line of Cēsu brewery

Cēsis is the only Latvian brewery that actually has a canning line installed, so all of their

canned beer originates in Latvia

sights and attractions around the brewery

Cēsis is one of the most interesting and picturesque towns of Vidzeme region, and with

plenty of activities for anyone. One has to be careful as the former Cēsu brewery building

is located close to the castle in the middle of the town, while the current one can be

found in the outskirts of the town. • www.cesis.lv

45


46

cēsu beers

nefiltrētais 5.4% (pale lager)

mītava 5.0% (pale lager)

premium 5.2% (pale lager)

pilsener 4.7% (german pils)

speciālais 1590 5.2% (pale lager)

While Cēsis is responsible for undrinkable RIMI supermarket beer series Walter, it has

several rather palatable and reasonably priced brews to offer, namely Pilsener (canned

only) and Mītava.

Cēsu does not produce any dark lagers, except for its seasonal Baltic Porter, released in

December, brewed each year using a different recipe.

Nefiltrētais

ABV 5.4%, Pale Lager

In 2010 Cēsis was the first large Latvian brewery to introduce an

unfiltered beer to the market. It was the original high gravity beer

that is usually diluted to produce a variety of pale lagers. This “unfiltered

experiment” with 6,4% ABV turned out to be reasonably

good tasting beer was met with unexpectedly warm reception;

demand soon exceeded supply and in spring 2011 Cēsis released it

bottled. Its ABV was lowered by 1% though.

It pours slightly hazy dark amber with small, but dense head.

Aroma is malty and grainy, with bits of herbal hops in the background.

Taste is similiar to aroma with gentle herbal aftertaste and hints

of yeast, not typically found in any other Cēsu beers. Mouthfeel

is medium with average carbonation and faint warming feel. It

clearly stands out amongst other brews made in Cēsis.

Mītava

ABV 5.0%, Pale Lager

Mītava is one of the most successful Latvian beers as it managed to conquer rather

large market share in a comparatively short time. It was introduced several years ago

in rather interesting fashion - the story behind the beer supposedly is that the grand-

father of one of the members of Latvia’s most well known pop groups Prāta Vētra

(Brainstorm) created the recipe. It lay forgotten until it was discovered by the beer

loving grandson and put into use by Cēsu Alus. Of course, Prāta Vētra also set out it

advertise it. Any sensible person would understand it all sounds too perfect to be true,

but it all worked fairly. At least the advertising was different from those perfect settings

with tons of attractive and happy people pouring golden beer into their glasses.

It also proved to be different last Christmas, when

it underwent design changes, getting a synthetic

American Santa Claus on the front and it was sup-

posed to be “limited edition”. That Christmas brew

lasted well until June in the shops.

Appearance is light golden with streams of small

carbonation bubbles rising white head that soon

starts fading. Nice, no, impressive lacing that nicely

sticks to the glass. Taste as well as aroma is mostly

plain malt with bits of herbal hops. Sure it goes

down well and could be quite suitable session beer,

but I would have preferred way more charac- ter to

it.

Now it seems most of the people have forgotten

about the unusual story of its origins, but enjoy

Mītava’s rather refreshing taste that, uniquely for

Latvian beers brewed by large breweries, does not

deteriorate as the years pass by.

47


48

Vītolu iela 4

Krāslava

krāslavas

102

thousand litres

brewed annually

no website

production stats of the brewery in 2010

0.07 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

It is quite sad to think that the largest and most densely populated region of Latvia -

Latgale that was once famous for its homebrewers has only one commercial brewery

that has operated since the end of the 1980s without interruption. The smallest Latvian

brewery is located deep in the picturesque Latgale countryside, close to the border with

Belarus, more than 250 km from Riga. The beautiful area of Daugava river loops and its

valley is certainly worth the visit to this region, preferably during the summer time. If

one is there, it might be a good idea to try to taste some fresh Krāslavas beer.

The name of the brewery means Krāslava spring and it even produced its own malt when

it was started in 1988. The brewery has always been a small, but successful operation and

it does not seem that there is any expansion planned.

These beers are very good representatives of a typical sweet Latvian country style beer

and it seems that the brewery has acquired a solid customer base that likes Krāslavas

beers exactly this way. It is bottled in 1 l and 2 l PET bottles and it will spoil rather

quickly - in a week or so.

krāslavas beers

gaišais 4.0% (pale lager)

tumšais 4.8% (munich dunkel)

The brewery does not cater for a large variety and the range of beers has been constant

for over 20 years. It is only worth noting that ABV of Krāslava beers show a slow ascending

tendency; there were times when Gaišais was a solid 3.5% session beer.

Gaišais

ABV 4.0%, Pale Lager

Similarly to Abula brewery (actually both of these breweries are rather similar in many

aspects) the Pale beer was introduced later than the Dark one, but it seems that the latter

seems to be more widely distributed.

The beer is pale dark golden, slightly hazy with some

carbonation bubbles rising, several rings of weak lacing are

visible. Aroma is weak sweetish malt mostly, nothing too

interesting to it.

Taste is mostly malt, maybe a bit sourish with hints of citrus

yeast with rather long lasting sweetish malty aftertaste.

Smooth below medium mouthfeel, with weak and pleasant

carbonation.

Overall, this is pale Latvian country beer at its best, drinkable

and tasty, maybe not as sophisticated as other more

industrial Latvian beers, but certainly worth trying. It

certainly has the feel of a farmhouse beer to it and I hope it

will stay this way.

sights and attractions around the brewery

A small picturesque town situated on the banks of the picturesque Daugava river with

tens of lakes surrrounding its hilly countryside is always worth a visit.

• www.kraslava.lv

49


50

Krasta iela 76

Rīga

195

thousand litres

brewed annually

lido

lido.lv

production stats of the brewery in 2010

0.13 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

For for than 10 years it is still the only brewpub in Latvia, located in the large building

of LIDO windmill on Krasta Street that offers the best of quasi-traditional Latvian style

kitchen. It sometimes seems to me that in LIDO’s opinion every dish of the Latvian national

cuisine begs to be cooked in copious amounts of fat butter or cooking oil, so it is

all greasy and oily at the end. At least they do not use any cooking oil for making beer.

LIDO brewery was started in 1999, when the windmill building was opened. It can be

assumed that its owner Gunārs Ķirsons was inspired by the success of Užavas beer that

for several years was offered in other previous LIDO restaurants. In addition, the whole

idea of brewing must have fitted neatly into the whole concept of the traditional Latvian

themed kitsch.

Gunārs Ķirsons is one of the most interesting characters amongst all other brewers and

brewery owners mentioned here - full of ambitions and out-of-Earth ideas (one of the

founders of a society that seeked to connect Daugava river to rivers draining in the

Black Sea basin, they lack not only the support of both public and government, but also

a couple of billion euros), has been fined for petty tax avoidance, has publicly supported

a dubious political party of shady businessman that later failed during the election and

is currently offcially bankrupt. However, it is expected that brewing in LIDO would continue

anyway.

Recipes for beers and brewing technology, in contrary to what one migh suspect, were

not developed in Latvia (brought from Austria), so there is nothing uniquely Latvian

about this beer. Part of the brewery - several fermentation tanks with control panels that

shine mysteriously in the dimly lit cellars is visible to everyone in the beer cellar downstairs

that also features Latvian schlager bands on most evenings, and an extensive array

of beer snacks and plethora of other food is available upstairs.

LIDO building in Krasta street

Only a part of building is visible and it has many additional facilities all around. The beer

cellar is located downstairs.

Three different draught unfiltered/unpasteurised beers are brewed that are also available

in other LIDO locations in Riga (e.g. Alus Sēta in the very centre of the Old Riga). Food

in LIDO is better than their beer and as usually, some more variety could be expected

from the brewery. During the course of more than 10 years there have been no new beers

introduced and considering the fact that the demand for LIDO beer is on decline already

for some time, it might be about the time to make some change.

sights and attractions around the brewery

Brewery of LIDO is located next to Soviet style housing area and a busy transit street.

Just fifteen years ago the area currently filled with shopping centres was a vast empty

field. However, the residential area called Maskavas forštate with its wooden architecture

and rich history is certainly worth exploring. • www.maskfor.lv

51


52

lido beers

speciālais 4.5% (vienna lager)

medalus 4.5% (pale lager)

gaišais 4.5% (pale lager)

All of these beer are available only on tap. In case you want to take home any of LIDO’s

beer in a bottle, they offer such an option that surprisingly is terribly expensive as the

smallest one - half a liter bottle costs 3.05 Ls and that is even without the beer included.

Even worse, LIDO’s bartenders do not seem to bother by washing empty bottles before

filling (bottles are kept in open shelves for weeks and are visibly dusty), so it is very probable

that the beer will spoil immediately.

Speciālais

ABV 4.5%, Vienna Lager

I am not sure if the Speciālais is the best beer of LIDO, as also other beers are of comparable

taste and quality, but it often stands out.

Speciālais pours almost clear beautiful amber with thin, but dense slightly off-white

head that forms thin downsliding lacing. Aroma is rather rich and toasty malt with bits

of caramel. Unfortunately the taste is less attractive than aroma, soft, but plain malt

with firm and distinct bitterness and slowly drying finish. The feel is more on the thinner

side with moderate carbonation.

LIDO Speciālais is quite drinkable and refreshing beer, but nothing too remarkable. It

somehow starts to feel even watery towards the end of the glass.

Medalus

ABV 4.5%, Pale Lager

Medalus is quite an interesting one. It is translated as mead in English, but in reality it

is just a pale lager with honey flavour and aroma. Still it is one of a few beers brewed

with honey nowadays in Latvia and that seems to be quite strange considering the

long and rich mead and honey fermentation traditions

not only in Latvia, but also in other countries

around the Baltic Sea. Just before 1940 there were

several mead-only breweries in Latvia, but none

of them were operating during the Soviet-era

and none of them were revived afterwards in the

1990ies.

It might be the reason why Latvians currently use

only one word nowadays to denote both beer with

honey and real mead. Unfortunately many think

this is the same and mead simply means beer mixed

with honey before serving.

Aroma of LIDO Medalus is dominated by sugary

honey. Flavour is similar and also some presence of

floral hops can be detected. Overall, all the honey

does not feel too artificial, it maybe even boosts the

drinkability. Other than that, there is nothing worth

noting about this beer.

53


54

līvu/lāčplēša

Ganību iela 9/11

Liepāja

29 000

thousand litres

brewed annually

alus.lv

livualus.lv

production stats of the brewery in 2010

20 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

It is quite easy to say that this beer is the least Latvian of all the Latvian beers, as the

production of this brewery has been “globalised” to the maximum extent.

Lācplēsis was very famous brewery once - it was established in 1966 by one of the most

successful and rich of Latvian kolkhozs (Soviet collective farm). Lāčplēsis means the

Bear slayer and it stems from the Latvian folklore. Lāčplēsis was one of the few kolkhozs’

in Latvia that were actually under a good management and even turned in a handsome

profit. It was only natural for this collective farm to set up a brewery in the 1950s that

produced one of the most famous beers in the Soviet Latvia and many people still have

very fond memories about it. During the prohibition campaigns of the Soviet Union that

were conducted on a regular basis, but usually yielded no results at all thanks to the ingenuity

of the Soviet people that always found the way around the system, Lācplēsis beer

was brewed, labeled and sold not as beer, but as a “country drink”. The same strategy was

been employed also by other smaller breweries. Also the local municipalities were satisfied,

as it appeared in the official statistics that less beer is produced and sold therefore

showing that anti-alcohol efforts were conducted succesfully.

Unfortunately after the collapse of the USSR when the capitalism arrived, it spelled a

disaster for Lāčplēsis brewery. Kolkhoz Lāčplēsis was split up in many small entities and

although the brewing business somehow struggled forward, it was clearly not succesful.

It is interesting to note that during 1990ies it was even visited by the famous beer

journalist Michael Jackson. Towards the 2000ies a completely new brewery was built,

but even this was not enough to save Lāčplēsis from the financial disaster - it was sold,

the newly built brewery closed and all brewing activities relocated to Liepāja - home of

Līvu alus.

Līvu brewery - the other brewery of the current tandem has no history whatsoever - it

was built founded in 2000 and it has absolutely no relation with the former and rather

famous Liepāja brewery that was closed in 1998 after operating for slightly more than a

century.

Lāčplēsis himself

The Bear slayer image you will find on bottles

and cans. Lāčplēsis has bear ears and

he was fighting German crusaders during

the 12th century. It seems that more ‘premium’

beer uses the Lāčplēsis brand while

the rest goes under Līvu label

Both breweries that were merged together into one single operation - Lācplēša and Līvu

finally landed in the hands of Scandinavians - Danish Royal Unibrew. Danes also own

another brewing operation - Lithuanian Kalnapilis in Panevežys, Lithuania. It seems that

managers of Līvu/Lāčplēša, similarly to the ones of Cēsu have realised that it is easier

to conduct their operations in the Baltic States just by replicating the acitivities in all

three markets simultaneously, while feeding locals with legends of brewing heritage and

unique beers.

Products from the Līvu/Lāčplēsis and Kalnapilis are almost exactly the same - same

beers, same names, the same visual style, advertising, basically everything. It is difficult

to say which beer is of Latvian origin and which is brewed in Lithuania, it is different for

each and every beer.

sights and attractions around the brewery

An industrial town, boasting a bustling port and a large metallurgical complex with

plenty of tourist attractions. Liepāja has a rich manufacturing, trading and sea-faring

history with an unique mix of 19th and 20th century architecture. In addition there is a

beautiful nature all around it, so it is certainly worth at least a day trip.

• www.liepajaturisms.lv

55


56

līvu/lāčplēša beers

līvu nefiltrētais 7.2% (strong lager)

līvu pilzenes 4.6% (german pils)

lāčplēsis kastaņu 4.8% (english pale ale)

lāčplēsis dižalus 6.3% (strong lager)

lāčplēsis 3 iesalu 5.0% (pale lager)

There are more than ten beers brewed under both Līvu and Lāčplēša brands, most of

them horrible cheap-end lagers in 2 liter PET bottles. They are also the only ones in

Latvia to offer top fermented beers - Lāčplēšu Kastaņu (Chestnut) that is supposedly

English Pale. In 2010 they also started distributing Saison named Alfie in clear 0,33 bottles,

presumably aimed at metrosexual crowds out there.

Lāčplēsis Dižalus

ABV 6.3%, Strong Lager

Name of the beer means Grand Beer and it is one of the new additions to the Latvian

range of Harboe products, although it has been brewed for some time in Lithuania

already. It was introduced as the first ‘premium’ strong beer in Latvia - rather interesting

concept I think.

Large brewing companies usually use the term ‘premium beer’ to denote premium

prices, but even if the quality criteria are also applied, there have

been countless premium strong lagers in Latvia before Dižalus (and

the tradition of Bocks goes very long way back) and just to name

one current beer - Brālis Stiprais sure is a better one.

Dižalus is dark golden with very slightly off-white head and full of

small carbonation bubbles. Aroma is malt with slight hints of alcohol

and becomes very medicine-like towards the end.

Taste is light malt with distinct and even unpleasant herbal bitterness

that lasts well into the aftertaste as well as notes of alcohol.

Mouthfeel is light with excessive carbonation in the beginning.

Overall, not a bad strong lager, but feels too bland and watery

towards the end.

Lāčplēsis 3 Iesalu Alus

ABV 5.0%, Pale Lager

The name simply means “3 Malt Beer”. When it was first introduced it was advertised

in a manner as if any “regular” beer carries just one type of malt and only the innovative

Lāčplēsis is responsible for the discovery that different malts can be combined

together. It even had a small packet of three different malts (a few grains from each)

attached to the bottle.

Beer pours brilliant clear coppery with large and

slightly off-white head that soon fades to dirty

patches and leaves bits of downsliding pieces of

lacing. Aroma is quite weak malt with even lighter

glimpse of hops.

As could be expected from the name, the beer

tastes mostly malty. Sweetish and watery malt

with faint grassy hops and light puckering finish,

as wells as short citrusy aftertaste - everything one

could expect from an “industrial” lager. The beer

is not very thin at least and it has pleasant and

slightly prickly carbonation.

Overall, it would be difficult to say that this beer is

good. It sure quenches thirst, but it seriously lacks

flavour. However, in my opinion, this beer at least

has some bits of character as opposed to many

other beers from the same brewery.

57


58

“Bodnieki”

Madonas novads

madonas

180

thousand litres

brewed annually

no website

@madonasalus

production stats of the brewery in 2010

0.12 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Madonas brewery brews Bodnieku beer. Or is the brewery called Bodnieku? I am not

sure myself, but Madona is the town close to “Bodnieki” country house where the brewery

is located. It is all rather confusing, so I will use both names.

No one was even suspecting it, but it turns out that Madonas Bodnieku brewery has

been operating for at least eighty years, dating from 1916, retaining its brewing traditions

through both World Wars. Its trademark design and some historical photos that

are displayed in some of the beer stores are all set to convince the customer of the historical

value of this beer. Unfortunately it all looks too fake. It might seem that every new

Latvian brewery requires a legend nowadays. It does not even matter whether it at least

sounds believable. I seriously do not understand why a brewery can not be a completely

new establishment and simply brew good beer.

As far as facts are concerned, Madonas brewery in „Bodnieki” opened in 2009 and has

enjoyed a rather good start and currently has expanded from the initial 3 to about 20

tonnes of beer per month. However, there are many rumours about the inconsistent

quality of the beer and it turning sour far too soon.

The beer is available in bars and draught beer stores in Riga, mostly in those centrally

located, but it can be found much more often in the hilly Madonas area.

madonas beers

madonas bodnieku

gaišais

madonas bodnieku

stiprais

both draught only

Madonas Bodnieku

ABV 5.8%, Pale Lager

5.8% (pale lager)

8.5% (strong lager)

Madonas brewery produces two types of pale lager, but the pale version is much more

common. The strong one is brewed irregulary and can be found only in a few locations.

The beer is light hazy and nice amber with a small head that almost iimediately dissipates,

despite rather aggressive pour. Aroma is sweet malt, as expected.

Taste is thick and sweet with not that pleasant herbal

bitterness, noticeable caramel flavours and a feel of alcohol

towards the finish. It leaves some sugary residue

after the traces of bittery aftertaste are gone. Towards

the end of the glass the beer regrettably turns flat and

becomes medicine-like.

Overall, it seems to be rather simple, not well balanced

pure country style lager.

It is almost drinkable, but I am afraid there are much

better ones out there. Certainly it is not worth the high

price it currently costs. It seems that the owners have

tried to emulate Valmiermuižas in some aspects (at

least in setting the high price), but they clearly have not

succeeded.

sights and attractions around the brewery

The brewery is located in the countryside, about 10km from the small and attractive

Madona town. There are typical countryside attractions, nice nature, some manors and

country houses. • www.madona.lv/turisms

59


60

Gaujas iela 2

Jaunpiebalga

piebalgas

2 600

thousand litres

brewed annually

piebalgasalus.lv

@piebalgasalus

production stats of the brewery in 2010

1.8 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Piebalgas Alus was started in 1989 in one of the most picturesque Latvian regions that is

very well-known for its open minded residents that once constituted a significant part of

Latvian intelligentsia during the last part of the 19th century when the first ideas about

Latvian independence from the Russian empire started to emerge. Piebalgas Alus, very

soon after it was established gained a reputation of a solid brewer and steadily increased

its market share. A few years ago additional investments were brought to brewery and it

was modernised and expanded in 2003.

Contrary to many other Latvian breweries founded around the nineties, all recipes of

Piebalgas were developed by its brewers, the brewery also used to produce their own

malt for a couple of years until it was deemed to be too expensive. It also had its own hop

plantations that were abandoned to too.

It is interesting that one of Piebalgas founders and shareholders is the current Latvian

minister of agriculture Jānis Dūklavs. It is thought that he was invited to become the

minister because he was good with managing the brewery.

However, although beers of Piebalgas are still decent, they are sadly somewhat slowly

losing popularity and the image of traditional good quality brewer it once had. I can

only hope it improves in the near future.

piebalgas beers

lux 5.8% (dark lager)

jubilejas 5.2% (pale lager)

mednieku 4.7% (pale lager)

piebalgas 5.6% (pale lager)

senču 4.0% (german pils)

Piebalgas Tumšais Lux

ABV 5.8%, Dark Lager

It is interesting that a throughout Latvian brewery could not resist using Lux that is

clearly a non-Latvian word. Actually the brewery is not as Latvian

as it might appear on the surface - almost 50% of its shares belong

to an investment company with roots in Moscow.

Lux is a weaker version of once very famous beer - Sātans that was

discountinued almost a decade ago due to its high ABV and blasphemous

nature. But most of its good flavour has been succesfully

transferred to its lower ABV successor.

Lux pours clear dark copper with large off-white head that fades

relatively quickly. Aroma is sweet malt, but in contrast to many

other Latvian dark lagers the sweetness is not overwhelming.

Taste is much less sweet with noticeable bitterness that almost

provides good balance to lightly sweet malt, some hints of liquorice

can be felt. The beer does not feel as thick as it looks and it has quite

lively carbonation.

Piebalgas Tumšais Lux could be considered as one of the best Latvian

beers and certainly should be included in the shopping list. It

is sold in supermarkets all over Latvia, so it would not be a problem

to find it.

sights and attractions around the brewery

Jaunpiebalga is a village of slightly more than one thousand people with the brewery

as one of the main industrial enterprises. Not much to do in the village itself, but a few

museums, holiday houses at lake and riversides. • www.jaunpiebalga.lv

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62

Atbrīvošanas aleja 162

Rēzekne

rēzeknes

900

thousand litres

brewed annually

no website

production stats of the brewery in 2010

0.6 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Rēzekne is one of the largest Latvian towns and for many years till the beginning of nineties

it had reasonably large brewery. During the Soviet times it was joined with another

brewery in the neighbouring town of Daugavpils, but both of them retained separate

brewing activities. Unfortunately the management of the brewing establishment was not

able to grasp economic realities of the capitalism when it arrived and the brewery in

Rēzekne was closed (Daugavpils brewery managed to stay afloat and even continued

brewing rather good beer, when it finally collapsed in 2008).

Rēzeknes brewery re-opened again in 2003 in new premises (car servicing facilities from

Soviet times), but again, similarly to its predecessor, it brewed mostly financial losses

and was subsequently closed after one or two years of operation.

Although it seemed that this time the brewery will be gone for good, it was re-opened

again just in July 2009, after the company changed the ownership and made some additional

investment. During the first year of operation locals have shown an increasing

support for Rēzeknes beer and it has started to move slowly towards much larger market

in Riga.

rēzeknes beers

brūveris gaišais

nefiltrētais

5.2% (pale lager)

Rēzeknes used to sell two bottled beers - Latgales and Mārtiņa that were contract brewed

in Lithuania. Most probably not even using Rēzeknes recipes, but just with Rēzekne labels

on them - it is a popular practice used by several companies. Currently Rēzekenes

selection has decreased, but the beer is distributed much more widely and sales volumes

have increased as well. After all, most clients of Rēzeknes do not care too much about

the variety.

Brūveris Gaišais

ABV 5.2%, Pale Lager

Will be added later.

sights and attractions around the brewery

One of largest Latvians towns, located just in the midst of one of the most beautiful Latvian

regions. Similarly to some other industrial Soviet style Latvian towns, skip the town

and enjoy the countryside. • www.rezekne.lv

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64

Kroņauce

Tērvetes novads

Tērvetes

tervete.lv

production stats of the brewery in 2010

3 580

thousand litres

brewed annually

2.6 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Name Tērvete sure rings a bell to a Latvian beer drinker. Although it is highly debatable

what comes second, most people would have no doubts who is the best out there. They

do not export and do not expand too rapidly and they do not have to spend too much

on advertising. Tērvetes brewery can be regarded as one of the most traditional and

successful of smaller Latvian breweries that was able to get through all the economic

turmoils during the 1990s barely unscathed and still kept brewing good quality product.

Tērvetes Alus was established 40 years ago - in 1971 in the small village of Kroņauce

(village of Tērvete from which the name is borrowed is located a couple of kilometers

away) by one of the most successful agriculture co-operatives in the Soviet Latvia called

“Tērvete”. It is said that the idea to establish a brewery was contrived when then heads of

both Tērvetes and Lāčplēša breweries were touring Denmark and visited a small brewery

there. While Lāčplēsis chose to brew so-called “country beer”, Tērvetes decided to go

a slightly different path, by producing classic bottled beer styles - rather an unortodox

and ambitious move for a small kolkhoz brewery at that time.

It took several years to develop the recipes. During the setup of the brewery the most

famous Latvian brewmaster - Kārlis Zālitis was involved, but is often wrongly claimed

that he is the sole author of recipes; the current manager of Tērvetes Anita Krāģe and

One of the earlier Tērvete labels

During the Soviet times, most bottles had

just one small label and most of the beers

was made according to the State standards,

sometimes the same recipe and technology

was applied in many breweries throught the

USSR. Not in this case though, Tērvetes beer

was unique.

her collegues were also reponsible for this work to an equal extent. Soon Kārlis Zālitis

transferred to the new Bauskas brewery, but Anita Krāģe still, after 40 years is working

in the brewery. During the Soviet times brewery provided steady income for the

kolkhoz. There are rumours that all the money from beer sales was used to fund other

activities that were closer to the heart of the management of kolkhoz, e.g. its very costly

and famous horse breeding facilities, to the point that brewing operations were partly

neglected.

One of the main reasons for the current success of Tērvetes was their well-managed

privatisation after the collapse of the Soviet Union that ensured that ownership of the

agricultural co-operative, including the brewery landed in the hands of several hundred

local shareholders. It has to be added that these small shareholders are not in control

The Green Spoon

This label denotes that at least 75% ingredients of this particular

product have originated in Latvia. Tērvetes is the only

Latvian brewery to have received this label and there is no

chance other breweries could get one as well.

Tērvete brewery

in Kroņauce

The building is

located just next

to the main road

sights and attractions around the brewery

Be careful, the brewery is located in village of Kroņauce although it uses the name of

other nearby village Tērvete. However, there is virtually nothing to see in Kroņauce except

for the brewery, but luckily there is a nature park Tērvete just a few kilometers away

with plenty of attractions for both adults and children.

• www.vietas.lv/objekts/tervetes_dabas_parks

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66

any more, as the majority of shares (around 80%) have been bought by four large shareholders

and there has been a serious criticism of their actions. Still, Tērvetes is a very

profitable business that employs several hundred people and brewery is one of the main

and most valuable assets, others being a horse breeding facility, dairy business and crop

farming.

Tērvetes is also the only Latvian brewery that grows their own barley that is mostly malted

in in their own maltings (the rest of Latvian breweries rely only on imported malt),

but the remaining part (20 - 30%), as there is not enough in-house capacity, is contract

malted in Lithuania from Tērvetes grain. Spent grain is fed to Tērvetes cows, so there is

a bit of beer in their milk too.

During the last decade the brewery has been modernised, new fermentation premises

have been been built and tanks installed that allowed Tērvetes to double its capacity

from 2 to 4.5 million litres per year. It is expected that replacement of mash tun and boiling

vessel, both of which have been in operation since the very beginning 40 years ago,

will increase the capacity even further.

Fermentation

tanks of Tērvete

A few years

ago most of the

brewery was

modernised and

nee extension

built where fermentation

tanks

are located now.

Maltings facilities in Tērvete

Maltings has not changed since 1970s. Pictured above are immersion vessels, below germination

facilities are visible where malt is turned over manually every day for five days.

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68

tērvete beers

oriģinālais 5.4% (pale Lager)

tērvetes 5.3% (pale Lager)

senču 4.5% (pale lager)

All pale, no dark - this has been the constant situation with Tērvetes beers for already

40 years. Some praise their sticking to the roots, some claim that their beers taste more

or less the same and some more diversity could be encouraged.

There have been some experiments with Tērvetes brews, thoug. First, ABV of their

beers has changed frequently over the years, it also quite clear that recipes had to be

changed as well, when Western European ingredients became available. During the last

decade there have been several limited edition summer and winter beers released and a

brief period when Tērvetes beer was bottled in PET bottles.

In addition, Tērvetes red label beer is sold as Raganas Rūgtais in-house beer in a road

pub next to Rīga-Valmiera highway.

Oriģinālais

ABV 5.4%, Pale Lager

One can fully appreciate this beer only after a handful of bland Latvian lagers. Despite

its name, the beer is not The Original, its recipe has been significantly

tweaked several times since the 1970s, but the popularity of this

beer has remained steady.

One of the most important things about Tērvetes Oriģinālais is that

it has been developed in Latvia by the Latvian brewers. One would

think of it as a common occurrence, but unfortunately only a handful

of Latvian breweries can say the same about their beers.

Oriģinālais pours light golden, almost yellow with large and fluffy

white head and dense generous lacing. Aroma is malt with slight

hints of citrus as well as hops that are much better felt in the taste

where the weakly sweetish malt is quite well balanced with herbal

hops that finishes in long lingering bittery citrus aftertaste.

Although the beer is not exceptional, it is solid and well made pale

lager and there are only one or two such beers to be found amongst

Latvian brews. Certainly one of the must try beers during the visit to

Latvia.

Senču

ABV 4.5%, Pale Lager

Senču means “Ancestor” in Latvian. Despite its name, it does not mean that this beer is

brewed according to any traditional Latvian recipes or technology.

Senču beer was developed during the Soviet era in a now kvass-only Iļģuciems brewery

in Riga by the famous brewmaster Kārlis Zālītis. The beer is based on Žiguļu beer (that

itself finds its roots in Vienna lager modifications

carried out in the Soviet Union in 1930s), but contrary

to Žiguļu brew where 15% of adjuncts were

permitted, no adjuncts were allowed in this one.

It was a standard recipe used by several breweries

and it has to be kept in mind that Soviet enterprises

were not supposed to compete with each

other therefore using the same standartised State

approved recipes and technologies was part of

the deal; of course, due to many other factors,

the quality and the taste of these brews differed

greatly.

It is interesting to note that only Senču beer has

been able to survive the change from socialism

to capitalism 20 years ago - the rest of the Soviet

brews - Rīgas, Žiguļu, Marta and others were

mostly forgotten. As one can see in most of the

stores, now several of the smaller breweries brews

its own version of Senču beer, but mostly they are

not related to Soviet recipes and the taste of these

beers is clearly very diverse.

One of the best Senču beers is brewed by Tērvete -

it is light yellow lager with mild malty aroma and

similar flavour.

Good and refreshing summer beer that is reasonably

priced and is the best selling beer of Tērvete

brewery.

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70

Užavas pagasts

Ventspils novads

užavas

uzavas-alus.lv

@uzavasalus

production stats of the brewery in 2010

1 440

thousand litres

brewed annually

1 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

Užavas brewery

The newest of three brewery buildings that was completed in 2007 with 2.5 million litre capacity.

It has purpose built visitor gangways that enable to see most of the brewery by not disturbing

any brewing operations.

The brewery opened in 1994 in Kurzeme region, close to the largest Latvian port town of

Ventspils. During the nineties Užavas brewery was a comparatively small operation located

inside a large countryside dwelling house, owned by Uldis Pumpurs - a millionaire

and a former First Secretary of Komsomol (Soviet Youth organisation) of Ventspils city

for whom brewing was a hobby. I always enjoy the irony when the most avid proponents

of the Soviet regime very fast became avid supporters of the capitalism; in addition Uldis

Pumpurs supposedly has strong ties with mayor of Ventspils - Aivars Lembergs who has

been accused of bribery and money laundering activities both in Latvia and the UK. But

these are the realities behind many “innocent” Latvian businesses.

The biggest role in securing the popularity of Užavas was played by the friendship between

Uldis Pumpurs and the owner of LIDO Gunārs Ķirsons who introduced Užavas

to the general public that received the beer warmly indeed (both friends until were recently

involved in another project - digging an utopian shipping channel from the Baltic

to the Black Sea, worth several billion euros). There is nothing very Latvian about their

beers – tweaked German recipes and technology with imported ingredients.

Part of the Užavas beer label

In in the old brewery building is

displayed. It is still there today, but is

now used as a dwelling house only.

Užavas beers are famous with regards to their price, it is certainly one of the most expensive

Latvian beers (surpassed only by Valmiermuižas and Brālis to some extent). Some

do not think it is worth its price as it is quite evident that Tērvetes, Piebalgas or Bauskas

are capable of turning out similar quality beers that cost less.

The brewery has been expanded twice - first in 2000 when 1 million litre capacity was

reached, but the demand still could not be satisfied. Thefeore a new building soon followed,

opened in 2007, increasing the total capacity of the brewery to 3.5 million litres.

It is interesting to note that in the new building only the bottled beers are produced

while in the old one beer sold on-tap (including all the unfiltered one) is made. Unfortunately

the owners did not make the necessary calculations when they started the

expansion so since 2007 the brewery is running at 30-40% capacity, but the owner has

been quick to blame the government and imported beer for this.

sights and attractions around the brewery

Tiny village of Užava is located a few kilometres off the Baltic Sea coast. There is little else

to do and see except the brewery and sparsely inhabited rugged Latvian seaside. However,

town of Ventspils is nearby with plenty of tourist attractions. It has to be noted that

it will be nearly impossible to reach Užavas brewery by public transport.

• www.tourism.ventspils.lv

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72

užava beers

Gaišais Nefiltrētais* 4.6% (pale Lager)

* draught only

Gaišais 4.6% (pale Lager)

Tumšais 4.9% (dark lager)

Tumšais Nefiltrētais* 4.9% (dark lager)

užavnieks 4.2% (german pils)

The lineup of Užavas has not changed much for almost 20 years and probably will not

change for another twenty. It seems the brewery is comfortable with the current situation

and does not want to experiment too much, quite similarly to many other Latvian

breweries. Its two main beers are solid brews, made under the supervision of German

brewmaster, while the third is an experiment gone wrong.

Užavnieks

ABV 4.2%, German Pils

It was announced in summer 2010 that a cheaper pale lager will

be released. The summer passed, then came the autumn and a

new beer was released indeed. It was not cheap - just a handful of

santīms cheaper than regular Užavas. It also seems that it bears

some similarity with Valmiermuiža beers.

Brilliant pale yellow with soft white head and patchy downsliding

lacing. Aroma is very strong grassy malt.

Taste is simple malt with herbal hops and ever increasing and long

lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. Mouthfeel is light with mod-

erate carbonation. Although not bad, it sure lacks character.

I am not sure if I would buy it again, it seems a bit too overpriced.

It might be better to stick with regular Užavas Pale or find some-

thing cheaper instead.

Gaišais

ABV 4.6%, Pale Lager

Gaišais pours brilliant clear light goden beer with large and foamy

white head. No doubt excellent by the looks.

But that is it, some malt and grassy hops in both flavour and aroma.

It would be difficult to distinguish Užavas Gaišais from other

pale Latvian or German lagers; it possibly has slightly elevated

bitterness if compared to other Latvian lagers.

Very drinkable, but easy to forget beer.

Tumšais

ABV 4.9%, Dark Lager

Name of the beer is simply Užavas Dark. It does not seem that dark

when poured into the glass - it is rather reddish pale copper with

slightly off white and somewhat fizzy head that fades rather fast.

Aroma is mild sweetish malt with light fruit and nuts, I have to admit

that this is one of the nicest smells amongst Latvian brews.

Taste does not seem to be too remarkable, it is quite similar to smell

with low bitterness and dryish bittery aftertaste. Mouthfeel is more

on the thinner side with pleasant carbonation levels.

This beer is rather different from what could be considered a typical

Latvian Dark Lager, but it is no wonder considering its German

origins. Although Užavas Tumšais a decent and very drinkable beer,

it seems to lack a character.

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74

Valmiermuižas

Dzirnavu iela 2

Valmiermuiža

valmiermuiza.lv

@valmiermuiza

production stats of the brewery in 2010

470

thousand litres

brewed annually

0.3 %

of total

Latvian beer volume

In Valmiermuižas web page you will find a story that beer has been brewed in

Valmiermuiža area for centuries, trying to convince the consumer that the establishment

of the new brewery was a continuation of a very famous brewing tradition. It is a pity

that makers of Valmiermuiža have made so much effort to surround themselves with

fairy tales and half-fake legends. Pity because their beer is good and it does not actually

need any of them.

Although there were several breweries in the beginning of 20th century in Valmiera

area, there is no evidence that one was located where Valmiermuižas brew currently is.

It is one of the most recent of Latvian breweries - its owners invested more than 3 million

euros, one third of this EU funds, to build and equip a completely new brewery. In 2011,

the capacity of the brewery was doubled, by installing new fermentation tanks.

The cap of Valmiermuiža beer

1764 has nothing to do with the current brewery, however

it is possible to see the remains of the tower shown in the

cap and the gate just accross the road from the brewery

building

The brewery is located just outside Valmiera, in a rather interesting surroundings - historic

premises of Valmiermuiža manor. Not much has been left from the manor as it was

destroyed during the both World Wars - mostly pictureque ruins and fences remain.

Valmiermuižas brewery is one of the few in Latvia that succeeds in attracting customers

by actively encouraging drinkers of their beer to visit the brewery - apart from Užavas,

the only in Latvia to do so. There is no doubt that in a short period of time it has become

one of the favourite tourist destinations in Valmiera area. Recently the brewery also

added a shop next to the brewery as well as one in Riga (open up till 22.00) that sell not

only Valmiermuižas beers, but also ‘natural’ sauna essentials and snacks and cheeses to

complement beer - most notable being the cookies from spent grain, these are truly a

magnificent treat and a must if visting the brewery.

Valmiermuiža brewery

The brownish building in the centre is the brewery and it has been newly built while the white

building to the left remains from pre-brewery times and houses a shop that sells not only beer, but

sauna essentials and snacks and is used also as a storage.

I would also encourage everyone to fall under Valmiermuižas spell and pay the visit. It

is worth noting that also English tours (even during weekends) are possible and you can

kill two birds with one stone, as another interesting brewery - Abula (Brenguļu) is just

some 10-15 km from Valmiermuiža, on the other side of Valmiera. Even more - on the

way to Valmiera even a third brewery visit - to Brālis brewery can be added.

sights and attractions around the brewery

A large park and a lonely ruin is all that remains of a former Valmiermuiža manor today.

However, just a few kilometres away there is a town of Valmiera – the largest town of

Vidzeme region with enough activities to fill at least a day, if not the entire weekend.

• www.valmiera.lv

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76

valmiermuiža beers

Gaišais Nefiltrētais* 5.2% (Vienna Lager)

* draught only

Gaišais 5.2% (Vienna Lager)

Tumšais 5.8% (Munich Dunkel)

Tumšais Nefiltrētais* 5.8% (Munich Dunkel)

Valmiermuiža currently is the only Latvian brewery to use solely German malt, possibly

thanks to its German brewmaster. They brew only two beers and both are sold both filtered

and unfiltered. All four are frequently available in Valmiermuiža shops.

Thanks to increased capacity, it is possible that the range of Valmiermuiža beers could

be extended, although it seems the brewery is comfortable with the current range - after

all, their beer is frequently sold out.

Valmiermuiža Gaišais

ABV 5.2%, Vienna Lager

The brewery constantly reminds its both current and potential

customers that this beer has been matured for amazing 30 days in

its vaults, as if setting the Latvian record. Just a small reminder - a

brewery that positions itself as a traditional Latvian brewer should

know that as recently as in 1930s, maturing beer for at least 3-4

weeks was considered essential by most Latvian brewers.

Taste is soft and toasty malt that is well balanced with pleasant light

bittery hops. Medium and slightly creamy mouthfeel with prickly

carbonation in the beginning that soon softens. The beer is very,

very drinkable and no doubt it is one of the better made paler lagers

in Latvia.

Unfiltered version of Valmiermuižas beer can be purchased in the

brewery and some select shops and pubs in Riga, it is certainly better

than the bottled version.

Valmiermuiža Tumšais

ABV 5.8%, Munich Dunkel

Their dark beer was released in April 2010, after extensive market surveys that took

more than half a year.Valmiermuižas brewery was the first in Latvia to brew 5000 samples

of different recipes and let the customers vote for the best. It is interesting to note

that the 4 initial versions received almost the same number of the votes, thus greatly

complicating the process.

Unfortunately due to the longer maturing periods

and high demand it may be frequently sold out,

especially during summer.

Although this beer can be regarded as some of the

best Latvian dark lagers (frankly, there are not too

many to choose from), it has its flaws. First, everyone

would notice its quite high ABV, so this is

no session beer - three of these and you certainly

feel the effects. Secondly, it lacks any individual

characteristics, there is nothing particularly

unique about the beer, nothing that would stand

out if compared to its German counterparts.

Still, it is worth trying.

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78

Excursions to Latvian breweries

Užavas

Lāčplēša/Līvu

It is possible to visit all breweries, but you should always make an appointment by phone

or email first (just a note - not everyone speaks English, so it might be a good idea to ask

a Latvian speaking person for help) and it is often that a group of at least 8 -10 persons

will be required.

It also has to be added that this experience can be very different - in several places visitors

are not allowed inside the production premises. If short on time, I would suggest visiting

Valmiermuižas brewery for more interesting experience. It would cost about 3.50 LVL

per person, no group required. Visit to Užavas costs 1 LVL, for Abula it is free of charge,

but it is certainly expected that you would buy some of their beer afterwards. I guess you

would not need a reminder anyway. Some of the breweries, e.g. Valmiermuižas are open

to visitors on weekends, reservation in advance is a must.

These details are certainly subject to change, it is also possible that some breweries are

partly closed during the winter. Local tourist information offices certainly would be able

to provide correct and up-to-date information.

Aldaris

Brūveris

Tērvetes

LIDO

Valmiermuižas

Brālis

Bauskas

Abula (Brenguļu)

Cēsu

Piebalgas

Madonas

Krāslavas

Rēzeknes

Abula (Brenguļu) - 64230272 (appointment required only for larger groups)

Cēsu - 80009090

Bauskas - 63960013 or 26765153

LIDO - just visit the beer cellar downstears in Krasta 76, Riga

Līvu/Lāčplēša - 63425262

Piebalgas - 64162518, 64162665

Tērvetes - 29476708

Užavas - 63699484

Valmiermuižas - also English tour possible, 20264269, info@valmiermuiza.lv

During the last years commercial brewery tours have appeared, e.g. latvianbeertours.

com. The idea is good, but prices are on the high-end and the range of activities these

companies provide is very large (such as carting and canoeing), so some element of

doubt remains. It is possible to do a similar tour on your own, but, of-course, it would

require much more effort.

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80

Aldaris Porteris

The most distinctive taste

amongst Latvian dark brews,

the only Baltic Porter brewed

in Latvia - this beer is a must.

Piebalgas Lux

Good and well made dark lager,

encompasses some of the

most distinctive qualities of the

dark Latvian beer.

5 beers to bring home from Latvia

If short on time, here is a short list of 5 beers that are easily available in many

locations, including supermarkets, all around Latvia and will be a good representation

of the Latvian beer scene.

Tērvetes Oriģinālais

Not as original as the name

would suggest - the recipe is

tweaked on a regular basis, but

it still is a good representation

of Latvian brewing.

Valmiermuižas Gaišais

One of the best Latvian pale

lagers by one of the best new

Latvian breweries. Unfiltered

version (not bottled) is even

better.

Brālis Gaišais

Nefiltrētais

Decent pale lager, as well as one

of the few (others are brewed

by the same brewery) bottled

unfiltered and unpasteurised

beers in Latvia.

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Where to get beer?

Although beer from all Latvian breweries is listed here, you will be able to get only a faction

of those in an average Latvian pub or shop. Aldaris production will be encountered

the most often, followed by Cēsu, Lāčplēša/Līvu brews. Sometimes smaller shops will

have the most interesting selection. Outside Riga there can not be a large variety expected.

The best and safest option would be to rely on supermarkets, as smaller shops will

carry mostly Aldaris, other breweries do not seem to have so large distributor network.

IMPORTANT!

It is prohibited to sell any alcohol from 22:00 till 8:00 in any shop. Bars an pubs

are allowe to sell also later in the night, as long as alcohol is intended for consumption

on the spot.

Riga Airport

You should not rely on airport for your last-minute beer purchases. There will be very

limited selection of Cēsu and Aldaris beers available in the shopping area behind the

customs. In addition, LIDO and Užavas draught beer can be purchased outside customs

area in LIDO eatery on the second floor. If you are transiting and have at least 1 hour

to spare (although the whole operation can be conducted even in 30 min or even less),

there is a Maxima supermarket with a draught beer shop quite close to the airport. And

there are plenty of bottles in the supermarket itself as well.

There are two options to get there:

1) Taxi - 5 min taxi ride (charge would be about 3 LVL one direction), tell the driver to

go to Maxima XXX store on K.Ulmaņa gatve.

2) Bus - take bus No.22 till the stop “ SPICE Tirdzniecības centrs” (single ticket for one

direction is 0.70 LVL) and look for the grey Maxima XXX supermarket on the opposite

side of the highway - do not confuse it with the red SPICE supermarket. It is suggested

tp check www.rigassatiksme.lv for timetables and map of relevant bus stops.

Taxis usually take credit cards while bus tickets have to be purchased with cash, so the

first option is better if you have no desire to withdraw the Latvian currency from the

ATM, both supermarket and the draught beer shop accepts payment cards as well.

Riga Passanger Port (ferries to Stockholm)

There is a dedicated beer section with beers from small and large Latvian breweries in

Riga Spirits and Wine Outlet (rigaspiritsandwine.lv) alcomarket, just across the Andrejosta

jacht port. Its large banner is clearly visible from the ferry terminal.

Central Bus station and Central Railway Station

Stockmann department store and two RIMI supermarkets (Galerija Centrs and the Central

Station) are 3-5 min. walk, you will not get anything better in the Old Town or its

vicinity.

Stores

Latvians generally do not favour small shops. Thanks to communism there is no tradition

of family owned local stores, therefore most of the shopping is done in the supermarkets

that in most cases can be easily reached by foot. Markets are shopped heavily

as well, but it is not advised to buy any beer in markets in Riga. Luckily the opposite can

be said about small town festivals and other local festivities. As with most supermarkets,

mostly the largest brewers are well represented - the presence of Aldaris, Cēsu and Līvu/

Lāčplēša is guaranteed, finding the rest can be a varied success.

Prices in shops vary from 0.30 to 1.10 LVL for a half liter bottle, but those from smaller

breweries usually cost above 0.65 LVL. And remember, it is not allowed to drink alcoholic

beverages or to carry an open containers of any alcoholic drink, including beer,

in the public (fine is up to 100 LVL/140 EUR) in Riga, although some other towns have

made similar rules.

Stockmann department store (stockmann.lv)

13. Janvāra iela 8, Rīga, Mon-Sun 9-22

Finnish department store, slightly more expensive than others, but centrally located

with good collection of Latvian beers - Aldaris, Brūveris, Bauskas, Cēsu, Piebalgas and

others. If short on time, this certainly is the best choice.

SKY supermarkets (sky.lv)

Three locations in Riga suburbs, Mon-Sun 8-22

It carries many exports, mostly from Germany, than can not be found elsewhere in Latvia

as well as Valmiermuižas, Piebalgas, Tērvetes, Cēsu, Aldaris, Līvu and Lāčplēša. Expensive.

RIMI, Maxima and Prisma supermarkets

(rimi.lv, maxima.lv and prisma.lv)

Numerous locations in Riga, Mon-Sun 8-22

If it is possible, it is the best to visit only the largest hypermarkets in the outskirts of Riga,

they will have the best choice of Aldaris, Cēsu, Līvu and Lāčplēša, Brūveris, Piebalgas,

Tērvetes and Valmiermuižas.

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Dzīvais alus (dzivaisalus.lv)

Riga, Remtes 21 and several other locations both in Riga and outside, Mon - Sun 10-21

These shops are located mostly in the suburbs, have a good look in the map before trying

to reach the location; shopping centre SPICE is nearby. Although they do not carry

Latvian beers, there is a good selection of interesting Lithuanian brews.

Cash and carry

Riga, Remtes 21, Mon - Fri 8-18

Located next to SPICE shopping centre in the old metal hangars surrounded by a concrete

fence. Sure, it looks appalling, especially if compared to nearby slick shopping centres,

but an excellent diversity of beers can be found here for some of the lowest prices.

This is how most of the Latvian shopping looked like during the nineties. Nowadays

these gloomy shops are a gold mine for rare Latvian beers.

Miestiņš (miestins.lv)

Several locations in Riga and other towns, Mon-Sun 12-22

In these shops best of Abula, Piebalgas, Brūveris, Madonas, Rēzeknes, Tērvetes, Krāslavas,

Brālis, Užavas is available. Draught and unfiltered only, filled in the plastic bottles, with a

special filler so the beer will keep fresh for a couple of days, but not much more.

Alus stacija, Alus Muiža, Pikniks and many others

Many locations both in and outside Riga, typically Mon-Sun 8-22

There are several other draught beer saloons, similar to Miestiņš that offer beers from

smaller breweries on-tap for takeway, plasic bottles are provided. Majority of them are

located in shopping centres, in particularly those where Maxima supermarkets can be

found.

A few notes on bottled beers

With regards to storage periods for bottled beers, they vary from brewery to brewery

- they are typically between 3 and 6 months. Best before date is always available on

the back label, accompanied by information with regards to maximum storage period.

Subtract one from another and you get the brewing date. Unlike the US, it is not allowed

to sell any alcohol past its expiry date, so there is no need to pay particular attention to

these numbers. It is not recommended to store any bottled beer (except the one made

by large breweries) for extended periods. In case with plastic bottles filled in any of the

draught beer stores, up to five days in the fridge will be a maximum before it will start

to spoil.

Theoretically there is a deposit for beer bottles, but empty bottles are accepted only in a

few hard to find locations (0.03 - 0.04 Ls per bottle). Do not even bother.

Pubs and bars

Pubs in Latvia are not much different from their Western European counterparts. Tips

of about 10% are welcome although they are sometimes included in the bill, usually in

places with an awful service. Tipping is not mandatory and unlike the US where not

leaving tip can get you killed, because bar owners do not bother paying their staff a decent

wage, it is usually done only to compliment good or excellent service.

There are a couple of bars and pubs in Riga that operate solely to scam foreign tourists,

so do have a good look in the menu at first, especially if the bar is filled with wannabe

stripper type gals and a young and attractive lady-friend after a small chat suddenly

suggests you to pay for her drink; that drink could cost you a fortune. Bills of several

thousand euros can be easily accumulated in such locations and there is no way thet

staff will let you out before paying, they have impressive bouncers that do their job well.

As always, an indication of a reliable watering hole is where plenty of locals are around.

Prices for beer are varied, but expect to pay from 1.00 to 2.50 LVL (1.30 to 3.50 EUR),

most commonly around 1.90 (2.70 EUR) for half a liter of Latvian beer on-tap. Prices

for Valmiermuižas and Užavas usually will be the highest (the most expensive being

Valmiermuižas Tumšais, in the region of 2.20 LVL and above), followed closely by

Brenguļu, Madonas and Tērvetes. Although often an array of bottled imports is available

in most bars, it would be difficult to find bottled Latvian brews there, except for colourful

beer flavoured drinks that are so admired by underage population.

Maintenance of beer lines in most bars is not a responsibility of bars themselves, but

breweries who distribute these beers (beer dispensing system often is the property of the

brewery), thefore it is not always reasonable to blame the bar if certain beers taste foul.

Blame the brewery instead and let them know your opinion.

For a detailed and realiable restaurant and bar guide I would suggest visiting inyourpocket.com

where you can download a full free PDF version of the Riga in Your Pocket

guide. Or better buy the paper version in the airport (there might be free copies as well),

hotel or in many press stands, also international mail orders are possible from their Web

site. It includes good and usually up-to-date pub and restaurant guide, certainly worth

the money.

For most bars there is no realiable information on their Web sites (neither in Latvian,

nor in English) with regards to where which beers are currently available, but select

breweries (such as Valmiermuižas in valmiermuiza.lv) have their full distribution list

posted online.

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Some of the best beer locations

I simply like them, that is all. Of course, there are other good places, feel free to discover

them on your own.

S. Brevinga alus salons (no website, twitter - @alussalons)

Berga bazārs, Doma laukums (square), both in Rīga, Mon-Sun 12-23

Good selection of bottled English and Belgium ales. Fullers, Wells&Youngs, Porterhouse,

Meantime, St.Bernardus, Mikkeller and other breweries, including seasonal beers and

limited editions. I think it says enough. There are a few Latvian beers, but no one goes

there looking for local brews anyway. Both stores feature a bar with several taps as well.

Alus salons in Doma

laukums

The newest of both

Alus salons shops it

features a separate

beer store, 16 taps

and is the first Latvian

pub to serve also

cask beer, currently

it is Fullers London

Porter.

However, bottled beer

selection is better in

Berga Bazārs store.

Folkklubs (folkklubs.lv, twitter - @folkklubs)

Smilšu iela 16, Rīga, Mon-Sun 12-till the last guest

As the name implies, it features Latvian folk music, there are often both local and international

bands performing, live music events take place almost every night. Its premises

are large, so one can find a cozy and quite corner even during the noisiest concerts.

Folkklubs also provides fairly priced and good food, as well as a decent selection of some

of the better Latvian beers brewed both by large and small breweries. Regular homebrew

meetings also take place there, consult forums.kupla.lv for details and feel free to join

them.

Beer restaurant Merlin (merlin.lv, twitter - @merlin)

Maskavas iela 4, Rīga, Mon-Sun 11-23

They cook with beer and sell beer, although one has to be aware that food is way better

than the beer selection that features mostly the same international brews that can be

found in supermarkets. From Latvian breweries, only Cēsu is available, as this restaurant

was established with the support of Cēsu brewery.

Valmiermuižas alus tirgotava (valmiermuiza.lv, twitter - @valmiermuiza)

A.Briāna iela 9, Rīga, Mon-Sun 10-22

Although located outside the centre of Riga, in shopping gallery “Valdemāra pasāža”,

the beer shop of Valmiermuiža brewery is the best of its kind in Latvia. Not only both

unfiltered and filtered Valmiermuiža beers can be found here, but also an array of locally

produced snacks, herbal teas, natural limonades and drinks, cheeses and meat products

can be purchased here. Also available are unusual, but delicious cookies and sweets

made from the spent grain of Valmiermuiža brewery.

It is worth noting that Valmiermuiža is the first Latvian brewery to sell their growlers

(both standard 2 l and 1 l) and providing refills at 10% discount in its stores.

Valmiermuiža store and bar in Valdemāra Pasāža

It is the only such brewery owned and run bar and store in Riga

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Small beer vocabulary

Alus [alus] - Beer

Priekā! [prieka:] - Cheers!

Gaišais [gaishais] - Pale

Tumšais [tumshais] - Dark

Vai jums ir Bauskas Tumšais? [vai jums ir Bauskas Tumshais] - Do you carry Bauskas

Dark?

Vienu Bauskas Gaišo, lūdzu! [vienu Bauskas Gaishuo lu:dzu] - One Bauskas Pale,

please!

Mazais [mazais], or mazo [mazuo] if used in a sentence - small (0.33 l), e.g. vienu

Bauskas mazo!

Pudelē [pudele:] - bottled, e.g. Vai jums ir Bauskas Tumšais pudelē?

Izlejamais [izlejamais]- draught, e.g. Vai jums ir izlejamais Bauskas Tumšais?

Vēl vienu (tādu pašu) [ve:l vienu (ta:du pashu)] - One more (of the same)

Uzkodas [uzkuodas]- snacks

Bezalkoholiskais [bezalkoholiskais]- non-alcoholic

(Briesmīgas) paģiras [(briesmi:gas) pagjiras] - (terrible) hangover

Lūdzu [lu:dzu] - please

Paldies [paldies] – thank you

Credits

- Photos on page 45 are reprinted with kind permission of JSC Cēsu alus. All other

photos I have taken myself;

- Cover art created using tagxedo.com

Disclaimer

Facts and figures in this guide have not been oficially verified and may differ from reality

and the actual situation. This guide contains only personal opinion of the author and

all contents of this guide are not intended for further reproduction of any kind in any

media. Check all the fact yourself, if you want be sure.

copyright

There is a copyright that applies to commercial use, this guide has been copyrighted

under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence

- you are free to use it without modifying as long as it is intended for strictly non-commercial

purposes (commercial puproses = the media sells ads or does not distribute

all of its contents for free) and labsalus.lv is referred to as the source. Otherwise please

contact me at dzerualu@gmail.com

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