beer guide latvia - Labs alus

beer guide latvia - Labs alus

beer guide latvia - Labs alus


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eer <strong>guide</strong> <strong>latvia</strong><br />

summer 2011

2<br />

I love good <strong>beer</strong>,<br />

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

information regarding Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s and breweries in English. I feel disappointed when<br />

I see tourists buying <strong>beer</strong>s with the most colourful labels and presumably thinking that<br />

these would be the best representatives of the Latvian brewing tradition. I can well imagine<br />

their disappointment afterwards.<br />

This <strong>guide</strong> has been intended as quick help for those who are short on time, but would<br />

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

some of the errors of the first and second edition, added pictures and expanded on more<br />

interesting subjects.<br />

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

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

Cheers!<br />

Atis<br />

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

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

ar <strong>alus</strong> garšu, visuresošās reklāmas un pietiekoši pievilcīgās etiķetes iespaidā uzskatot to<br />

par Latvijas aldaru domas augstāko lidojumu, man galvā rosās visai nelabas domas.<br />

Jāpiebilst, ka viss te aprakstītais ir manas personīgāss un subjektīvās domas. Vienam garšo<br />

viens <strong>alus</strong>, citam - cits, tas ir tikai normāli. Pieļauju, ka manam viedoklim bieži pietrūkst<br />

nacionālpatriotisms, bet akls patriotisms lielās devās, pilnīgi bez jebkādas kritikas, nekad<br />

nav bijis veselīgs.<br />

Šādam pasākumam latviešu valodā neredzu jēgu, Latvijā ir maz <strong>alus</strong> darītavu, turklāt<br />

lielākā daļa Latvijas iedzīvotāju tās pazīst tāpat un katram jau sen ir savs iecīnītais <strong>alus</strong>.<br />

Diskusijas par šo tēmu būtu pārāk neproduktīvas, sanāktu kas līdzīgs mobilo telefonu<br />

modeļu vai automašīnu marku salīdzināšanai. Vairāk informācijas latviešu valodā par<br />

alu var lasīt manā blogā labs<strong>alus</strong>.lv<br />

Atis (twitter - @dzerualu)<br />

Control panel of malt mills in<br />

Aldaris<br />

Aldaris is the largest Latvian<br />

brewery and its malt is grinded<br />

using six Czechoslovak mills<br />

installed in 1984<br />


4<br />

Table of contents<br />

General Information<br />

“Latvian” <strong>beer</strong> style.................................................................................................... 6<br />

Most highly regarded Latvian breweries................................................................ 7<br />

A short history of Latvian <strong>beer</strong>................................................................................ 6<br />

Dzīvais <strong>alus</strong> (Live <strong>beer</strong>)............................................................................................. 13<br />

Kvass............................................................................................................................ 14<br />

Homebrewing............................................................................................................. 16<br />

Jāņi - the ultimate Latvian <strong>beer</strong> holiday.................................................................. 18<br />

Date of foundation of still existing Latvian breweries.......................................... 20<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> - the best <strong>beer</strong> there is?....................................................................... 22<br />

How is the <strong>guide</strong> organised....................................................................................... 23<br />

Breweries<br />

Abula (Brenguļu)....................................................................................................... 24<br />

Aldaris......................................................................................................................... 28<br />

Bauskas........................................................................................................................ 34<br />

Brālis............................................................................................................................ 36<br />

Brūveris....................................................................................................................... 40<br />

Cēsu............................................................................................................................. 44<br />

Krāslavas...................................................................................................................... 48<br />

LIDO........................................................................................................................... 50<br />

Līvu/Lāčplēša............................................................................................................. 54<br />

Madonas...................................................................................................................... 58<br />

Piebalgas...................................................................................................................... 60<br />

Rēzeknes...................................................................................................................... 62<br />

Tērvetes........................................................................................................................ 64<br />

Užavas.......................................................................................................................... 70<br />

Valmiermuižas............................................................................................................ 74<br />

continued next page...<br />

Practical information<br />

Excursions to Latvian breweries.............................................................................. 78<br />

Five <strong>beer</strong>s to bring home from Latvia..................................................................... 80<br />

Where to get <strong>beer</strong> - general advice on stores, pubs and bars............................... 82<br />

Some of the best <strong>beer</strong> locations................................................................................ 86<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> vocabulary............................................................................................ 88<br />

Copyright, disclaimer and contact information.................................................... 89<br />


6<br />

“Latvian” <strong>beer</strong> style<br />

With regards to Latvian <strong>beer</strong>, it is quite similar to average European lagers. There is no<br />

distinct Latvian <strong>beer</strong> style, but usually plain and bittery pale lagers and overly sweet, possibly<br />

diacetyl-laden dunkels are considered to carry Latvian characteristics. Dominant<br />

sweetness in <strong>beer</strong> is not considered as a flaw by many of Latvian <strong>beer</strong> drinkers, even<br />

opposite is often true - although the sweetness masks the flavour deficiencies, it helps<br />

to hide the alcohol as well. This from the point of view of a <strong>beer</strong> drinker for whom the<br />

overall aim of the evening is to get totally drunk, greatly increases drinkability.<br />

If there was once a significant German influence to Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s, especially during the<br />

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

G. Mīlbergs, Member of the Saeima (Latvian Parliament) mentions in the newspaper<br />

in 1932 - “Czechoslovak <strong>beer</strong> is at least three times cheaper and better than Latvian <strong>beer</strong>”.<br />

Sadly, there have not been as many changes as one could have expected since.<br />

Currently the only clearly distinguishable German roots can be found in <strong>beer</strong>s whose<br />

recipes and equipment has been imported from Germany and Austria in the 1990s and<br />

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

There is one pleasant exception - Baltic Porter that is produced with lager yeast in this<br />

region. Although the style did not originate in the Baltic States, Baltic Porter was highly<br />

regarded in the Russian Empire (as the name of a similar style - Russian Imperial Stout<br />

style suggests) to which Latvia belonged during these times. There are pitiable remnants<br />

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

produced in Latvia.<br />

There is no tradition of bottle-conditioning <strong>beer</strong>s and 99% of Latvian <strong>beer</strong> (except for<br />

one or two Hefeweizens) are lagers. Almost all bottled <strong>beer</strong> is filtered, only two or threee<br />

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

<strong>beer</strong>s available on-tap, but to much smaller extent than one would desire.<br />

With regards to <strong>beer</strong> ingredients, although a significant portion of Latvian <strong>beer</strong> drinkers<br />

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

imported as there is no commercial maltster in Latvia. With some exceptions during<br />

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

do not want to admit this fact to the public as they often market their <strong>beer</strong> as a very<br />

traditional drink.<br />

Most highly regarded Latvian breweries<br />

During April and May 2010 a survey was conducted by labs<strong>alus</strong>.lv asking 350 Latvian<br />

<strong>beer</strong> drinkers to evaluate the Latvian breweries and <strong>beer</strong>s they produce. Of course, it is<br />

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

some glimpses what <strong>beer</strong> savy locals consider to be as the best Latvian brews. I have<br />

to add that I mostly do not share this view.<br />

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

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

critics do not hesitate to consume this <strong>beer</strong> on a regular basis. But that is a part of human<br />

nature.<br />

1. Tērvetes 4.51<br />

2. Užavas 4.39<br />

3. Abula (Brenguļu) 4.21<br />

Bauskas 4.07<br />

Valmiermuižas 4.06<br />

Piebalgas 3.90<br />

LIDO 3.57<br />

Brālis 3.16<br />

Brūveris 3.09<br />

Krāslavas 2.86<br />

Madonas 2.83<br />

Rēzeknes 2.80<br />

Cēsu 2.55<br />

Aldaris 2.50<br />

Lāčplēsis/Līvu 2.36<br />


8<br />

A short history of Latvian <strong>beer</strong><br />

Latvians tend to pride themselves as a <strong>beer</strong> drinking and brewing nation with <strong>beer</strong> as<br />

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

nation in this aspect. In addition, the Latvian and Lithuanian word <strong>alus</strong> is amongst some<br />

of the most ancient words meaning <strong>beer</strong> in Indo-European languages. Unfortunately<br />

the grim reality as well as the recent history clearly shows that Latvians during the last<br />

couple of centuries have also shown quite a keen interest in spirits and the production<br />

and consumption of vodka in Latvia (in the terms of absolute alcohol) has exceeded that<br />

of the <strong>beer</strong> for the last 200 years. In addition, average <strong>beer</strong> consumption pre capita is one<br />

of the lowest in Europe, hovering slightly below 70 litres per year.<br />

Former Aizpute<br />

Castle pub.<br />

Aizpute, a town<br />

of 5500 in central<br />

Kurzeme, it<br />

boasted at least<br />

30 pubs during<br />

the second part<br />

of 19th century.<br />

Now there are<br />

none.<br />

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

were several hundred small and more than 60 larger breweries in Latvia, producing <strong>beer</strong><br />

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

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

of the Russian Empire and that was true also with regards to brewing.<br />

Things went pretty well until the First World War that saw most of breweries closed<br />

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

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

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

of it was looted anyway.<br />

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

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

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

development lasted only till 1925 when new anti-alcohol measures were passed that saw<br />

70% of the breweries closing during the following years and the total output dropping by<br />

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

of the <strong>beer</strong> was further hampered by extortionate import tax, incredibly high excise<br />

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

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

during that time. It meant that average worker simply could not afford to drink commercial<br />

<strong>beer</strong> and spirits provided much better price/drunkness ratio. This is verified by<br />

the official statistics that shows that in 1927 only 3.5 liters!!! of <strong>beer</strong> annually per person<br />

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

actual consumption was many times greater, as most of the <strong>beer</strong> was produced by homebrewing.<br />

Still, the government policies during the 1920s and 1930s can be considered as<br />

the most severe blow to the Latvian <strong>beer</strong> industry (surpassing even changes caused by<br />

the both World Wars) that caused most of the smaller breweries to close and paved the<br />

way to mass-produced and boring <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

In 1937 the authoritanian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis decided that foreign capital is not<br />

needed in a healthy nationalist state. The most succesful businesses in all industries were<br />

simply taken away from their owners, but at least they were adequately compensated for<br />

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

sold their operations to the state that established a new central brewery, called<br />

Aldaris. It is interesting that the necessity to nationalise a significant portion of the brewing<br />

industry was explained by arguing that the <strong>beer</strong> was becoming too expensive for ordinary<br />

Latvian peasants that were the backbone of the great Latvian nation. Never mind<br />

Former Aizpute<br />

brewery.<br />

Established in the<br />

19th century, the<br />

brewery finally<br />

ceased operations<br />

during the 1950s.<br />


10<br />

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

further provide a proof that nationalisation was required, breweries were ordered to increase<br />

<strong>beer</strong> prices in 1938 - and what a suprise - the chief of the State Price Inspectorate<br />

soon became the chief of newly established brewing company. One year later, maximum<br />

price was lifted back again to previous levels and the show was over.<br />

During the course of subsequent Soviet and German occupations from 1940 till 1945<br />

many changes occurred - repeated nationalisation of breweries, newly established Aldaris<br />

was split and merged again, centralisation, introduction of common standards and<br />

recipes.<br />

In Soviet times all breweries brew more or less the same brands of <strong>beer</strong> - Rīgas, Marta,<br />

Žiguļu, later Senču (Ancestor) was introduced. Similarly to other Soviet industries, <strong>beer</strong><br />

standarts were well developed and theoretically should have produced excellent <strong>beer</strong>s.<br />

Unfortunately standarts did not take into account widespread stealing and negligence<br />

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

them all were shortages. Shortages of everything - equipment, raw materials and ingredients<br />

that were solved only in the most ingenious ways only Soviet people are capable<br />

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

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

access to imported brews (some Czech <strong>beer</strong> was available) and even the domestic produce<br />

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

lucky enough to get any <strong>beer</strong> at all.<br />

In the 90ies, just after the USSR collapsed and the Soviet occupation was over, the Latvian<br />

<strong>beer</strong> industry was not in a good shape - there were several inefficient, previously state<br />

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

point of view, local companies did not have neither too much money, nor too much access<br />

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

Many of the largest breweries landed in the hands of Scandinavians in a result, such as<br />

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

three, went under during the course of next 5-15 years.<br />

Nowadays the situation is similar to the most of the developed world - roughly 90% of<br />

the market is possessed by gargantuan international brewers while the rest is shared<br />

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

<strong>beer</strong>s has gone up from about 4% during the 1920s to about 5.5% nowadays.<br />

None of the Latvian <strong>beer</strong> ingredients, but water originates in Latvia. Only barley for<br />

Tērvetes brewery is a notable exception. Malt for the rest of the breweries is imported<br />

mostly from Lithuania and a couple of other European countries. Hops are mostly purchased<br />

in the Western Europe - Latvian climate is not well suited for growing them,<br />

although many homebrewers use Latvian wild hops and sometimes achieve suprisingly<br />

good results. During the nineties, Piebalgas brewery had their own hop fields, but the<br />

idea was soon abandoned because of financial reasons.<br />

Of course, homebrew has always co-existed along its commercial<br />

relatives. Most of the Latvian homebrew is made<br />

using rather old and time-tested methods that include little<br />

or no maturing whatsoever, so the final result can be murky<br />

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

and quite high in alcohol, one should expect between 7- 10%<br />

ABV. The largest proprtion of traditional homebrewers remaining<br />

today can be found in Latgale region, but only a few<br />

of them brew regularly, most opt for the largest holidays once<br />

or twice per year. Sadly, but it could be expected that these<br />

brewing traditions will be almost extinct within a decade or<br />

two.<br />

Current affairs<br />

There is a clear distinction between small and large breweries, as the Latvian legislation<br />

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

(the discount applies to the first million though). Exactly this exemption was the<br />

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

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

Neither of these associations with fancy names is doing much to promote <strong>beer</strong>, except<br />

for neverending quarrels between each other and occasional rants towards homebrewers<br />

that are blamed for providing cover to illegally imported alcohol.<br />

Large breweries<br />

There are 3 large breweries in Latvia, all owned by large Scandinavian breweries, the<br />

biggest of them Carlsberg. All operate under the same principle as large international<br />

breweries all over the world, producing mostly low quality bland lagers. Some of the<br />

“Latvian” <strong>beer</strong>s are not produced in Latvia at all, they can be imported from either Lithuania<br />

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

easy to imagine that it is far more profitable to brew large batches and distribute them<br />

all across the Baltic States than to brew smaller and more diverse <strong>beer</strong>s. Sometimes even<br />

the labels are the same (just translated) for otherwise seemingly different <strong>beer</strong>s from different<br />

breweries. In general, I would suggest keeping away from most of their products<br />

except for select <strong>beer</strong>s, such as Aldara Porteris or Cēsu Nefiltrētais.<br />

Small breweries<br />

Special edition 1 LVL coin<br />

In June 2011, a special edition<br />

coin was released by<br />

the Latvian Bank with <strong>beer</strong><br />

mug on the front, honouring<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> traditions<br />

With smaller breweries it is a different story, as very diverse quality <strong>beer</strong>s can be expected<br />

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


12<br />

practice for some small brewers involves selling the same <strong>beer</strong> with different names or<br />

using one <strong>beer</strong> as a ‘base’ and introducing small tweaks (such as extra carbonation) to<br />

obtain a ‘different’ <strong>beer</strong>, so the range of <strong>beer</strong>s can appear larger than it actually is. Often<br />

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

Lodiņa, Latgales and previously to many others.<br />

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

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

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

but after the demand increases, the owner immediately puts a ridiculous surcharge, possibly<br />

even sells a <strong>beer</strong> brewed elsewhere under its name that leads to inevitable quality<br />

issues.<br />

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

planning, some just go with flow, blaming everyone else, mostly government and homebrewers<br />

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

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

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

Lodiņa Brewery in<br />

Bauska.<br />

Lodiņa brewery,<br />

operating from 1873<br />

- 1950s was opened<br />

again in 2004 in the<br />

historic buildings<br />

under a new owenership<br />

and with lots of<br />

promises. It managed<br />

to last for just under 5<br />

years. There are plenty<br />

of similar stories<br />

in Latvia - Gulbene,<br />

Vārpa, Kimmel, just<br />

to name a few.<br />

Dzīvais <strong>alus</strong> (Live <strong>beer</strong>)<br />

Live <strong>beer</strong> is an interesting concept that is quite popular in Latvia and some surrounding<br />

countries, most notably Russia and Lithuania. It is generally assumed, mostly by supporters<br />

of the national <strong>beer</strong> (meaning that origin of the <strong>beer</strong> is far more important than<br />

its taste), that there is a special type of <strong>beer</strong> that has significantly better flavour, in addition<br />

to being healthy. This <strong>beer</strong> is called ‘live <strong>beer</strong>’ and this definition has nothing to do<br />

with CAMRA’s cask ale.<br />

Although many locals tend to assume that this concept has been known for many years,<br />

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

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

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

Latvian simply borrowed the term from Russia where it has been utilised much more<br />

extensively. During the Soviet times, only state approved names for <strong>beer</strong> could be used<br />

and all-pervasive state standartisation system would not allow for such loosely defined<br />

criateria to exist.<br />

In order for <strong>beer</strong> to be considered live, usually several arbitrary conditions have to be<br />

met. Some of them are mentioned below; the concept of live <strong>beer</strong> usually includes not<br />

all, but a few of them:<br />

- live <strong>beer</strong> can not be pasteurised,<br />

- live <strong>beer</strong> can not be filtered and pasteurised,<br />

- <strong>beer</strong> only from small breweries can be considered live,<br />

- live <strong>beer</strong> does not contain any E-substances (any food supplement classified by the<br />

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

- only draught <strong>beer</strong> is live.<br />

What is more important, many breweries, instead of trying to educate customers about<br />

properties of <strong>beer</strong>, try to use this obscure term for their advantage as a marketing tool.<br />

One of tricks used include not filtering the <strong>beer</strong>, but pasteurising it. Yest is dead and does<br />

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

can safely claim that he is brewing live <strong>beer</strong> - there is yeast in the bottle, after all.<br />

No Latvian brewery who actually claims to be a brewer of live <strong>beer</strong> would be able to<br />

define precisely what live <strong>beer</strong> actually is and why his own <strong>beer</strong> qualifies for it and others<br />

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

<strong>beer</strong>.<br />

I would suggest not paying any attention to live <strong>beer</strong> and waste your time seeking for<br />

it. Some of the most acclaimed live <strong>beer</strong>s are bad and there is no need to overpay just<br />

because of some local hype.<br />


14<br />

Kvass<br />

In addition to <strong>beer</strong>, another similar beverege - kvass, has been popular for several centuries<br />

not only in Latvia, but also in other parts of the former Russian Empire and the<br />

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

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

popular also in this region.<br />

Kvass is brewed similarly to <strong>beer</strong>, but with different yeast strain and its ABV does not<br />

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

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

Kvass barrel from<br />

Soviet times<br />

Once a common sight<br />

in many public places,<br />

it was prohibited from<br />

use citing to health and<br />

safety reasons, however<br />

one can still find then<br />

in Russia and Ukraine.<br />

It always brings back<br />

nostalgic memories<br />

and urban myths<br />

about worms that were<br />

reportedly frequent<br />

inhabitants of dirty<br />

barrels.<br />

Kvass gained immense popularity during Soviet times and was frequently purchased on<br />

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

by another barrel containing <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

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

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

dzēriens’ (kvass beverage) or ‘iesala dzēriens’ (malt beverage)). This incentive was introduced<br />

because supposedly more and more artificial lemonades, bearing similar look and<br />

aroma to kvass were introduced in the market. Still, that same legislation implies that<br />

addition of lactic acid, ascrobic acid, citric acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate<br />

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

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

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

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

imported from Ukraine and Belarus bearing “traditional Latvian” labels. On the other<br />

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

best made in its fatherland. Currently several Latvian breweries (Aldaris, Bauskas, Cēsu,<br />

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

soon. It is no secret that kvass and bottled water is easier money than <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

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

extract - Iļģuciema brewery or Ilgezeem as it has fashionably renamed itself, mimicking<br />

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

and <strong>beer</strong> under different names, its production has ceased from time to time during<br />

the 20th century, but since 1998 it is producing only kvass. They also sell <strong>beer</strong> under<br />

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

customers do not notice it anyway. Iļģuciema is currently expanding and installing new<br />

equipment as demand for its kvass has grown considerably not only domestically, but<br />

also abroad.<br />

Iļguciems kvass brewery, located in a historic brewery building in Riga suburbs<br />


16<br />

Homebrewing<br />

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

country style <strong>beer</strong> that frequently is treacherous. This <strong>beer</strong> is often made in all-wood<br />

barrels and pots from homemade malt, wild hops, bread yeast and more often than not,<br />

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

is more than sufficient and sugar can been added generously to aid a swift formation<br />

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

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

to manifest themselves. The result, as expected, can be quite varied and unpredictable.<br />

Even swift arrival of drunkness and intense hungover can be considered to be a part of<br />

homebrew tradition as well.<br />

During the last decade American homebrewing traditions have reached Latvia and have<br />

been embraced by mostly younger generation that are not used to above mentioned<br />

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

difficulties is the availability of brewing ingredients as some speciality malts have to be<br />

ordered from the Western Europe and the USA, but situation is improving rapidly.<br />

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

associate it with sweet, possibly diacetyl laden <strong>beer</strong>, brewed with the same methods and<br />

wooden vessels used two or three centuries ago in the Latvian countryside.<br />

Homebrew meet<br />

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

taste <strong>beer</strong> and hold collaborative brewing sessions. Consult forums.kupla.lv for more details if you would<br />

like to attend one.<br />

Annual Aizpute homebrew meet<br />

Gordon brewing on his<br />

HERMS during Aizpute<br />

2011 homebrew meet<br />

Although Gordon who<br />

moved to Latvia from the<br />

USA a few years ago was<br />

the first to homebrew using<br />

HERMS (Heat Exchanged<br />

Recirculating Mash System),<br />

several other Latvians now<br />

have built or are building<br />

their own systems<br />

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

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

kegs and bottles homebrew is consumed, homebrew competition is held and several collaborative<br />

brewing sessions take place using both modern and more older techniques.<br />

Also Lithunian homebrewers as well as other international <strong>beer</strong> enthusiasts have attended<br />

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

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

- consult kupla.lv for further details.<br />

KUPLA (movement for good <strong>beer</strong>) - kupla.lv<br />

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

main aims is spreading knowledge about <strong>beer</strong>, as most of the current Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s lack<br />

diversity and character. KUPLA is heavily involved in homebrew activities and hosts the<br />

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

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

where to get the necessary ingredients or just want to chat with fellow homebrewers, feel<br />

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


18<br />

Jāņi - the ultimate Latvian <strong>beer</strong> holiday<br />

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

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

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

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

popular Latvian male name).<br />

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

in 2010 in addition to a weekend, so it made five days of uninterrupted celebration<br />

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

of Christianity during the 12th century and even 700 years of forced Christianity could<br />

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

this time, even seemingly devout Latvian Christians seem not to mind actively taking<br />

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

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

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

this holiday.<br />

The true meaning of most Jāņi traditions have not survived, except for food consumption<br />

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

much as <strong>beer</strong> as possible, eat cheese, sit by the bonfire (as well as to jump over it), sing<br />

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

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

<strong>beer</strong> is always succesfully realised to the full extent and not much energy remains for<br />

the search of the elusive flower. Police and emergency services would easily testify that<br />

as a large number of accidents almost exclusively caused by drunk driving take place<br />

around Jāņi.<br />

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

farmers who brew only once a year - just before Jāņi to provide refreshments for<br />

the celebration, using decades old techniques, old wooden barrels and other interesting<br />

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

process, so if there is an opportunity to see it, do not miss it.<br />

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

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

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

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

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

that almost not a drop of <strong>beer</strong> remains in the maturing tanks of the small breweries.<br />

Most people plan their <strong>beer</strong> purchases for Jāņi well in advance.<br />

Traditional style homebrewing<br />

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

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

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

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

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

Although it might seem a golden time for everyone in the <strong>beer</strong> industry, Jāņi also has<br />

its negative sides that are felt mostly by consumers. Brewers are very tempted to mature<br />

their <strong>beer</strong>s just for a couple of days less than they should and to perform other operations<br />

that enable breweries to produce more <strong>beer</strong> and help to cope with demand. Even<br />

so, during the last years, aided by the financial crisis, brewers have realised that abusing<br />

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

the long-term and such a behaviour has become much rarer now.<br />

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

much as also simple drinks are more than sufficient for getting drunk.<br />


20<br />

Cēsu<br />

dubious claims<br />

back to 1590<br />

Aldaris<br />

dubious claims<br />

back to 1865<br />

Date of foundation of still existing Latvian breweries<br />

Lāčplēša<br />

brewery closed<br />

and brand merged<br />

with Līvu in 2008<br />

Abula (Brenguļu)<br />

Tērvetes<br />

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

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

even operate in their historical buildings and all have changed their ownership and management completely for several<br />

times during the 90ies.<br />

Bauskas<br />

Piebalgas<br />

Krāslavas<br />

Brūveris<br />

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

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

Līvu<br />

LIDO<br />

Brālis<br />

Madonas<br />

Valmiermuižas<br />

Rēzeknes<br />


22<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> - the best <strong>beer</strong> there is?<br />

Latvians, just as almost any European nation take pride in their <strong>beer</strong>. There are enough<br />

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

Latvians, just as almost any other nation, despite constant bickering about the decline of<br />

the <strong>beer</strong> industry, do not take the the criticism from outside too well.<br />

It is difficult for me to describe the Latvian <strong>beer</strong> industry on strictly objective terms.<br />

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

reading a couple of homebrew books and subscribing to <strong>beer</strong> magazines and my day-job<br />

does not involve any <strong>beer</strong> related matters. Secondly, I am a Latvian; in Latvia everyone<br />

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

in the public about someone you might encounter sooner or later.<br />

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

tourist <strong>guide</strong>books would not agree, most probably because they do not care. Or their<br />

advertisers prefer that way.<br />

It should also be mentioned in the beginning that it would be impossible to judge the<br />

current selection of Latvian <strong>beer</strong> entirely by the same standards as American or British<br />

craft <strong>beer</strong>s; unfortunately many of the Latvian brews still have a long way to go. This is<br />

accompanied by almost extreme reluctance from the side of Latvian breweries to try<br />

brewing anything else than standard European pale and dark lagers. Unfortunately it<br />

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

almost all new Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s that have been introduced since 1990 have been either<br />

bought abroad or have been introduced under the supervision of foreign, mostly German,<br />

brewers.<br />

Of course, not everything is very gloomy, as the situation is improving steadily, there<br />

are some nice <strong>beer</strong>s to be found therefore I hope you would be able to bring home some<br />

pleasant memories about the Latvian <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

How is the <strong>guide</strong> organised?<br />

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

to someone who has not heard neither anything about the brewery, nor the <strong>beer</strong> that it<br />

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

other information public except for fairy tale style legends. Unfortunately that is why<br />

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

lies.<br />

Most numbers mentioned are my estimates, but they represent the reality well enough<br />

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

as sensitive information and there is no official data available.<br />

In addition, all the <strong>beer</strong>s have been rated to some extent. Although in the previous edition<br />

my personal rating for each and every <strong>beer</strong> was added, now I have combined my<br />

thoughts with the opinion of almost 400 readers of my blog to evaluate which are the<br />

best brews.<br />

Only up to five of <strong>beer</strong>s are highlighted for each brewery, as I did not feel there was any<br />

need to include all average and below average <strong>beer</strong>s, in most cases they are not worth<br />

drinking and only a serious ‘ticker’ might be interested.<br />

It can be suggested you try this <strong>beer</strong>. It is also one of the<br />

most favourite brews of many Latvian and it may represent<br />

some of the better traditions of local brewing<br />

The <strong>beer</strong> is generally regarded as good, it might be a good<br />

idea to try it<br />

This <strong>beer</strong> is quite suitable for drinking<br />

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

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

a look there as well. BeerAdvocate would much poorer choice, as its information on<br />

European breweries leaves a lot to be desired.<br />


Abula (brenguļu)<br />

24<br />

Beverīnas novads<br />

Brenguļi<br />

190<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

no website<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

0.13 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Their <strong>beer</strong> is known by two names, it is the most commonly called as Brenguļu (after the<br />

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

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

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

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

nano breweries. None their <strong>beer</strong>s are not bottled. Nowadays many <strong>beer</strong> drinkers still<br />

visit the brewery to buy the fresh produce on the spot, but their <strong>beer</strong> is widely available<br />

on-tap also in Riga and other large Latvian towns.<br />

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

of <strong>beer</strong> for several decades. The <strong>beer</strong> was never inteneded for a large-scale production<br />

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

the brewery and the small hydropower plant on Abula river (both are located in the<br />

same building) was privatised by the Freivaldu family who continued brewing and with<br />

a help of a German brewer expanded the selection of <strong>beer</strong>s available to two, starting to<br />

brew a pale <strong>beer</strong> as well, so now there both a pale and a dark lager is available. Just until<br />

a few years ago the brewery used only locally grown grain from the neighbouring farmers,<br />

but cheaper and easily available Lithuanian malt has taken a firm hold also in the<br />

Brenguļu brewery, just like in all others.<br />

In my opinion, Brenguļu <strong>beer</strong> represents some of the most common features that would<br />

characterise a typical and slightly older tradition of Latvian <strong>beer</strong> – dominated by sweet<br />

malt, but quite drinkable. Brenguļu <strong>beer</strong> is sometimes blamed for producing amazing<br />

headaches and sickness the next morning if consumed in large volumes, but one should<br />

not expect that excessive drinking would bring any health benefits anyway.<br />

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

fermenting tanks and its sales volume rose significantly even during the recent financial<br />

crisis.<br />

The building of Abula brewery<br />

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

flows into Gauja river. Tha same building also houses a small hydropower plant.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

Brenguļu brewery is located in a small and otherwise rather insignificant village. However,<br />

just a few kilometres away there is a town of Valmiera – the largest town of Vidzeme<br />

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

• www.valmiera.lv<br />


26<br />

brenguļu <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

gaišais 5.6% (pale lager)<br />

tumšais 5.6% (munich dunkel)<br />

both draught only<br />

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

<strong>beer</strong>, for others - a diacetyl bomb, promting discussion whether the buttery taste, quite<br />

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

taste preference.<br />

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

Abula and Krāslavas <strong>beer</strong>s - both Pale and Dark, quite good impression could be formed.<br />

Abula (Brenguļu) Tumšais<br />

ABV 5.6%, Munich Dunkel<br />

The original <strong>beer</strong> that for long time was known mostly locally, but its fame spread fast<br />

soon after the Soviet Union collapsed.<br />

Tumšais is murky dark brown with thin, almost<br />

non-existent lacing and full of very small carbonation<br />

bubbles. Aroma reminds of sweetish straw,<br />

slightly reminds of a farmhouse.<br />

Taste is malty sweetness, quite similar to the Pale<br />

with more alcohol leaving a thick layer of sugary<br />

coating. Mouthfeel is thick and even slightly creamy,<br />

certainly not loaded with carbonation. Despite the<br />

ever present sweetness it suprisingly has a very good<br />

drinkability.<br />

Brenguļu Tumšais is a dark country brew at its best,<br />

especially if compared to its direct competitors -<br />

Madonas and Krāslavas and a golden standard for<br />

many Abula fans out there.<br />

Abula (Brenguļu) Gaišais<br />

ABV 5.6%, Pale Lager<br />

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

that, only its dark brother was brewed. The <strong>beer</strong> is neither filtered nor pasteurised,<br />

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

draught <strong>beer</strong> shop to buy this <strong>beer</strong> in plastic bottle that will hold for a couple of days.<br />

Also quite many bars in Riga carry this <strong>beer</strong> on-tap as well.<br />

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

aroma is faint, almost non-existent.<br />

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

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

notes of alcohol and faint yeasty flavours<br />

can be felt as well, overall the taste does<br />

not seem to be a very pleasant experience.<br />

One more disadvantage is that the quality<br />

of Abula/Berguļu <strong>beer</strong> is not consistent,<br />

its taste can be rather varied from<br />

time to time and it often feels that the<br />

<strong>beer</strong> has not been matured enough. It<br />

is not that I always enjoy such games,<br />

especially taking into account its rather<br />

elevated price and restricted availability.<br />


28<br />

Rīga<br />

Tvaika iela 44<br />

aldaris<br />

62 000<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

aldaris.lv<br />

@aldaris<strong>alus</strong><br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

43 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Aldaris is the biggest Latvian brewery, owned by Carlsberg and currently controls about<br />

half of the Latvian market - its market share has remained steady from the beginning of<br />

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

player also in the Baltic <strong>beer</strong> market and it churns out the same typical standard European<br />

lagers as in the rest of Carlsberg plants all over the world.<br />

Although Aldaris boasts that it was established as early as in 1865, it all really started in<br />

1937 when the authoritarian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis in a true spirit of populist ideas<br />

decided it was time to privatise the most profitable businesses, conveniently owned by<br />

foreigners. Mostly Jews and Germans; both were not liked. With regards to nationalisation<br />

of breweries, it was publicly claimed that swift actions are required to to finish with<br />

the <strong>beer</strong> cartel that controlled most of the Latvian <strong>beer</strong> and was partly responsible for<br />

the high <strong>beer</strong> prices. Latvijas Kredītbanka, operating under the State protection and using<br />

suspect methods acquired Iļģuciema brewery and several others, closed all of them<br />

and purchased state-of-the-art brewing equipment that was installed in the premises of<br />

former Waldschlosschen brewery to provide cheap <strong>beer</strong> for the thirsty masses.<br />

The brewery remained almost intact during the Second World War and produced loads<br />

of <strong>beer</strong> for both German and Soviet soldiers. During the Soviet times Aldaris still remained<br />

as the largest brewery in the Latvia and was one of the showcase breweries of<br />

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

simultaneously acquired the largest breweries in all three Baltic countries and merged<br />

some of their operations.<br />

All of the current <strong>beer</strong>s were introduced in the mid-nineties and the offer has remained<br />

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

- although the recipes were not bad, often the <strong>beer</strong> turned sour within days as the most<br />

workers could care less about the quality of brew they produced. Aldaris, taking the<br />

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

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

other large Latvian breweries does not list ingredients on labels.<br />

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

funds to provide for ample advertising and promotion, but despite this, many Latvian<br />

<strong>beer</strong> lovers publicly reject most of Aldaris <strong>beer</strong>s and calls it names. Still, Aldaris brews<br />

are hugely popular amongst general Latvian population, mostly because of the extremely<br />

attractive price (cheaper than bottled water) and the brewing giant undoubtedly does it<br />

best to promote their modern industrial lagers as a part of older Latvian tradition.<br />

Although it might seem that Aldaris brews a large variety of <strong>beer</strong>s, unfortunately most of<br />

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

not so high quality watery lagers, so called ‘economic <strong>beer</strong>s’. There are a few exceptions<br />

though, most notable being Porteris that is discussed in more detail in the proceeding<br />

pages.<br />

Aldaris, following the latest craze with regards to live <strong>beer</strong>, also released an unfiltered<br />

<strong>beer</strong> in 2010, although the former head of the brewery V. Gavrilovs had always voiced<br />

an opinion in the media that unfiltered <strong>beer</strong> is a low quality product. Aldaris version<br />

(Dūmaku that means Smoky) is also an interesting product, because the <strong>beer</strong> is pasteurized<br />

meaning that the bottle is filled with loads of dead yeast cells - that haze is for the<br />

looks, not the taste.<br />

In addition, Aldaris also brews Carlsberg for distribution in other Eastern European<br />

countries, as well as <strong>beer</strong> for its sister breweries in Estonia and Lithuania - Saku and<br />

Švyturis. There is no canning line in Aldaris, therefore most of canned Aldaris <strong>beer</strong>s are<br />

brewed in Estonia, but its wheat <strong>beer</strong> (Kviešu) is brewed by Lithuanian Švyturis.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

Sarkandaugava is a former industrial district that was not even a part of Riga when the<br />

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

typical Soviet style housing is your main interest, the surroundings of Aldaris might be<br />

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

large distances might be too exhausting on foot.<br />


The main boiling room (above) and control panel of the boiling room (below)<br />

Aldaris certainly boasts the most impressive boiling room of all Latvian breweries with six huge boiling<br />

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

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

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

by side, as in the main control below, visible below.<br />

30<br />

aldaris in the world <strong>beer</strong> cup<br />

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

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

hard to say whether or not also other Latvian breweries would bring some medals home<br />

if they chose to participate.<br />

Some people have been rather suspicious about this success and rumours had been<br />

heard that Aldaris Luksus used for presentation purposes tastes way better than the one<br />

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

temperatures, freshness, exposure to light and many other factors.<br />

Bronze<br />

Gold<br />

Bronze<br />

Silver<br />

Luksus 1998 Dortmunder/Export<br />

Luksus 2008 Dortmunder/Export<br />

Latvijas Sevišķais 2008 Märzen<br />

Tumšais<br />

(no longer brewed)<br />

2000 Schwarzbier<br />

Despite the criticism, no other brewery has had any significant international fame during<br />

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

Latvian Breweries Association where some of the Latvian breweries participate and all<br />

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

either very good or excellent.<br />

There is no way these tastings could be regarded as even remotely objective, as judges<br />

usually work in the participating breweries and might have rather significant influence<br />

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

publicity stunts to pay attention to <strong>beer</strong> when the <strong>beer</strong> drinking season starts in May.<br />


32<br />

aldaris <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

porteris 6.8% (baltic porter)<br />

luksus 5.2% (dortmunder)<br />

zelta black 4.2% (schwarzbier)<br />

zelta 5.2% (pale Lager)<br />

pilzenes 4.2% (german pils)<br />

latvijas sevišķais 5.0% Märzen<br />

Aldaris brews mostly cheap-end <strong>beer</strong>s, that is the fact. Especially be aware of Apinītis series,<br />

do not buy it under any circumstances, as seldom worse <strong>beer</strong>s can be encountered;<br />

it is very ironic that one of Apinītis <strong>beer</strong>s is called ‘premium.<br />

On the other hand, all these <strong>beer</strong>s can be easily excused if Porteris is considered. Aldaris<br />

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

about not compromising its excellent quality.<br />

Luksus<br />

ABV 5.2%, Dortmunder/Export<br />

Currently one of the finest pale lagers brewed by Aldaris, this one<br />

was the first “Western-style” <strong>beer</strong> introduced in the Latvian market<br />

after the takeover by Pripps in the beginning of 1990ies. It was<br />

brewed in Finland before the brewing operations were transferred<br />

to Riga and many people swear this move made it taste much<br />

worse.<br />

The <strong>beer</strong> was expensive when it first appeared, in a new type of<br />

bottles and it seemed as a luxury to many people indeed. Luksus<br />

has lost some of its appeal over the years, but still it is one of the<br />

flagship <strong>beer</strong> of Aldaris, although many other <strong>beer</strong>s outsell it by a<br />

great margin.<br />

It pours pale golden with noticeable grassy hops aroma. Taste is<br />

sweet malt with refreshing and spicy hoppy background, but not<br />

much. Refreshing <strong>beer</strong> to be drunk during hot summer day, but<br />

not very memorable. Still, it tastes way better than most of semibland<br />

juices produced by Aldaris.<br />

Porteris<br />

ABV 6.8%, Baltic Porter<br />

Aldara Porteris is the two remaining representatives of Baltic Porters in Latvia. Beers<br />

that belong to this interesting style, were brewed throughout Latvia along Imperial<br />

Stouts, mostly for export to the Russian Empire as the local population could not afford<br />

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

and there were no more export possibilities.<br />

Curiously enough, the style was revived only during<br />

the Soviet times in 1950s and in contrast to<br />

nowadays, Porteris was not brewed continuously,<br />

but was available just a few times a year.<br />

Porteris is almost black with small brownish head<br />

that does not seem to last too long. Aroma is nice<br />

malty with notes of bittery coffee and dark chocolate.<br />

Taste is is even better mild roasted and sweetish<br />

malt with coffee bitterness, notes of liquorice and<br />

molasses, bits of raisins. The full body is smooth<br />

and creamy with smooth carbonation - certainly<br />

not a session <strong>beer</strong>, but for cosy winter evenings<br />

next to the fireplace.<br />

Clearly a king amongst Latvian dark <strong>beer</strong>s, it<br />

would difficult to imagine any other coming even<br />

close.<br />

It is worth noting that none of the small Latvian<br />

breweries brews Baltic Porter citing complexity of<br />

brewing and long maturation times as the biggest<br />

obstacle. The only other Latvian brewery to release<br />

any kind of Porter on a semi-regular basis, usually<br />

for Christmas, is Cēsu - it is usually a different<br />

recipe each year.<br />


34<br />

“Imantas”<br />

Bauskas novads<br />

bauskas<br />

2 850<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

bauskas<strong>alus</strong>.lv<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

2 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

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

was associated with the one of the most famous Latvian brewers of the late 20th century<br />

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

Kārlis Zālītis had also helped to establish Tērvetes brewery and was involved with several<br />

other breweries before starting his very successful career in Bauskas in 1979. During<br />

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

way or another for nearly all Latvian breweries.<br />

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

certainly not attractive - a grey concrete construction representing the best of the typical<br />

Soviet countryside architecture that seems to have lacked maintenance for a number of<br />

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

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

recipes developed during the Soviet times that, although modified, have been able to ensure<br />

a continuous support from <strong>beer</strong> lovers all across Latvia. The support has dwindled<br />

for Bauskas <strong>beer</strong>s a bit, as it experienced almost a 50% fall in production in 2009, but it<br />

seems the brewery is slowly recovering and in 2011 it started to brew kvass.<br />

Almost all Bauskas <strong>beer</strong>s could be considered to be decent. Of course, many complain<br />

that the quality of Bauskas <strong>beer</strong> is declining, because of the “commercialisation”, “globalisation”<br />

and other rather obscure reasons, but the same talk can be often heard about<br />

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

years ago Aldaris started distribution of Bauskas <strong>beer</strong>s that lead to many rumours about<br />

possible takeover.<br />

bauskas <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

gaišais speciālais 4.8% (pale Lager)<br />

tumšais speciālais 5.5% (dark lager)<br />

tumšais premium 5.5% (dark lager)<br />

senču 4.0% (pale Lager)<br />

Tumšais Speciālais<br />

ABV 5.5%, Dark Lager<br />

There are two dark lagers produced by Bauskas - Speciālais and Premium. The latter<br />

was introduced in around 2004 to provide Bauskas customers with a <strong>beer</strong> that would<br />

cost slightly more and would have more “exclusive” feel to it. Unfortunately it seems<br />

that despite these efforts Speciālais still tastes better than the Premium.<br />

Bauskas Speciālais pours dark copper with medium off-white<br />

head that slowly fades. Aroma is mostly sweetish malt, quite<br />

reminiscent of the black Latvian rye bread, slightly toasty.<br />

Taste is dominated by the sweet malt with hints of caramel, some<br />

notes of burnt and slight bitterness in the finish. Sweetish honeylike<br />

residues are left in the aftertaste, and notes of alcohol can be<br />

occasionally felt. It possesses that same sweetness Latvian dark<br />

<strong>beer</strong>s usually have, but at least there is not too much of it.<br />

The feel is quite thick, certainly above moderate. I am not sure<br />

that Tumšais Speciālais is something of unique quality - just a<br />

good Latvian Dark Lager. If compared with Tumšais Speciālais,<br />

Premium feels far more sweeter and certainly more watery and I<br />

am not sure if it is worth the money.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

Bauska is one of the largest towns of Zemgale region, located at the confluence of two<br />

rivers that form Lielupe, completed with impressive ruins of a medieval castle, tolerable<br />

Old Town and impressive Rundāle castle just nearby. • www.tourism.bauska.lv<br />


36<br />

“Ojāri”<br />

Inčukalna novads<br />

810<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

brālis<br />

bralis.lv<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

0.6 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Name of the brewery means Brother in Latvian, but some of their <strong>beer</strong>s carry the label of<br />

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

Ltd.) is listed as the brewery name on bottles.<br />

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

quantity instead of quality first and payed for the mistakes by losing a significant number<br />

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

market share is slowly, but constantly increasing, but still, it can be estimated that Brālis<br />

uses not more than 20% of its capacity.<br />

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

ones in Latvia to bottle unfiltered <strong>beer</strong> (the ones with Nefiltrēts in the name) and what is<br />

more important, this <strong>beer</strong> has been quite drankable.<br />

During the winter also a spiced Christmas seasonal is available that is made using<br />

Tumšais as a base.<br />

Brālis brewery<br />

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

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

latter is owned by the brewery.<br />

Inside the brewery, some of the fermentation tanks<br />

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

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

postive side, as all <strong>beer</strong>s are allowed mature for some extra time.<br />


38<br />

brālis <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

gaišais nefiltrēts 5.3% (pale lager)<br />

tumšais nefiltrēts 6.6% (dark lager)<br />

stiprais 6.7% (strong lager)<br />

senču 4.0% (german pils)<br />

gaišais 5.3% (pale lager)<br />

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

if not the same <strong>beer</strong> with different labels. Brālis is also contract brewing the same for<br />

Lithuanian and German breweries.<br />

In 2010 Brālis brews started to appear also in supermarkets, but only a few of their <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

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

Brālis brews.<br />

Brālis Tumšais Nefiltrēts<br />

ABV 6.6%, Bock<br />

Just a few years ago Tumšais (Dark) was a strictly seasonal <strong>beer</strong>,<br />

available only around Jāņi and Christmas (last year a spiced version<br />

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

available on a constant basis.<br />

Brālis Tumšais is not that very similar to other Latvian dark lagers<br />

- it is not even half of the usual sweetness with somewhat nice<br />

Bock qualities.<br />

Beer pours semi-hazy orange brown with small, but dense offwhite<br />

head. Aroma is wonderful light sweet malt with a touch of<br />

alcohol. Taste is malty with harsh bittery tones and ever increasing<br />

presence of alcohol.<br />

Overall, an interesting <strong>beer</strong>, but the whole 1l bottle (it is not available<br />

in smaller volumes) seems to be too excessive for a single<br />

person use. A similar <strong>beer</strong> to Tumšais is Brālis Stiprais, but the<br />

taste of the latter seems to vary from time to time.<br />

Brālis Gaišais Nefiltrēts<br />

ABV 5.3%, Pale Lager<br />

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

and unfiltered Latvian <strong>beer</strong> that is bottled. It can be easily confused with its<br />

filtered version, labels are almost identical, so read them carefully. Gaišais Nefiltrētais<br />

can be bought only in a few locations.<br />

Beer is slightly hazy pale yellow with bubbly<br />

head that soon fades to white layer, it is by no<br />

means not the most attractive one around.<br />

Smell is mostly faint citrus malt.<br />

But is the taste that matters the most in this<br />

case - malt is very well balanced with grassy<br />

bitterness and a touch of fruit; medium-dry finish<br />

with long lingering bittery citrus aftertaste.<br />

Clean, refreshing and drinkable - this is very<br />

seldom the case with other typical Latvian pale<br />

lagers that frequently are too sweet and with<br />

repulsive flavours.<br />

Brālis Gaišais Nefiltrēts could be considered<br />

nothing too particular in most of more popular<br />

<strong>beer</strong> destinations in other regions, but it is<br />

something worth its quite high price in Latvia.<br />

I usually give this <strong>beer</strong> some extra credit for<br />

showing to sometimes very conservative<br />

Latvian commercial brewing scene that also<br />

unfiltered <strong>beer</strong>s can be fine even if bottled.<br />


40<br />

Podraga iela 1a<br />

Rīga<br />

brūveris<br />

390<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

bruveris.lv<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

0.3 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

This brewery with rather mundane name meaning The Brewer was founded already in<br />

1993 and is quite a good example of very interesting businesses practices that developed<br />

in the beginning on 1990s in post-communist Latvia.<br />

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

It soon switched to become a factory of premium quality crystal lamps and<br />

only then, after considerable Austrian investment, it started brewing and production<br />

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

Latvian minister of interior who, in a newspaper interview in 1997 when asked when the<br />

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

However, already by the next year Sandriko bought the premises of the former Liepaja<br />

brewery that has been recently closed and promised further 4 million Ls investment that<br />

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

possibly because much larger investment was required.<br />

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

some of its <strong>beer</strong>s are known under the brand name “Ingvera” (Ginger) and are<br />

still produced using Austrian recipes. As the name says, these are ginger <strong>beer</strong>s - average<br />

according to European, but quite good for Latvian standards.<br />

During the recent years a couple more interesting brews by Brūveris have appeared and<br />

currently this brewery can be considered as a leader in Latvia with regards to different<br />

<strong>beer</strong> styles. However, not all of its <strong>beer</strong>s are drinkable, but at least their range of products<br />

is not as boring as it is for several other Latvian brewers. .<br />

Despite the large range of <strong>beer</strong>s and presence in most Latvian supermarkets, Brūveris is<br />

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

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

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

down some of its <strong>beer</strong>s, although one can not be always certain as they sometimes keep<br />

re-appearing several years later.<br />

The sign says - Production premises<br />

The brewery is located in the outskirts of Riga,<br />

in rather unattractive industrial area. It does<br />

not seem that anyone from the brewery really<br />

cares about the appearance.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

The district of Iļģuciems has solid a solid history of brewing and manufacturing in general.<br />

It is still very industrial and unattractive area located in the vicinity of the busy Riga<br />

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

to see. Excursions are not available.<br />


42<br />

brūveris <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

ingver <strong>alus</strong> sarkanais 5.4% (vienna lager)<br />

ingver <strong>alus</strong> melnais 7.0% (schwarzbier)<br />

ingver <strong>alus</strong> gaišais 4.7% (pale lager)<br />

kviešu 3.9% (american wheat)<br />

rīgas gaišais 5.2% (pale lager)<br />

Brūveris brews a large and ever changing variety of <strong>beer</strong>s. During the last years it has<br />

become as one of the leading producers of unpalatable artificially flavoured <strong>beer</strong>s (grape,<br />

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

‘bio-<strong>beer</strong> with similarly awful taste.<br />

Kviešu<br />

ABV 3.9%, American Wheat Beer<br />

The first original Latvian wheat <strong>beer</strong>, made using Austrian recipes - I<br />

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

that ‘live’ yeast found in the bottle is healthy. Brūveris Kviešu is rather<br />

strange wheat <strong>beer</strong> that can be seldom found in Hefeweizen dominated<br />

Europe - a wheat lager. It is even not filtered.<br />

Altough the appearance of the <strong>beer</strong> is not too bad - murky brown liquid<br />

with soft and dense slightly off-white head with excellent retention<br />

that forms good looking and slowly downsliding lacing, it gets worse<br />

when it gets to smell. Aroma is dominated by bready yeast, reminding<br />

of all those hastily brewed Latvian homebrews made with bread yeast<br />

and an addition of sugar to speed up the fermentation.<br />

Taste does not seem to fare better - thick and somewhat flat sweet and<br />

sour <strong>beer</strong> with significant presence of not very pleasant yeast that also<br />

dominates the aftertaste. It all does not seem to be a nice and enjoyable<br />

combination. It might be interesting to try Brūveris Kviešu out of<br />

curiousity, but not as way to quench thirst on a hot summer day.<br />

Ingver Alus Sarkanais<br />

ABV 5.4%, Vienna Lager<br />

Name of the <strong>beer</strong> means “ Red Ginger Beer” and it has ginger listed as an ingredient.<br />

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

the ingredients on the bottle, meaning that some breweries use cheaper adjuncts quite<br />

happily.<br />

The <strong>beer</strong> is reddish coppery with dense generous and creamy off-white head that leaves<br />

large thick and patchy lacing. Aroma is malty, some<br />

slight fruitiness and spice.<br />

Taste seems to be dominated by bready malt with<br />

hints of toasty and an interesting touch of ginger.<br />

Medium-dry finish, malty and long lasting aftertaste<br />

with low hoppy bitterness setting in. The <strong>beer</strong><br />

has quite thick and sticky feel to it with some sugary<br />

residues remaining on the lips.<br />

This <strong>beer</strong>, along with other Ingver brews by<br />

Brūveris is quite distinct from the <strong>beer</strong>s offered<br />

by other Latvian breweries and although Austrian<br />

recipes are to blame, the result is quite satisfactory.<br />


44<br />

Aldaru laukums 1<br />

Cēsis<br />

39 800<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

cēsu<br />

cesu<strong>alus</strong>.lv<br />

@cesu<strong>alus</strong><br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

27 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Cēsu promotes itself as the oldest Latvian brewery and claims it was started as early as in<br />

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

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

as it well known that there were breweries in also other castles and manors during that<br />

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

brewery was a small locally owned operation that made reasonably good <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

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

brewery, constructed completely new production premises in 2001 in the outskirts of<br />

Cēsis and started production on a far grander scale. Unfortunately several Cēsu <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

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

Porters or unfiltered pale lager. Otherwise Cēsis produces an impressive array of<br />

American Adjunct Lagers - all the light and extra light <strong>beer</strong>s one could possibly imagine.<br />

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

money, but very unhealthy drinking habits.<br />

Cēsu Alus and its sister breweries in Lithuania and Estonia (Ragutis and A. Le Coq<br />

respectively), similarly to other large Baltic breweries, do not hesitate to distribute the<br />

same <strong>beer</strong> with almost identical labels in all the Baltic countries. Cēsu Special 1590,<br />

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

uania or Estonia you would notice the same looking <strong>beer</strong> (label and bottle), but under<br />

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

Rinktinis in Estonia.<br />

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

but not accessible to the public. The building is located close to the Cēsu castle.<br />

Boiling and mashing vessels of Cēsu brewery<br />

Head brewer of Cēsu Māris Grambergs can be seen inspecting the results of the boil.<br />

Canning line of Cēsu brewery<br />

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

canned <strong>beer</strong> originates in Latvia<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

Cēsis is one of the most interesting and picturesque towns of Vidzeme region, and with<br />

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

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

found in the outskirts of the town. • www.cesis.lv<br />


46<br />

cēsu <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

nefiltrētais 5.4% (pale lager)<br />

mītava 5.0% (pale lager)<br />

premium 5.2% (pale lager)<br />

pilsener 4.7% (german pils)<br />

speciālais 1590 5.2% (pale lager)<br />

While Cēsis is responsible for undrinkable RIMI supermarket <strong>beer</strong> series Walter, it has<br />

several rather palatable and reasonably priced brews to offer, namely Pilsener (canned<br />

only) and Mītava.<br />

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

December, brewed each year using a different recipe.<br />

Nefiltrētais<br />

ABV 5.4%, Pale Lager<br />

In 2010 Cēsis was the first large Latvian brewery to introduce an<br />

unfiltered <strong>beer</strong> to the market. It was the original high gravity <strong>beer</strong><br />

that is usually diluted to produce a variety of pale lagers. This “unfiltered<br />

experiment” with 6,4% ABV turned out to be reasonably<br />

good tasting <strong>beer</strong> was met with unexpectedly warm reception;<br />

demand soon exceeded supply and in spring 2011 Cēsis released it<br />

bottled. Its ABV was lowered by 1% though.<br />

It pours slightly hazy dark amber with small, but dense head.<br />

Aroma is malty and grainy, with bits of herbal hops in the background.<br />

Taste is similiar to aroma with gentle herbal aftertaste and hints<br />

of yeast, not typically found in any other Cēsu <strong>beer</strong>s. Mouthfeel<br />

is medium with average carbonation and faint warming feel. It<br />

clearly stands out amongst other brews made in Cēsis.<br />

Mītava<br />

ABV 5.0%, Pale Lager<br />

Mītava is one of the most successful Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s as it managed to conquer rather<br />

large market share in a comparatively short time. It was introduced several years ago<br />

in rather interesting fashion - the story behind the <strong>beer</strong> supposedly is that the grand-<br />

father of one of the members of Latvia’s most well known pop groups Prāta Vētra<br />

(Brainstorm) created the recipe. It lay forgotten until it was discovered by the <strong>beer</strong><br />

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

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

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

with tons of attractive and happy people pouring golden <strong>beer</strong> into their glasses.<br />

It also proved to be different last Christmas, when<br />

it underwent design changes, getting a synthetic<br />

American Santa Claus on the front and it was sup-<br />

posed to be “limited edition”. That Christmas brew<br />

lasted well until June in the shops.<br />

Appearance is light golden with streams of small<br />

carbonation bubbles rising white head that soon<br />

starts fading. Nice, no, impressive lacing that nicely<br />

sticks to the glass. Taste as well as aroma is mostly<br />

plain malt with bits of herbal hops. Sure it goes<br />

down well and could be quite suitable session <strong>beer</strong>,<br />

but I would have preferred way more charac- ter to<br />

it.<br />

Now it seems most of the people have forgotten<br />

about the unusual story of its origins, but enjoy<br />

Mītava’s rather refreshing taste that, uniquely for<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s brewed by large breweries, does not<br />

deteriorate as the years pass by.<br />


48<br />

Vītolu iela 4<br />

Krāslava<br />

krāslavas<br />

102<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

no website<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

0.07 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

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

Latgale that was once famous for its homebrewers has only one commercial brewery<br />

that has operated since the end of the 1980s without interruption. The smallest Latvian<br />

brewery is located deep in the picturesque Latgale countryside, close to the border with<br />

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

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

one is there, it might be a good idea to try to taste some fresh Krāslavas <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

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

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

it does not seem that there is any expansion planned.<br />

These <strong>beer</strong>s are very good representatives of a typical sweet Latvian country style <strong>beer</strong><br />

and it seems that the brewery has acquired a solid customer base that likes Krāslavas<br />

<strong>beer</strong>s exactly this way. It is bottled in 1 l and 2 l PET bottles and it will spoil rather<br />

quickly - in a week or so.<br />

krāslavas <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

gaišais 4.0% (pale lager)<br />

tumšais 4.8% (munich dunkel)<br />

The brewery does not cater for a large variety and the range of <strong>beer</strong>s has been constant<br />

for over 20 years. It is only worth noting that ABV of Krāslava <strong>beer</strong>s show a slow ascending<br />

tendency; there were times when Gaišais was a solid 3.5% session <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

Gaišais<br />

ABV 4.0%, Pale Lager<br />

Similarly to Abula brewery (actually both of these breweries are rather similar in many<br />

aspects) the Pale <strong>beer</strong> was introduced later than the Dark one, but it seems that the latter<br />

seems to be more widely distributed.<br />

The <strong>beer</strong> is pale dark golden, slightly hazy with some<br />

carbonation bubbles rising, several rings of weak lacing are<br />

visible. Aroma is weak sweetish malt mostly, nothing too<br />

interesting to it.<br />

Taste is mostly malt, maybe a bit sourish with hints of citrus<br />

yeast with rather long lasting sweetish malty aftertaste.<br />

Smooth below medium mouthfeel, with weak and pleasant<br />

carbonation.<br />

Overall, this is pale Latvian country <strong>beer</strong> at its best, drinkable<br />

and tasty, maybe not as sophisticated as other more<br />

industrial Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s, but certainly worth trying. It<br />

certainly has the feel of a farmhouse <strong>beer</strong> to it and I hope it<br />

will stay this way.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

A small picturesque town situated on the banks of the picturesque Daugava river with<br />

tens of lakes surrrounding its hilly countryside is always worth a visit.<br />

• www.kraslava.lv<br />


50<br />

Krasta iela 76<br />

Rīga<br />

195<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

lido<br />

lido.lv<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

0.13 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

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

of LIDO windmill on Krasta Street that offers the best of quasi-traditional Latvian style<br />

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

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

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

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

assumed that its owner Gunārs Ķirsons was inspired by the success of Užavas <strong>beer</strong> that<br />

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

idea of brewing must have fitted neatly into the whole concept of the traditional Latvian<br />

themed kitsch.<br />

Gunārs Ķirsons is one of the most interesting characters amongst all other brewers and<br />

brewery owners mentioned here - full of ambitions and out-of-Earth ideas (one of the<br />

founders of a society that seeked to connect Daugava river to rivers draining in the<br />

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

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

a dubious political party of shady businessman that later failed during the election and<br />

is currently offcially bankrupt. However, it is expected that brewing in LIDO would continue<br />

anyway.<br />

Recipes for <strong>beer</strong>s and brewing technology, in contrary to what one migh suspect, were<br />

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

about this <strong>beer</strong>. Part of the brewery - several fermentation tanks with control panels that<br />

shine mysteriously in the dimly lit cellars is visible to everyone in the <strong>beer</strong> cellar downstairs<br />

that also features Latvian schlager bands on most evenings, and an extensive array<br />

of <strong>beer</strong> snacks and plethora of other food is available upstairs.<br />

LIDO building in Krasta street<br />

Only a part of building is visible and it has many additional facilities all around. The <strong>beer</strong><br />

cellar is located downstairs.<br />

Three different draught unfiltered/unpasteurised <strong>beer</strong>s are brewed that are also available<br />

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

in LIDO is better than their <strong>beer</strong> and as usually, some more variety could be expected<br />

from the brewery. During the course of more than 10 years there have been no new <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

introduced and considering the fact that the demand for LIDO <strong>beer</strong> is on decline already<br />

for some time, it might be about the time to make some change.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

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

Just fifteen years ago the area currently filled with shopping centres was a vast empty<br />

field. However, the residential area called Maskavas forštate with its wooden architecture<br />

and rich history is certainly worth exploring. • www.maskfor.lv<br />


52<br />

lido <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

speciālais 4.5% (vienna lager)<br />

med<strong>alus</strong> 4.5% (pale lager)<br />

gaišais 4.5% (pale lager)<br />

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

<strong>beer</strong> in a bottle, they offer such an option that surprisingly is terribly expensive as the<br />

smallest one - half a liter bottle costs 3.05 Ls and that is even without the <strong>beer</strong> included.<br />

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

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

that the <strong>beer</strong> will spoil immediately.<br />

Speciālais<br />

ABV 4.5%, Vienna Lager<br />

I am not sure if the Speciālais is the best <strong>beer</strong> of LIDO, as also other <strong>beer</strong>s are of comparable<br />

taste and quality, but it often stands out.<br />

Speciālais pours almost clear beautiful amber with thin, but dense slightly off-white<br />

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

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

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

side with moderate carbonation.<br />

LIDO Speciālais is quite drinkable and refreshing <strong>beer</strong>, but nothing too remarkable. It<br />

somehow starts to feel even watery towards the end of the glass.<br />

Med<strong>alus</strong><br />

ABV 4.5%, Pale Lager<br />

Med<strong>alus</strong> is quite an interesting one. It is translated as mead in English, but in reality it<br />

is just a pale lager with honey flavour and aroma. Still it is one of a few <strong>beer</strong>s brewed<br />

with honey nowadays in Latvia and that seems to be quite strange considering the<br />

long and rich mead and honey fermentation traditions<br />

not only in Latvia, but also in other countries<br />

around the Baltic Sea. Just before 1940 there were<br />

several mead-only breweries in Latvia, but none<br />

of them were operating during the Soviet-era<br />

and none of them were revived afterwards in the<br />

1990ies.<br />

It might be the reason why Latvians currently use<br />

only one word nowadays to denote both <strong>beer</strong> with<br />

honey and real mead. Unfortunately many think<br />

this is the same and mead simply means <strong>beer</strong> mixed<br />

with honey before serving.<br />

Aroma of LIDO Med<strong>alus</strong> is dominated by sugary<br />

honey. Flavour is similar and also some presence of<br />

floral hops can be detected. Overall, all the honey<br />

does not feel too artificial, it maybe even boosts the<br />

drinkability. Other than that, there is nothing worth<br />

noting about this <strong>beer</strong>.<br />


54<br />

līvu/lāčplēša<br />

Ganību iela 9/11<br />

Liepāja<br />

29 000<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

<strong>alus</strong>.lv<br />

livu<strong>alus</strong>.lv<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

20 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

It is quite easy to say that this <strong>beer</strong> is the least Latvian of all the Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s, as the<br />

production of this brewery has been “globalised” to the maximum extent.<br />

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

successful and rich of Latvian kolkhozs (Soviet collective farm). Lāčplēsis means the<br />

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

in Latvia that were actually under a good management and even turned in a handsome<br />

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

produced one of the most famous <strong>beer</strong>s in the Soviet Latvia and many people still have<br />

very fond memories about it. During the prohibition campaigns of the Soviet Union that<br />

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

of the Soviet people that always found the way around the system, Lācplēsis <strong>beer</strong><br />

was brewed, labeled and sold not as <strong>beer</strong>, but as a “country drink”. The same strategy was<br />

been employed also by other smaller breweries. Also the local municipalities were satisfied,<br />

as it appeared in the official statistics that less <strong>beer</strong> is produced and sold therefore<br />

showing that anti-alcohol efforts were conducted succesfully.<br />

Unfortunately after the collapse of the USSR when the capitalism arrived, it spelled a<br />

disaster for Lāčplēsis brewery. Kolkhoz Lāčplēsis was split up in many small entities and<br />

although the brewing business somehow struggled forward, it was clearly not succesful.<br />

It is interesting to note that during 1990ies it was even visited by the famous <strong>beer</strong><br />

journalist Michael Jackson. Towards the 2000ies a completely new brewery was built,<br />

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

the newly built brewery closed and all brewing activities relocated to Liepāja - home of<br />

Līvu <strong>alus</strong>.<br />

Līvu brewery - the other brewery of the current tandem has no history whatsoever - it<br />

was built founded in 2000 and it has absolutely no relation with the former and rather<br />

famous Liepāja brewery that was closed in 1998 after operating for slightly more than a<br />

century.<br />

Lāčplēsis himself<br />

The Bear slayer image you will find on bottles<br />

and cans. Lāčplēsis has bear ears and<br />

he was fighting German crusaders during<br />

the 12th century. It seems that more ‘premium’<br />

<strong>beer</strong> uses the Lāčplēsis brand while<br />

the rest goes under Līvu label<br />

Both breweries that were merged together into one single operation - Lācplēša and Līvu<br />

finally landed in the hands of Scandinavians - Danish Royal Unibrew. Danes also own<br />

another brewing operation - Lithuanian Kalnapilis in Panevežys, Lithuania. It seems that<br />

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

to conduct their operations in the Baltic States just by replicating the acitivities in all<br />

three markets simultaneously, while feeding locals with legends of brewing heritage and<br />

unique <strong>beer</strong>s.<br />

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

<strong>beer</strong>s, same names, the same visual style, advertising, basically everything. It is difficult<br />

to say which <strong>beer</strong> is of Latvian origin and which is brewed in Lithuania, it is different for<br />

each and every <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

An industrial town, boasting a bustling port and a large metallurgical complex with<br />

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

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

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

• www.liepajaturisms.lv<br />


56<br />

līvu/lāčplēša <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

līvu nefiltrētais 7.2% (strong lager)<br />

līvu pilzenes 4.6% (german pils)<br />

lāčplēsis kastaņu 4.8% (english pale ale)<br />

lāčplēsis diž<strong>alus</strong> 6.3% (strong lager)<br />

lāčplēsis 3 iesalu 5.0% (pale lager)<br />

There are more than ten <strong>beer</strong>s brewed under both Līvu and Lāčplēša brands, most of<br />

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

Latvia to offer top fermented <strong>beer</strong>s - Lāčplēšu Kastaņu (Chestnut) that is supposedly<br />

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

presumably aimed at metrosexual crowds out there.<br />

Lāčplēsis Diž<strong>alus</strong><br />

ABV 6.3%, Strong Lager<br />

Name of the <strong>beer</strong> means Grand Beer and it is one of the new additions to the Latvian<br />

range of Harboe products, although it has been brewed for some time in Lithuania<br />

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

concept I think.<br />

Large brewing companies usually use the term ‘premium <strong>beer</strong>’ to denote premium<br />

prices, but even if the quality criteria are also applied, there have<br />

been countless premium strong lagers in Latvia before Diž<strong>alus</strong> (and<br />

the tradition of Bocks goes very long way back) and just to name<br />

one current <strong>beer</strong> - Brālis Stiprais sure is a better one.<br />

Diž<strong>alus</strong> is dark golden with very slightly off-white head and full of<br />

small carbonation bubbles. Aroma is malt with slight hints of alcohol<br />

and becomes very medicine-like towards the end.<br />

Taste is light malt with distinct and even unpleasant herbal bitterness<br />

that lasts well into the aftertaste as well as notes of alcohol.<br />

Mouthfeel is light with excessive carbonation in the beginning.<br />

Overall, not a bad strong lager, but feels too bland and watery<br />

towards the end.<br />

Lāčplēsis 3 Iesalu Alus<br />

ABV 5.0%, Pale Lager<br />

The name simply means “3 Malt Beer”. When it was first introduced it was advertised<br />

in a manner as if any “regular” <strong>beer</strong> carries just one type of malt and only the innovative<br />

Lāčplēsis is responsible for the discovery that different malts can be combined<br />

together. It even had a small packet of three different malts (a few grains from each)<br />

attached to the bottle.<br />

Beer pours brilliant clear coppery with large and<br />

slightly off-white head that soon fades to dirty<br />

patches and leaves bits of downsliding pieces of<br />

lacing. Aroma is quite weak malt with even lighter<br />

glimpse of hops.<br />

As could be expected from the name, the <strong>beer</strong><br />

tastes mostly malty. Sweetish and watery malt<br />

with faint grassy hops and light puckering finish,<br />

as wells as short citrusy aftertaste - everything one<br />

could expect from an “industrial” lager. The <strong>beer</strong><br />

is not very thin at least and it has pleasant and<br />

slightly prickly carbonation.<br />

Overall, it would be difficult to say that this <strong>beer</strong> is<br />

good. It sure quenches thirst, but it seriously lacks<br />

flavour. However, in my opinion, this <strong>beer</strong> at least<br />

has some bits of character as opposed to many<br />

other <strong>beer</strong>s from the same brewery.<br />


58<br />

“Bodnieki”<br />

Madonas novads<br />

madonas<br />

180<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

no website<br />

@madonas<strong>alus</strong><br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

0.12 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Madonas brewery brews Bodnieku <strong>beer</strong>. Or is the brewery called Bodnieku? I am not<br />

sure myself, but Madona is the town close to “Bodnieki” country house where the brewery<br />

is located. It is all rather confusing, so I will use both names.<br />

No one was even suspecting it, but it turns out that Madonas Bodnieku brewery has<br />

been operating for at least eighty years, dating from 1916, retaining its brewing traditions<br />

through both World Wars. Its trademark design and some historical photos that<br />

are displayed in some of the <strong>beer</strong> stores are all set to convince the customer of the historical<br />

value of this <strong>beer</strong>. Unfortunately it all looks too fake. It might seem that every new<br />

Latvian brewery requires a legend nowadays. It does not even matter whether it at least<br />

sounds believable. I seriously do not understand why a brewery can not be a completely<br />

new establishment and simply brew good <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

As far as facts are concerned, Madonas brewery in „Bodnieki” opened in 2009 and has<br />

enjoyed a rather good start and currently has expanded from the initial 3 to about 20<br />

tonnes of <strong>beer</strong> per month. However, there are many rumours about the inconsistent<br />

quality of the <strong>beer</strong> and it turning sour far too soon.<br />

The <strong>beer</strong> is available in bars and draught <strong>beer</strong> stores in Riga, mostly in those centrally<br />

located, but it can be found much more often in the hilly Madonas area.<br />

madonas <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

madonas bodnieku<br />

gaišais<br />

madonas bodnieku<br />

stiprais<br />

both draught only<br />

Madonas Bodnieku<br />

ABV 5.8%, Pale Lager<br />

5.8% (pale lager)<br />

8.5% (strong lager)<br />

Madonas brewery produces two types of pale lager, but the pale version is much more<br />

common. The strong one is brewed irregulary and can be found only in a few locations.<br />

The <strong>beer</strong> is light hazy and nice amber with a small head that almost iimediately dissipates,<br />

despite rather aggressive pour. Aroma is sweet malt, as expected.<br />

Taste is thick and sweet with not that pleasant herbal<br />

bitterness, noticeable caramel flavours and a feel of alcohol<br />

towards the finish. It leaves some sugary residue<br />

after the traces of bittery aftertaste are gone. Towards<br />

the end of the glass the <strong>beer</strong> regrettably turns flat and<br />

becomes medicine-like.<br />

Overall, it seems to be rather simple, not well balanced<br />

pure country style lager.<br />

It is almost drinkable, but I am afraid there are much<br />

better ones out there. Certainly it is not worth the high<br />

price it currently costs. It seems that the owners have<br />

tried to emulate Valmiermuižas in some aspects (at<br />

least in setting the high price), but they clearly have not<br />

succeeded.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

The brewery is located in the countryside, about 10km from the small and attractive<br />

Madona town. There are typical countryside attractions, nice nature, some manors and<br />

country houses. • www.madona.lv/turisms<br />


60<br />

Gaujas iela 2<br />

Jaunpiebalga<br />

piebalgas<br />

2 600<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

piebalgas<strong>alus</strong>.lv<br />

@piebalgas<strong>alus</strong><br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

1.8 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Piebalgas Alus was started in 1989 in one of the most picturesque Latvian regions that is<br />

very well-known for its open minded residents that once constituted a significant part of<br />

Latvian intelligentsia during the last part of the 19th century when the first ideas about<br />

Latvian independence from the Russian empire started to emerge. Piebalgas Alus, very<br />

soon after it was established gained a reputation of a solid brewer and steadily increased<br />

its market share. A few years ago additional investments were brought to brewery and it<br />

was modernised and expanded in 2003.<br />

Contrary to many other Latvian breweries founded around the nineties, all recipes of<br />

Piebalgas were developed by its brewers, the brewery also used to produce their own<br />

malt for a couple of years until it was deemed to be too expensive. It also had its own hop<br />

plantations that were abandoned to too.<br />

It is interesting that one of Piebalgas founders and shareholders is the current Latvian<br />

minister of agriculture Jānis Dūklavs. It is thought that he was invited to become the<br />

minister because he was good with managing the brewery.<br />

However, although <strong>beer</strong>s of Piebalgas are still decent, they are sadly somewhat slowly<br />

losing popularity and the image of traditional good quality brewer it once had. I can<br />

only hope it improves in the near future.<br />

piebalgas <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

lux 5.8% (dark lager)<br />

jubilejas 5.2% (pale lager)<br />

mednieku 4.7% (pale lager)<br />

piebalgas 5.6% (pale lager)<br />

senču 4.0% (german pils)<br />

Piebalgas Tumšais Lux<br />

ABV 5.8%, Dark Lager<br />

It is interesting that a throughout Latvian brewery could not resist using Lux that is<br />

clearly a non-Latvian word. Actually the brewery is not as Latvian<br />

as it might appear on the surface - almost 50% of its shares belong<br />

to an investment company with roots in Moscow.<br />

Lux is a weaker version of once very famous <strong>beer</strong> - Sātans that was<br />

discountinued almost a decade ago due to its high ABV and blasphemous<br />

nature. But most of its good flavour has been succesfully<br />

transferred to its lower ABV successor.<br />

Lux pours clear dark copper with large off-white head that fades<br />

relatively quickly. Aroma is sweet malt, but in contrast to many<br />

other Latvian dark lagers the sweetness is not overwhelming.<br />

Taste is much less sweet with noticeable bitterness that almost<br />

provides good balance to lightly sweet malt, some hints of liquorice<br />

can be felt. The <strong>beer</strong> does not feel as thick as it looks and it has quite<br />

lively carbonation.<br />

Piebalgas Tumšais Lux could be considered as one of the best Latvian<br />

<strong>beer</strong>s and certainly should be included in the shopping list. It<br />

is sold in supermarkets all over Latvia, so it would not be a problem<br />

to find it.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

Jaunpiebalga is a village of slightly more than one thousand people with the brewery<br />

as one of the main industrial enterprises. Not much to do in the village itself, but a few<br />

museums, holiday houses at lake and riversides. • www.jaunpiebalga.lv<br />


62<br />

Atbrīvošanas aleja 162<br />

Rēzekne<br />

rēzeknes<br />

900<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

no website<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

0.6 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Rēzekne is one of the largest Latvian towns and for many years till the beginning of nineties<br />

it had reasonably large brewery. During the Soviet times it was joined with another<br />

brewery in the neighbouring town of Daugavpils, but both of them retained separate<br />

brewing activities. Unfortunately the management of the brewing establishment was not<br />

able to grasp economic realities of the capitalism when it arrived and the brewery in<br />

Rēzekne was closed (Daugavpils brewery managed to stay afloat and even continued<br />

brewing rather good <strong>beer</strong>, when it finally collapsed in 2008).<br />

Rēzeknes brewery re-opened again in 2003 in new premises (car servicing facilities from<br />

Soviet times), but again, similarly to its predecessor, it brewed mostly financial losses<br />

and was subsequently closed after one or two years of operation.<br />

Although it seemed that this time the brewery will be gone for good, it was re-opened<br />

again just in July 2009, after the company changed the ownership and made some additional<br />

investment. During the first year of operation locals have shown an increasing<br />

support for Rēzeknes <strong>beer</strong> and it has started to move slowly towards much larger market<br />

in Riga.<br />

rēzeknes <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

brūveris gaišais<br />

nefiltrētais<br />

5.2% (pale lager)<br />

Rēzeknes used to sell two bottled <strong>beer</strong>s - Latgales and Mārtiņa that were contract brewed<br />

in Lithuania. Most probably not even using Rēzeknes recipes, but just with Rēzekne labels<br />

on them - it is a popular practice used by several companies. Currently Rēzekenes<br />

selection has decreased, but the <strong>beer</strong> is distributed much more widely and sales volumes<br />

have increased as well. After all, most clients of Rēzeknes do not care too much about<br />

the variety.<br />

Brūveris Gaišais<br />

ABV 5.2%, Pale Lager<br />

Will be added later.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

One of largest Latvians towns, located just in the midst of one of the most beautiful Latvian<br />

regions. Similarly to some other industrial Soviet style Latvian towns, skip the town<br />

and enjoy the countryside. • www.rezekne.lv<br />


64<br />

Kroņauce<br />

Tērvetes novads<br />

Tērvetes<br />

tervete.lv<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

3 580<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

2.6 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Name Tērvete sure rings a bell to a Latvian <strong>beer</strong> drinker. Although it is highly debatable<br />

what comes second, most people would have no doubts who is the best out there. They<br />

do not export and do not expand too rapidly and they do not have to spend too much<br />

on advertising. Tērvetes brewery can be regarded as one of the most traditional and<br />

successful of smaller Latvian breweries that was able to get through all the economic<br />

turmoils during the 1990s barely unscathed and still kept brewing good quality product.<br />

Tērvetes Alus was established 40 years ago - in 1971 in the small village of Kroņauce<br />

(village of Tērvete from which the name is borrowed is located a couple of kilometers<br />

away) by one of the most successful agriculture co-operatives in the Soviet Latvia called<br />

“Tērvete”. It is said that the idea to establish a brewery was contrived when then heads of<br />

both Tērvetes and Lāčplēša breweries were touring Denmark and visited a small brewery<br />

there. While Lāčplēsis chose to brew so-called “country <strong>beer</strong>”, Tērvetes decided to go<br />

a slightly different path, by producing classic bottled <strong>beer</strong> styles - rather an unortodox<br />

and ambitious move for a small kolkhoz brewery at that time.<br />

It took several years to develop the recipes. During the setup of the brewery the most<br />

famous Latvian brewmaster - Kārlis Zālitis was involved, but is often wrongly claimed<br />

that he is the sole author of recipes; the current manager of Tērvetes Anita Krāģe and<br />

One of the earlier Tērvete labels<br />

During the Soviet times, most bottles had<br />

just one small label and most of the <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

was made according to the State standards,<br />

sometimes the same recipe and technology<br />

was applied in many breweries throught the<br />

USSR. Not in this case though, Tērvetes <strong>beer</strong><br />

was unique.<br />

her collegues were also reponsible for this work to an equal extent. Soon Kārlis Zālitis<br />

transferred to the new Bauskas brewery, but Anita Krāģe still, after 40 years is working<br />

in the brewery. During the Soviet times brewery provided steady income for the<br />

kolkhoz. There are rumours that all the money from <strong>beer</strong> sales was used to fund other<br />

activities that were closer to the heart of the management of kolkhoz, e.g. its very costly<br />

and famous horse breeding facilities, to the point that brewing operations were partly<br />

neglected.<br />

One of the main reasons for the current success of Tērvetes was their well-managed<br />

privatisation after the collapse of the Soviet Union that ensured that ownership of the<br />

agricultural co-operative, including the brewery landed in the hands of several hundred<br />

local shareholders. It has to be added that these small shareholders are not in control<br />

The Green Spoon<br />

This label denotes that at least 75% ingredients of this particular<br />

product have originated in Latvia. Tērvetes is the only<br />

Latvian brewery to have received this label and there is no<br />

chance other breweries could get one as well.<br />

Tērvete brewery<br />

in Kroņauce<br />

The building is<br />

located just next<br />

to the main road<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

Be careful, the brewery is located in village of Kroņauce although it uses the name of<br />

other nearby village Tērvete. However, there is virtually nothing to see in Kroņauce except<br />

for the brewery, but luckily there is a nature park Tērvete just a few kilometers away<br />

with plenty of attractions for both adults and children.<br />

• www.vietas.lv/objekts/tervetes_dabas_parks<br />


66<br />

any more, as the majority of shares (around 80%) have been bought by four large shareholders<br />

and there has been a serious criticism of their actions. Still, Tērvetes is a very<br />

profitable business that employs several hundred people and brewery is one of the main<br />

and most valuable assets, others being a horse breeding facility, dairy business and crop<br />

farming.<br />

Tērvetes is also the only Latvian brewery that grows their own barley that is mostly malted<br />

in in their own maltings (the rest of Latvian breweries rely only on imported malt),<br />

but the remaining part (20 - 30%), as there is not enough in-house capacity, is contract<br />

malted in Lithuania from Tērvetes grain. Spent grain is fed to Tērvetes cows, so there is<br />

a bit of <strong>beer</strong> in their milk too.<br />

During the last decade the brewery has been modernised, new fermentation premises<br />

have been been built and tanks installed that allowed Tērvetes to double its capacity<br />

from 2 to 4.5 million litres per year. It is expected that replacement of mash tun and boiling<br />

vessel, both of which have been in operation since the very beginning 40 years ago,<br />

will increase the capacity even further.<br />

Fermentation<br />

tanks of Tērvete<br />

A few years<br />

ago most of the<br />

brewery was<br />

modernised and<br />

nee extension<br />

built where fermentation<br />

tanks<br />

are located now.<br />

Maltings facilities in Tērvete<br />

Maltings has not changed since 1970s. Pictured above are immersion vessels, below germination<br />

facilities are visible where malt is turned over manually every day for five days.<br />


68<br />

tērvete <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

oriģinālais 5.4% (pale Lager)<br />

tērvetes 5.3% (pale Lager)<br />

senču 4.5% (pale lager)<br />

All pale, no dark - this has been the constant situation with Tērvetes <strong>beer</strong>s for already<br />

40 years. Some praise their sticking to the roots, some claim that their <strong>beer</strong>s taste more<br />

or less the same and some more diversity could be encouraged.<br />

There have been some experiments with Tērvetes brews, thoug. First, ABV of their<br />

<strong>beer</strong>s has changed frequently over the years, it also quite clear that recipes had to be<br />

changed as well, when Western European ingredients became available. During the last<br />

decade there have been several limited edition summer and winter <strong>beer</strong>s released and a<br />

brief period when Tērvetes <strong>beer</strong> was bottled in PET bottles.<br />

In addition, Tērvetes red label <strong>beer</strong> is sold as Raganas Rūgtais in-house <strong>beer</strong> in a road<br />

pub next to Rīga-Valmiera highway.<br />

Oriģinālais<br />

ABV 5.4%, Pale Lager<br />

One can fully appreciate this <strong>beer</strong> only after a handful of bland Latvian lagers. Despite<br />

its name, the <strong>beer</strong> is not The Original, its recipe has been significantly<br />

tweaked several times since the 1970s, but the popularity of this<br />

<strong>beer</strong> has remained steady.<br />

One of the most important things about Tērvetes Oriģinālais is that<br />

it has been developed in Latvia by the Latvian brewers. One would<br />

think of it as a common occurrence, but unfortunately only a handful<br />

of Latvian breweries can say the same about their <strong>beer</strong>s.<br />

Oriģinālais pours light golden, almost yellow with large and fluffy<br />

white head and dense generous lacing. Aroma is malt with slight<br />

hints of citrus as well as hops that are much better felt in the taste<br />

where the weakly sweetish malt is quite well balanced with herbal<br />

hops that finishes in long lingering bittery citrus aftertaste.<br />

Although the <strong>beer</strong> is not exceptional, it is solid and well made pale<br />

lager and there are only one or two such <strong>beer</strong>s to be found amongst<br />

Latvian brews. Certainly one of the must try <strong>beer</strong>s during the visit to<br />

Latvia.<br />

Senču<br />

ABV 4.5%, Pale Lager<br />

Senču means “Ancestor” in Latvian. Despite its name, it does not mean that this <strong>beer</strong> is<br />

brewed according to any traditional Latvian recipes or technology.<br />

Senču <strong>beer</strong> was developed during the Soviet era in a now kvass-only Iļģuciems brewery<br />

in Riga by the famous brewmaster Kārlis Zālītis. The <strong>beer</strong> is based on Žiguļu <strong>beer</strong> (that<br />

itself finds its roots in Vienna lager modifications<br />

carried out in the Soviet Union in 1930s), but contrary<br />

to Žiguļu brew where 15% of adjuncts were<br />

permitted, no adjuncts were allowed in this one.<br />

It was a standard recipe used by several breweries<br />

and it has to be kept in mind that Soviet enterprises<br />

were not supposed to compete with each<br />

other therefore using the same standartised State<br />

approved recipes and technologies was part of<br />

the deal; of course, due to many other factors,<br />

the quality and the taste of these brews differed<br />

greatly.<br />

It is interesting to note that only Senču <strong>beer</strong> has<br />

been able to survive the change from socialism<br />

to capitalism 20 years ago - the rest of the Soviet<br />

brews - Rīgas, Žiguļu, Marta and others were<br />

mostly forgotten. As one can see in most of the<br />

stores, now several of the smaller breweries brews<br />

its own version of Senču <strong>beer</strong>, but mostly they are<br />

not related to Soviet recipes and the taste of these<br />

<strong>beer</strong>s is clearly very diverse.<br />

One of the best Senču <strong>beer</strong>s is brewed by Tērvete -<br />

it is light yellow lager with mild malty aroma and<br />

similar flavour.<br />

Good and refreshing summer <strong>beer</strong> that is reasonably<br />

priced and is the best selling <strong>beer</strong> of Tērvete<br />

brewery.<br />


70<br />

Užavas pagasts<br />

Ventspils novads<br />

užavas<br />

uzavas-<strong>alus</strong>.lv<br />

@uzavas<strong>alus</strong><br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

1 440<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

1 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

Užavas brewery<br />

The newest of three brewery buildings that was completed in 2007 with 2.5 million litre capacity.<br />

It has purpose built visitor gangways that enable to see most of the brewery by not disturbing<br />

any brewing operations.<br />

The brewery opened in 1994 in Kurzeme region, close to the largest Latvian port town of<br />

Ventspils. During the nineties Užavas brewery was a comparatively small operation located<br />

inside a large countryside dwelling house, owned by Uldis Pumpurs - a millionaire<br />

and a former First Secretary of Komsomol (Soviet Youth organisation) of Ventspils city<br />

for whom brewing was a hobby. I always enjoy the irony when the most avid proponents<br />

of the Soviet regime very fast became avid supporters of the capitalism; in addition Uldis<br />

Pumpurs supposedly has strong ties with mayor of Ventspils - Aivars Lembergs who has<br />

been accused of bribery and money laundering activities both in Latvia and the UK. But<br />

these are the realities behind many “innocent” Latvian businesses.<br />

The biggest role in securing the popularity of Užavas was played by the friendship between<br />

Uldis Pumpurs and the owner of LIDO Gunārs Ķirsons who introduced Užavas<br />

to the general public that received the <strong>beer</strong> warmly indeed (both friends until were recently<br />

involved in another project - digging an utopian shipping channel from the Baltic<br />

to the Black Sea, worth several billion euros). There is nothing very Latvian about their<br />

<strong>beer</strong>s – tweaked German recipes and technology with imported ingredients.<br />

Part of the Užavas <strong>beer</strong> label<br />

In in the old brewery building is<br />

displayed. It is still there today, but is<br />

now used as a dwelling house only.<br />

Užavas <strong>beer</strong>s are famous with regards to their price, it is certainly one of the most expensive<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s (surpassed only by Valmiermuižas and Brālis to some extent). Some<br />

do not think it is worth its price as it is quite evident that Tērvetes, Piebalgas or Bauskas<br />

are capable of turning out similar quality <strong>beer</strong>s that cost less.<br />

The brewery has been expanded twice - first in 2000 when 1 million litre capacity was<br />

reached, but the demand still could not be satisfied. Thefeore a new building soon followed,<br />

opened in 2007, increasing the total capacity of the brewery to 3.5 million litres.<br />

It is interesting to note that in the new building only the bottled <strong>beer</strong>s are produced<br />

while in the old one <strong>beer</strong> sold on-tap (including all the unfiltered one) is made. Unfortunately<br />

the owners did not make the necessary calculations when they started the<br />

expansion so since 2007 the brewery is running at 30-40% capacity, but the owner has<br />

been quick to blame the government and imported <strong>beer</strong> for this.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

Tiny village of Užava is located a few kilometres off the Baltic Sea coast. There is little else<br />

to do and see except the brewery and sparsely inhabited rugged Latvian seaside. However,<br />

town of Ventspils is nearby with plenty of tourist attractions. It has to be noted that<br />

it will be nearly impossible to reach Užavas brewery by public transport.<br />

• www.tourism.ventspils.lv<br />


72<br />

užava <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

Gaišais Nefiltrētais* 4.6% (pale Lager)<br />

* draught only<br />

Gaišais 4.6% (pale Lager)<br />

Tumšais 4.9% (dark lager)<br />

Tumšais Nefiltrētais* 4.9% (dark lager)<br />

užavnieks 4.2% (german pils)<br />

The lineup of Užavas has not changed much for almost 20 years and probably will not<br />

change for another twenty. It seems the brewery is comfortable with the current situation<br />

and does not want to experiment too much, quite similarly to many other Latvian<br />

breweries. Its two main <strong>beer</strong>s are solid brews, made under the supervision of German<br />

brewmaster, while the third is an experiment gone wrong.<br />

Užavnieks<br />

ABV 4.2%, German Pils<br />

It was announced in summer 2010 that a cheaper pale lager will<br />

be released. The summer passed, then came the autumn and a<br />

new <strong>beer</strong> was released indeed. It was not cheap - just a handful of<br />

santīms cheaper than regular Užavas. It also seems that it bears<br />

some similarity with Valmiermuiža <strong>beer</strong>s.<br />

Brilliant pale yellow with soft white head and patchy downsliding<br />

lacing. Aroma is very strong grassy malt.<br />

Taste is simple malt with herbal hops and ever increasing and long<br />

lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. Mouthfeel is light with mod-<br />

erate carbonation. Although not bad, it sure lacks character.<br />

I am not sure if I would buy it again, it seems a bit too overpriced.<br />

It might be better to stick with regular Užavas Pale or find some-<br />

thing cheaper instead.<br />

Gaišais<br />

ABV 4.6%, Pale Lager<br />

Gaišais pours brilliant clear light goden <strong>beer</strong> with large and foamy<br />

white head. No doubt excellent by the looks.<br />

But that is it, some malt and grassy hops in both flavour and aroma.<br />

It would be difficult to distinguish Užavas Gaišais from other<br />

pale Latvian or German lagers; it possibly has slightly elevated<br />

bitterness if compared to other Latvian lagers.<br />

Very drinkable, but easy to forget <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

Tumšais<br />

ABV 4.9%, Dark Lager<br />

Name of the <strong>beer</strong> is simply Užavas Dark. It does not seem that dark<br />

when poured into the glass - it is rather reddish pale copper with<br />

slightly off white and somewhat fizzy head that fades rather fast.<br />

Aroma is mild sweetish malt with light fruit and nuts, I have to admit<br />

that this is one of the nicest smells amongst Latvian brews.<br />

Taste does not seem to be too remarkable, it is quite similar to smell<br />

with low bitterness and dryish bittery aftertaste. Mouthfeel is more<br />

on the thinner side with pleasant carbonation levels.<br />

This <strong>beer</strong> is rather different from what could be considered a typical<br />

Latvian Dark Lager, but it is no wonder considering its German<br />

origins. Although Užavas Tumšais a decent and very drinkable <strong>beer</strong>,<br />

it seems to lack a character.<br />


74<br />

Valmiermuižas<br />

Dzirnavu iela 2<br />

Valmiermuiža<br />

valmiermuiza.lv<br />

@valmiermuiza<br />

production stats of the brewery in 2010<br />

470<br />

thousand litres<br />

brewed annually<br />

0.3 %<br />

of total<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong> volume<br />

In Valmiermuižas web page you will find a story that <strong>beer</strong> has been brewed in<br />

Valmiermuiža area for centuries, trying to convince the consumer that the establishment<br />

of the new brewery was a continuation of a very famous brewing tradition. It is a pity<br />

that makers of Valmiermuiža have made so much effort to surround themselves with<br />

fairy tales and half-fake legends. Pity because their <strong>beer</strong> is good and it does not actually<br />

need any of them.<br />

Although there were several breweries in the beginning of 20th century in Valmiera<br />

area, there is no evidence that one was located where Valmiermuižas brew currently is.<br />

It is one of the most recent of Latvian breweries - its owners invested more than 3 million<br />

euros, one third of this EU funds, to build and equip a completely new brewery. In 2011,<br />

the capacity of the brewery was doubled, by installing new fermentation tanks.<br />

The cap of Valmiermuiža <strong>beer</strong><br />

1764 has nothing to do with the current brewery, however<br />

it is possible to see the remains of the tower shown in the<br />

cap and the gate just accross the road from the brewery<br />

building<br />

The brewery is located just outside Valmiera, in a rather interesting surroundings - historic<br />

premises of Valmiermuiža manor. Not much has been left from the manor as it was<br />

destroyed during the both World Wars - mostly pictureque ruins and fences remain.<br />

Valmiermuižas brewery is one of the few in Latvia that succeeds in attracting customers<br />

by actively encouraging drinkers of their <strong>beer</strong> to visit the brewery - apart from Užavas,<br />

the only in Latvia to do so. There is no doubt that in a short period of time it has become<br />

one of the favourite tourist destinations in Valmiera area. Recently the brewery also<br />

added a shop next to the brewery as well as one in Riga (open up till 22.00) that sell not<br />

only Valmiermuižas <strong>beer</strong>s, but also ‘natural’ sauna essentials and snacks and cheeses to<br />

complement <strong>beer</strong> - most notable being the cookies from spent grain, these are truly a<br />

magnificent treat and a must if visting the brewery.<br />

Valmiermuiža brewery<br />

The brownish building in the centre is the brewery and it has been newly built while the white<br />

building to the left remains from pre-brewery times and houses a shop that sells not only <strong>beer</strong>, but<br />

sauna essentials and snacks and is used also as a storage.<br />

I would also encourage everyone to fall under Valmiermuižas spell and pay the visit. It<br />

is worth noting that also English tours (even during weekends) are possible and you can<br />

kill two birds with one stone, as another interesting brewery - Abula (Brenguļu) is just<br />

some 10-15 km from Valmiermuiža, on the other side of Valmiera. Even more - on the<br />

way to Valmiera even a third brewery visit - to Brālis brewery can be added.<br />

sights and attractions around the brewery<br />

A large park and a lonely ruin is all that remains of a former Valmiermuiža manor today.<br />

However, just a few kilometres away there is a town of Valmiera – the largest town of<br />

Vidzeme region with enough activities to fill at least a day, if not the entire weekend.<br />

• www.valmiera.lv<br />


76<br />

valmiermuiža <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

Gaišais Nefiltrētais* 5.2% (Vienna Lager)<br />

* draught only<br />

Gaišais 5.2% (Vienna Lager)<br />

Tumšais 5.8% (Munich Dunkel)<br />

Tumšais Nefiltrētais* 5.8% (Munich Dunkel)<br />

Valmiermuiža currently is the only Latvian brewery to use solely German malt, possibly<br />

thanks to its German brewmaster. They brew only two <strong>beer</strong>s and both are sold both filtered<br />

and unfiltered. All four are frequently available in Valmiermuiža shops.<br />

Thanks to increased capacity, it is possible that the range of Valmiermuiža <strong>beer</strong>s could<br />

be extended, although it seems the brewery is comfortable with the current range - after<br />

all, their <strong>beer</strong> is frequently sold out.<br />

Valmiermuiža Gaišais<br />

ABV 5.2%, Vienna Lager<br />

The brewery constantly reminds its both current and potential<br />

customers that this <strong>beer</strong> has been matured for amazing 30 days in<br />

its vaults, as if setting the Latvian record. Just a small reminder - a<br />

brewery that positions itself as a traditional Latvian brewer should<br />

know that as recently as in 1930s, maturing <strong>beer</strong> for at least 3-4<br />

weeks was considered essential by most Latvian brewers.<br />

Taste is soft and toasty malt that is well balanced with pleasant light<br />

bittery hops. Medium and slightly creamy mouthfeel with prickly<br />

carbonation in the beginning that soon softens. The <strong>beer</strong> is very,<br />

very drinkable and no doubt it is one of the better made paler lagers<br />

in Latvia.<br />

Unfiltered version of Valmiermuižas <strong>beer</strong> can be purchased in the<br />

brewery and some select shops and pubs in Riga, it is certainly better<br />

than the bottled version.<br />

Valmiermuiža Tumšais<br />

ABV 5.8%, Munich Dunkel<br />

Their dark <strong>beer</strong> was released in April 2010, after extensive market surveys that took<br />

more than half a year.Valmiermuižas brewery was the first in Latvia to brew 5000 samples<br />

of different recipes and let the customers vote for the best. It is interesting to note<br />

that the 4 initial versions received almost the same number of the votes, thus greatly<br />

complicating the process.<br />

Unfortunately due to the longer maturing periods<br />

and high demand it may be frequently sold out,<br />

especially during summer.<br />

Although this <strong>beer</strong> can be regarded as some of the<br />

best Latvian dark lagers (frankly, there are not too<br />

many to choose from), it has its flaws. First, everyone<br />

would notice its quite high ABV, so this is<br />

no session <strong>beer</strong> - three of these and you certainly<br />

feel the effects. Secondly, it lacks any individual<br />

characteristics, there is nothing particularly<br />

unique about the <strong>beer</strong>, nothing that would stand<br />

out if compared to its German counterparts.<br />

Still, it is worth trying.<br />


78<br />

Excursions to Latvian breweries<br />

Užavas<br />

Lāčplēša/Līvu<br />

It is possible to visit all breweries, but you should always make an appointment by phone<br />

or email first (just a note - not everyone speaks English, so it might be a good idea to ask<br />

a Latvian speaking person for help) and it is often that a group of at least 8 -10 persons<br />

will be required.<br />

It also has to be added that this experience can be very different - in several places visitors<br />

are not allowed inside the production premises. If short on time, I would suggest visiting<br />

Valmiermuižas brewery for more interesting experience. It would cost about 3.50 LVL<br />

per person, no group required. Visit to Užavas costs 1 LVL, for Abula it is free of charge,<br />

but it is certainly expected that you would buy some of their <strong>beer</strong> afterwards. I guess you<br />

would not need a reminder anyway. Some of the breweries, e.g. Valmiermuižas are open<br />

to visitors on weekends, reservation in advance is a must.<br />

These details are certainly subject to change, it is also possible that some breweries are<br />

partly closed during the winter. Local tourist information offices certainly would be able<br />

to provide correct and up-to-date information.<br />

Aldaris<br />

Brūveris<br />

Tērvetes<br />

LIDO<br />

Valmiermuižas<br />

Brālis<br />

Bauskas<br />

Abula (Brenguļu)<br />

Cēsu<br />

Piebalgas<br />

Madonas<br />

Krāslavas<br />

Rēzeknes<br />

Abula (Brenguļu) - 64230272 (appointment required only for larger groups)<br />

Cēsu - 80009090<br />

Bauskas - 63960013 or 26765153<br />

LIDO - just visit the <strong>beer</strong> cellar downstears in Krasta 76, Riga<br />

Līvu/Lāčplēša - 63425262<br />

Piebalgas - 64162518, 64162665<br />

Tērvetes - 29476708<br />

Užavas - 63699484<br />

Valmiermuižas - also English tour possible, 20264269, info@valmiermuiza.lv<br />

During the last years commercial brewery tours have appeared, e.g. <strong>latvia</strong>n<strong>beer</strong>tours.<br />

com. The idea is good, but prices are on the high-end and the range of activities these<br />

companies provide is very large (such as carting and canoeing), so some element of<br />

doubt remains. It is possible to do a similar tour on your own, but, of-course, it would<br />

require much more effort.<br />


80<br />

Aldaris Porteris<br />

The most distinctive taste<br />

amongst Latvian dark brews,<br />

the only Baltic Porter brewed<br />

in Latvia - this <strong>beer</strong> is a must.<br />

Piebalgas Lux<br />

Good and well made dark lager,<br />

encompasses some of the<br />

most distinctive qualities of the<br />

dark Latvian <strong>beer</strong>.<br />

5 <strong>beer</strong>s to bring home from Latvia<br />

If short on time, here is a short list of 5 <strong>beer</strong>s that are easily available in many<br />

locations, including supermarkets, all around Latvia and will be a good representation<br />

of the Latvian <strong>beer</strong> scene.<br />

Tērvetes Oriģinālais<br />

Not as original as the name<br />

would suggest - the recipe is<br />

tweaked on a regular basis, but<br />

it still is a good representation<br />

of Latvian brewing.<br />

Valmiermuižas Gaišais<br />

One of the best Latvian pale<br />

lagers by one of the best new<br />

Latvian breweries. Unfiltered<br />

version (not bottled) is even<br />

better.<br />

Brālis Gaišais<br />

Nefiltrētais<br />

Decent pale lager, as well as one<br />

of the few (others are brewed<br />

by the same brewery) bottled<br />

unfiltered and unpasteurised<br />

<strong>beer</strong>s in Latvia.<br />


82<br />

Where to get <strong>beer</strong>?<br />

Although <strong>beer</strong> from all Latvian breweries is listed here, you will be able to get only a faction<br />

of those in an average Latvian pub or shop. Aldaris production will be encountered<br />

the most often, followed by Cēsu, Lāčplēša/Līvu brews. Sometimes smaller shops will<br />

have the most interesting selection. Outside Riga there can not be a large variety expected.<br />

The best and safest option would be to rely on supermarkets, as smaller shops will<br />

carry mostly Aldaris, other breweries do not seem to have so large distributor network.<br />


It is prohibited to sell any alcohol from 22:00 till 8:00 in any shop. Bars an pubs<br />

are allowe to sell also later in the night, as long as alcohol is intended for consumption<br />

on the spot.<br />

Riga Airport<br />

You should not rely on airport for your last-minute <strong>beer</strong> purchases. There will be very<br />

limited selection of Cēsu and Aldaris <strong>beer</strong>s available in the shopping area behind the<br />

customs. In addition, LIDO and Užavas draught <strong>beer</strong> can be purchased outside customs<br />

area in LIDO eatery on the second floor. If you are transiting and have at least 1 hour<br />

to spare (although the whole operation can be conducted even in 30 min or even less),<br />

there is a Maxima supermarket with a draught <strong>beer</strong> shop quite close to the airport. And<br />

there are plenty of bottles in the supermarket itself as well.<br />

There are two options to get there:<br />

1) Taxi - 5 min taxi ride (charge would be about 3 LVL one direction), tell the driver to<br />

go to Maxima XXX store on K.Ulmaņa gatve.<br />

2) Bus - take bus No.22 till the stop “ SPICE Tirdzniecības centrs” (single ticket for one<br />

direction is 0.70 LVL) and look for the grey Maxima XXX supermarket on the opposite<br />

side of the highway - do not confuse it with the red SPICE supermarket. It is suggested<br />

tp check www.rigassatiksme.lv for timetables and map of relevant bus stops.<br />

Taxis usually take credit cards while bus tickets have to be purchased with cash, so the<br />

first option is better if you have no desire to withdraw the Latvian currency from the<br />

ATM, both supermarket and the draught <strong>beer</strong> shop accepts payment cards as well.<br />

Riga Passanger Port (ferries to Stockholm)<br />

There is a dedicated <strong>beer</strong> section with <strong>beer</strong>s from small and large Latvian breweries in<br />

Riga Spirits and Wine Outlet (rigaspiritsandwine.lv) alcomarket, just across the Andrejosta<br />

jacht port. Its large banner is clearly visible from the ferry terminal.<br />

Central Bus station and Central Railway Station<br />

Stockmann department store and two RIMI supermarkets (Galerija Centrs and the Central<br />

Station) are 3-5 min. walk, you will not get anything better in the Old Town or its<br />

vicinity.<br />

Stores<br />

Latvians generally do not favour small shops. Thanks to communism there is no tradition<br />

of family owned local stores, therefore most of the shopping is done in the supermarkets<br />

that in most cases can be easily reached by foot. Markets are shopped heavily<br />

as well, but it is not advised to buy any <strong>beer</strong> in markets in Riga. Luckily the opposite can<br />

be said about small town festivals and other local festivities. As with most supermarkets,<br />

mostly the largest brewers are well represented - the presence of Aldaris, Cēsu and Līvu/<br />

Lāčplēša is guaranteed, finding the rest can be a varied success.<br />

Prices in shops vary from 0.30 to 1.10 LVL for a half liter bottle, but those from smaller<br />

breweries usually cost above 0.65 LVL. And remember, it is not allowed to drink alcoholic<br />

beverages or to carry an open containers of any alcoholic drink, including <strong>beer</strong>,<br />

in the public (fine is up to 100 LVL/140 EUR) in Riga, although some other towns have<br />

made similar rules.<br />

Stockmann department store (stockmann.lv)<br />

13. Janvāra iela 8, Rīga, Mon-Sun 9-22<br />

Finnish department store, slightly more expensive than others, but centrally located<br />

with good collection of Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s - Aldaris, Brūveris, Bauskas, Cēsu, Piebalgas and<br />

others. If short on time, this certainly is the best choice.<br />

SKY supermarkets (sky.lv)<br />

Three locations in Riga suburbs, Mon-Sun 8-22<br />

It carries many exports, mostly from Germany, than can not be found elsewhere in Latvia<br />

as well as Valmiermuižas, Piebalgas, Tērvetes, Cēsu, Aldaris, Līvu and Lāčplēša. Expensive.<br />

RIMI, Maxima and Prisma supermarkets<br />

(rimi.lv, maxima.lv and prisma.lv)<br />

Numerous locations in Riga, Mon-Sun 8-22<br />

If it is possible, it is the best to visit only the largest hypermarkets in the outskirts of Riga,<br />

they will have the best choice of Aldaris, Cēsu, Līvu and Lāčplēša, Brūveris, Piebalgas,<br />

Tērvetes and Valmiermuižas.<br />


84<br />

Dzīvais <strong>alus</strong> (dzivais<strong>alus</strong>.lv)<br />

Riga, Remtes 21 and several other locations both in Riga and outside, Mon - Sun 10-21<br />

These shops are located mostly in the suburbs, have a good look in the map before trying<br />

to reach the location; shopping centre SPICE is nearby. Although they do not carry<br />

Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s, there is a good selection of interesting Lithuanian brews.<br />

Cash and carry<br />

Riga, Remtes 21, Mon - Fri 8-18<br />

Located next to SPICE shopping centre in the old metal hangars surrounded by a concrete<br />

fence. Sure, it looks appalling, especially if compared to nearby slick shopping centres,<br />

but an excellent diversity of <strong>beer</strong>s can be found here for some of the lowest prices.<br />

This is how most of the Latvian shopping looked like during the nineties. Nowadays<br />

these gloomy shops are a gold mine for rare Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s.<br />

Miestiņš (miestins.lv)<br />

Several locations in Riga and other towns, Mon-Sun 12-22<br />

In these shops best of Abula, Piebalgas, Brūveris, Madonas, Rēzeknes, Tērvetes, Krāslavas,<br />

Brālis, Užavas is available. Draught and unfiltered only, filled in the plastic bottles, with a<br />

special filler so the <strong>beer</strong> will keep fresh for a couple of days, but not much more.<br />

Alus stacija, Alus Muiža, Pikniks and many others<br />

Many locations both in and outside Riga, typically Mon-Sun 8-22<br />

There are several other draught <strong>beer</strong> saloons, similar to Miestiņš that offer <strong>beer</strong>s from<br />

smaller breweries on-tap for takeway, plasic bottles are provided. Majority of them are<br />

located in shopping centres, in particularly those where Maxima supermarkets can be<br />

found.<br />

A few notes on bottled <strong>beer</strong>s<br />

With regards to storage periods for bottled <strong>beer</strong>s, they vary from brewery to brewery<br />

- they are typically between 3 and 6 months. Best before date is always available on<br />

the back label, accompanied by information with regards to maximum storage period.<br />

Subtract one from another and you get the brewing date. Unlike the US, it is not allowed<br />

to sell any alcohol past its expiry date, so there is no need to pay particular attention to<br />

these numbers. It is not recommended to store any bottled <strong>beer</strong> (except the one made<br />

by large breweries) for extended periods. In case with plastic bottles filled in any of the<br />

draught <strong>beer</strong> stores, up to five days in the fridge will be a maximum before it will start<br />

to spoil.<br />

Theoretically there is a deposit for <strong>beer</strong> bottles, but empty bottles are accepted only in a<br />

few hard to find locations (0.03 - 0.04 Ls per bottle). Do not even bother.<br />

Pubs and bars<br />

Pubs in Latvia are not much different from their Western European counterparts. Tips<br />

of about 10% are welcome although they are sometimes included in the bill, usually in<br />

places with an awful service. Tipping is not mandatory and unlike the US where not<br />

leaving tip can get you killed, because bar owners do not bother paying their staff a decent<br />

wage, it is usually done only to compliment good or excellent service.<br />

There are a couple of bars and pubs in Riga that operate solely to scam foreign tourists,<br />

so do have a good look in the menu at first, especially if the bar is filled with wannabe<br />

stripper type gals and a young and attractive lady-friend after a small chat suddenly<br />

suggests you to pay for her drink; that drink could cost you a fortune. Bills of several<br />

thousand euros can be easily accumulated in such locations and there is no way thet<br />

staff will let you out before paying, they have impressive bouncers that do their job well.<br />

As always, an indication of a reliable watering hole is where plenty of locals are around.<br />

Prices for <strong>beer</strong> are varied, but expect to pay from 1.00 to 2.50 LVL (1.30 to 3.50 EUR),<br />

most commonly around 1.90 (2.70 EUR) for half a liter of Latvian <strong>beer</strong> on-tap. Prices<br />

for Valmiermuižas and Užavas usually will be the highest (the most expensive being<br />

Valmiermuižas Tumšais, in the region of 2.20 LVL and above), followed closely by<br />

Brenguļu, Madonas and Tērvetes. Although often an array of bottled imports is available<br />

in most bars, it would be difficult to find bottled Latvian brews there, except for colourful<br />

<strong>beer</strong> flavoured drinks that are so admired by underage population.<br />

Maintenance of <strong>beer</strong> lines in most bars is not a responsibility of bars themselves, but<br />

breweries who distribute these <strong>beer</strong>s (<strong>beer</strong> dispensing system often is the property of the<br />

brewery), thefore it is not always reasonable to blame the bar if certain <strong>beer</strong>s taste foul.<br />

Blame the brewery instead and let them know your opinion.<br />

For a detailed and realiable restaurant and bar <strong>guide</strong> I would suggest visiting inyourpocket.com<br />

where you can download a full free PDF version of the Riga in Your Pocket<br />

<strong>guide</strong>. Or better buy the paper version in the airport (there might be free copies as well),<br />

hotel or in many press stands, also international mail orders are possible from their Web<br />

site. It includes good and usually up-to-date pub and restaurant <strong>guide</strong>, certainly worth<br />

the money.<br />

For most bars there is no realiable information on their Web sites (neither in Latvian,<br />

nor in English) with regards to where which <strong>beer</strong>s are currently available, but select<br />

breweries (such as Valmiermuižas in valmiermuiza.lv) have their full distribution list<br />

posted online.<br />


86<br />

Some of the best <strong>beer</strong> locations<br />

I simply like them, that is all. Of course, there are other good places, feel free to discover<br />

them on your own.<br />

S. Brevinga <strong>alus</strong> salons (no website, twitter - @<strong>alus</strong>salons)<br />

Berga bazārs, Doma laukums (square), both in Rīga, Mon-Sun 12-23<br />

Good selection of bottled English and Belgium ales. Fullers, Wells&Youngs, Porterhouse,<br />

Meantime, St.Bernardus, Mikkeller and other breweries, including seasonal <strong>beer</strong>s and<br />

limited editions. I think it says enough. There are a few Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s, but no one goes<br />

there looking for local brews anyway. Both stores feature a bar with several taps as well.<br />

Alus salons in Doma<br />

laukums<br />

The newest of both<br />

Alus salons shops it<br />

features a separate<br />

<strong>beer</strong> store, 16 taps<br />

and is the first Latvian<br />

pub to serve also<br />

cask <strong>beer</strong>, currently<br />

it is Fullers London<br />

Porter.<br />

However, bottled <strong>beer</strong><br />

selection is better in<br />

Berga Bazārs store.<br />

Folkklubs (folkklubs.lv, twitter - @folkklubs)<br />

Smilšu iela 16, Rīga, Mon-Sun 12-till the last guest<br />

As the name implies, it features Latvian folk music, there are often both local and international<br />

bands performing, live music events take place almost every night. Its premises<br />

are large, so one can find a cozy and quite corner even during the noisiest concerts.<br />

Folkklubs also provides fairly priced and good food, as well as a decent selection of some<br />

of the better Latvian <strong>beer</strong>s brewed both by large and small breweries. Regular homebrew<br />

meetings also take place there, consult forums.kupla.lv for details and feel free to join<br />

them.<br />

Beer restaurant Merlin (merlin.lv, twitter - @merlin)<br />

Maskavas iela 4, Rīga, Mon-Sun 11-23<br />

They cook with <strong>beer</strong> and sell <strong>beer</strong>, although one has to be aware that food is way better<br />

than the <strong>beer</strong> selection that features mostly the same international brews that can be<br />

found in supermarkets. From Latvian breweries, only Cēsu is available, as this restaurant<br />

was established with the support of Cēsu brewery.<br />

Valmiermuižas <strong>alus</strong> tirgotava (valmiermuiza.lv, twitter - @valmiermuiza)<br />

A.Briāna iela 9, Rīga, Mon-Sun 10-22<br />

Although located outside the centre of Riga, in shopping gallery “Valdemāra pasāža”,<br />

the <strong>beer</strong> shop of Valmiermuiža brewery is the best of its kind in Latvia. Not only both<br />

unfiltered and filtered Valmiermuiža <strong>beer</strong>s can be found here, but also an array of locally<br />

produced snacks, herbal teas, natural limonades and drinks, cheeses and meat products<br />

can be purchased here. Also available are unusual, but delicious cookies and sweets<br />

made from the spent grain of Valmiermuiža brewery.<br />

It is worth noting that Valmiermuiža is the first Latvian brewery to sell their growlers<br />

(both standard 2 l and 1 l) and providing refills at 10% discount in its stores.<br />

Valmiermuiža store and bar in Valdemāra Pasāža<br />

It is the only such brewery owned and run bar and store in Riga<br />


88<br />

Small <strong>beer</strong> vocabulary<br />

Alus [<strong>alus</strong>] - Beer<br />

Priekā! [prieka:] - Cheers!<br />

Gaišais [gaishais] - Pale<br />

Tumšais [tumshais] - Dark<br />

Vai jums ir Bauskas Tumšais? [vai jums ir Bauskas Tumshais] - Do you carry Bauskas<br />

Dark?<br />

Vienu Bauskas Gaišo, lūdzu! [vienu Bauskas Gaishuo lu:dzu] - One Bauskas Pale,<br />

please!<br />

Mazais [mazais], or mazo [mazuo] if used in a sentence - small (0.33 l), e.g. vienu<br />

Bauskas mazo!<br />

Pudelē [pudele:] - bottled, e.g. Vai jums ir Bauskas Tumšais pudelē?<br />

Izlejamais [izlejamais]- draught, e.g. Vai jums ir izlejamais Bauskas Tumšais?<br />

Vēl vienu (tādu pašu) [ve:l vienu (ta:du pashu)] - One more (of the same)<br />

Uzkodas [uzkuodas]- snacks<br />

Bezalkoholiskais [bezalkoholiskais]- non-alcoholic<br />

(Briesmīgas) paģiras [(briesmi:gas) pagjiras] - (terrible) hangover<br />

Lūdzu [lu:dzu] - please<br />

Paldies [paldies] – thank you<br />

Credits<br />

- Photos on page 45 are reprinted with kind permission of JSC Cēsu <strong>alus</strong>. All other<br />

photos I have taken myself;<br />

- Cover art created using tagxedo.com<br />

Disclaimer<br />

Facts and figures in this <strong>guide</strong> have not been oficially verified and may differ from reality<br />

and the actual situation. This <strong>guide</strong> contains only personal opinion of the author and<br />

all contents of this <strong>guide</strong> are not intended for further reproduction of any kind in any<br />

media. Check all the fact yourself, if you want be sure.<br />

copyright<br />

There is a copyright that applies to commercial use, this <strong>guide</strong> has been copyrighted<br />

under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence<br />

- you are free to use it without modifying as long as it is intended for strictly non-commercial<br />

purposes (commercial puproses = the media sells ads or does not distribute<br />

all of its contents for free) and labs<strong>alus</strong>.lv is referred to as the source. Otherwise please<br />

contact me at dzerualu@gmail.com<br />


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