Beer enthusiast Atis Rektins from Latvia (Dzeru alu blog – in Latvian only) kindly put together this short guide to Latvian fine beers and smaller breweries (in English). Cheers! Lithuanian translation can be found here.
Unfortunately about 70% of the Latvian beer market is dominated by Scandinavian breweries – Aldaris, Cēsu Alus, Līvu and Lāčplēša. I am neither going to describe these beers, nor recommend them to anyone, many of these are totally the same as their Lithuanian counterparts, just the label and design (sometimes not even that) is different.
As usually, it is the small breweries that make the most interesting and best tasting brews. The most common breweries are Bauskas, Piebalgas, Užavas, Lodiņa and Tērvetes with mainstreem, but nevertheless comparably quality pale lagers that can be found in most supermarkets, especially in Riga. The easy way to find the better Latvian brews might be to skip the pale and look for dark beers (mostly European Dark lagers with occasional Baltic Porter).
The best place to buy bottled Latvian beers in Riga is Stockmann department store, in the very centre of Riga, between the main railway and bus station. There you will find plenty of both macro and micro beers for sligthly inflated prices.
However, there are some more breweries that are even smaller and much less known, as they account for not more than a few percent of the market and their production is not very widely distributed even in Latvia.
Abula (Brenguļu) beer. Of course, everyone has his favorite brews, but it would be quite safe to say that most of the Latvians who have tried Abula beer (there are two sorts – black (Schwarzbier) and pale (European Pale Lager)) think of it as one of the best Latvian beers. The main trick is to buy it – it is not bottled and for 1.20 Ls a liter can be filled in any reservoir you have brought with you to the brewery in Brenguļi (next to Valmiera). The beer is available on-tap in a few pubs as well and it is neither filtered, nor pasteurised.
There is one downside to Abula beer – although quite delicious, you can get a bad headache next morning if more than 2 or 3 pints are consumed. I would consider Abula the only true small-scale craft brewery in Latvia and they are almost the only ones (except for Tērvetes) that produce the malt themselves from local barley. The rest buys malt elsewhere, e.g. in Lithuania :)
Brūveris. Most of its beers are known under the brand name “Ingvera”, produced using Austrial recipes. As the name says, these are ginger beers – average according to European, but quite good for Latvian standards. One of the best is Ingvera Sarkanais (Red), a Vienna lager.
Brālis. Some of their brews are very interesting and certainly worth trying, especially the unfiltered Brālis (one of the few non-pasteurized and non-filtered beers in Latvia, dark and pale
versions exist) and Hincenberga Bavārijas. As usual with small breweries, there are just a few places where you can get Brālis beers – one where there could be better selection os outside the centre – take trolleybus No. 18 or 23 from the Riga central railway station till the stop “Purvciema tirgus”. Look for the sign “Dzērieni” (Drinks) on the first floor of a five storied building – there is a link to Google map info at the end.
LIDO. The only brewpub in Latvia, located in the monstrous building of quasi-traditional Latvian kitchen (Krasta street, Riga, look for a large windmill). It is accessible by tram no. 7 and 9 from Riga central railway station, the stop is called “LIDO Atpūtas centrs”. Three different unfiltered/unpasteurized beers are brewed, none of them very good, but certainly above industrial beers.
Valmiermuižas. Its marketers describe their beer as “exclusive” andthat it has been brewed according to ancient Latvian recipes etc., etc. They invested more than 2 million euros, partly EU funds, in brand new equipment to establish the newest brewery in Latvia, brought in a German brewer and now are trying to conquer the market, rather succesfully I think. They produce only one pale lager, quite similar in taste to German Kellerbier that is above average Latvian standards and is available in more and more shops, their website has all the
details. Some darker brews are expected this fall.
As fars as I am aware of, the best selection of Latvian beers on-tap currently is in the open-air bar “No problems” in the very center of Riga, Doma square. Half a liter costs up to 1.90 Ls and some of the best micros are available there (Tērvetes, Piebalgas, Valmiermuižas, Užavas).
You can also try visiting Rock’n’Riga in the Old Riga (Skārņu 13) – a cozy rock bar where you will find Abula Pale and Valmiermuižas for 2.50 Ls.
Most of the bottled beers, as mentioned earlier, are available in Stockmann and largest RIMI and Maxima supermarkets. Interesting selection of some brews of less known Latvian breweries is available in otherwise very unattractive and dark space – the tunnel under the railway, leading from the Riga Central railway station to the Central Market. It is full of small shops with good selection of beers for attractive prices.
These places are here in the Google map
There are two more breweries in Latvia, but their beers would be very, very hard if not entirely impossible to find in Riga: Gulbenes Alus as well as the only brewery from Latgale region – Krāslavas Avots.
It is also possible to visit some of the breweries, but there would not be too much to see, as visitors rarely are allowed inside production premises. Tērvete charges ridiculous 8 Ls per visitor to be allowed to have a peek at production process through a glass wall and watch a video of brewing process. Some are slightly better, but I would suggest visiting Lodiņa and Valmiermuižas breweries for more interesting experience. And you will see some part of brewing free of charge when visiting Abula brewery when your bottle will be filled.
Of course, the situation is changing all the time, but I assume the above information could be accurate for the summer 2009.
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