For a country of 2 million people, Latvia certainly punches above its weight in producing many quality beers. Unfortunately, no one has ever heard of these beers because the really good stuff is 1.) made without preservatives and has a very short shelf life, and 2.) nearly impossible for non-Latvians to pronounce.
Latvian beer can be incredible when you find the right one. In fact, Latvians are the ultimate homers when it comes to local brews. Every mid-size city has its own brewery it seems, and personal tastes can be region-specific.
Latvian Beer Styles
In general, beers come in two styles: light (gaišais), a pale lager; and dark (tumšais), which is usually very close to a dunkel and might contain added sweeteners. Baltic porters are also available, but that style seems to enjoy far greater popularity outside of Latvia. It is becoming popular for labels to offer what they call non-filtered versions, which as far as I can tell simply means “hangover-inducing.”
Macro vs. Micro and Latvian Beer Snobs
It is important to remember that Latvians might make inferences about you based on your choice of beer. I can help you win them over.
There are three macrobreweries in Latvia: Aldaris, Lacplešis, and Cesu. To many Latvians, ordering any of these three beers is to announce, “I have no preference about how my beer tastes, and I am just here to get drunk.” In reality, those beers are pretty drinkable and cheaper than the microbrews.
As for the microbrews, it is well worth your time to sample some of these fine brews, and not just for the nods of approval your bartender will give you. The following are great examples:
Abula (more commonly referred to as “Brengulu”) is a microbrewery created by a group of collective farmers that began brewing beer in 1969. Their dark beer is sweet, grainy and balanced. Abula is only available on draft because the unpasteurized brews can not survive more than a couple of weeks in bottles.
Tervetes commands a strong following among Latvians, in large part because at least 75% of the ingredients are locally sourced, and also because their pale lagers are delicious.
Užavas comes from near Ventspils, on the west coast, and both their light and dark beers are well-balanced and very drinkable.
Valmiermuižas does the pale lager and dunkel as well as any brewery in Latvia, and they have the best marketing team. The cool kids in Riga are drinking this beer.
Where To Find Latvian Beer
Nabaklab, just on the outer edge of Old Town, draws an after-school crowd and some very interesting, live music. It also has a great selection of beers for 1.50 Lats ($3) as well as its own in-house brew.
Ala Folk Club, near the Powder Tower in Old Town, has a certain nationalistic flavor to it. The bar has a great selection of the local brews, and there is live folk (and sometimes folk metal) on the weekends. It’s less kitschy than it sounds, I promise, and Ala is absolutely worth a visit.
S. Brevings – it is near Dome Square in Old Town and has an impressive collection of Latvian beers, Belgian beers and Scotch. No live music, as with the other two places, but sometimes an important hockey or soccer match draws a crowd.
Finally, no discussion of Latvian beer is complete without talking about Lido. It features a massive restaurant/amusement park and on-site brewery. You can take a tram or taxi here; just tell the cab driver your destination is the big Lido.
Written by Eric Barrier for EuropeUpClose.com