Even with the harsh cold weather during some months of the year and wide options of strong drinks, such as vodka and the traditional Melnais Balzams (Black Balsam), Latvians don’t renounce the delights of a fresh beer straight from the barrel. If you spend some time here in Latvia, you will observe the preference of local people for smooth and refreshing beers, mostly Lagers.
Beer is present in every moment and especially during the Jāņi celebration (Summer Solstice), where homemade or craft beer is an essential element of the party along with the caraway cheese, wreaths of flowers and leaves and bonfires. Although in the past it was usual to add spices, herbs and rye to the beers, the years under German occupation molded the preferences of Latvians to the soft Lagers, and nowadays they are still the most appreciated and easiest to find. The addition of honey to the beer is still common, since the honey production is widespread.
Be aware that most of the Latvian commercial beers are not that attractive, but you can find precious gems among both commercial and craft options. The pleasure of discovering is what moves beer enthusiasts, right? So, keep an open mind. You can visit the breweries to learn more. Latvian craft beers are mostly non-pasteurized, non-filtered and naturally low carbonated beers.
Latvians distinguish the beers as Gaišais (Golden) and Tumšais (Dark), it doesn’t matter if Lager or Ale. But new craft breweries are also investing in Ale styles, such as the famous India Pale Ale, to show that beer goes way beyond these two definitions. Latvia has options of beers to please every kind of taste. It’s the same with pubs. In Riga there is a special place on every corner to every purpose: to relax, to celebrate, to pair beer with food, to have snacks while watching sports, to party, to discover new beers, or just to drink and not to care about anything else. Explore the Latvian beers and get surprised!
A selection of breweries
Aldaris – The origins of the biggest Latvian brewery date back from 1865, when the Waldschlösschen, or Forest Castle brewery, was created in the suburbs of Riga. In the 20th century it was renamed as Aldaris. The brewery has a very interesting beer museum open to the public. Books from the 19th century are still kept there. Some of the brewing secrets from these books are still used nowadays. The brewery is now owned by Carlsberg, but despite having a commercial appeal, Aldaris also invests in more special beers, like Rietumu Eils (West Ale), an American Pale Ale (APA) with dry-hopping, and the Mežpils beers, created in honor of the old Forest Castle brewery.
Bauskas Alus - It was established in 1981 as part of a communal factory. In 1982 the brewery launched their main products: Bauskas Gaišais (Premium Lager) and Bauskas Tumšais (Dunkel), which are still in production nowadays. The brewery specializes in Lagers. If you spend some time in Latvia, it will be common for you to hear that Bauskas Brewery is the favorite of many locals.
Tērvete - Tērvete brewery, in the town of Tērvete, located 80 km from Riga, produces its Lager beers respecting ancient traditions with selected self-grown ingredients. The company was founded as a collective farm in 1947. The brewery started to operate in 1971. Now the brewery has grown and developed. The Tērvete brewery became highly valued among connoisseurs of Baltic beer; try the delicious Tērvete Unfiltered (a Keller beer) and Tērvete (Pilsner) and you will understand why.
Malduguns – This microbrewery started to operate in 2013 and immediately made a huge step forward: it was listed in ''The top 100 brewers in the world'' award in that year. Now they are very well known in Latvia and in the countries nearby. Malduguns produces very tasty Ales with a creative craft touch. They have now more than ten different beers, like the delicious Rudais Rudens, an Extra Special Bitter (ESB), and the spicy Sānslīde, an India Pale Ale (IPA), in addition to almost twenty variations of the single hop IPA Zaļā Bise (Green Shotgun), each using a different kind of hop. The brewery is located in the Rauna district, 110 km from Riga.
Viedi – A microbrewery founded in 2015. The recipes started as experiments. They produce unfiltered and non-pasteurized Ales, like the delicious Rodeo (APA) and their most famous, Blondais Grēks (Blond Sin), a Wit beer. The brewery is interested in not only offering a good beer, but also educating the public about the beer culture and creating conditions for the availability and variety of beer in Latvia at the same level as in the United States or Belgium.
Barda – The microbrewery Barda Alus, from Riga, produces five different tasty beers: a fresh and bitter IPA; a darker and more toasted IPA called IBA (India Brown Ale); a bitter and dry APA; an Amber Ale made the Japanese hops Sorachi Ace; and a Brown Ale. They are all delicious!
Krāslavas Alus – The beers of the Krāslava brewery use traditional recipes of the Latgale region. The water used in the brewing process is pumped from an artesian well located in the backyard of the brewery. Krāslavas Alus does not use artificial carbonation methods; it is achieved by a natural process that takes place during fermentation. All the beers are unpasteurized. The addiction of organic honey to both the golden and dark beers provides a pleasant taste and makes the effect of alcohol in the body less aggressive.
Madonas Alus – Located in the town of Madona, 168 km from Riga, Madonas Brewery is a mix of ancient tradition and contemporary knowledge. The origins of the brewery date back from 1906 when it was housed in an old stone building. Hidden underneath the brewery floor was an ancient cellar used one hundred years ago to refrigerate water brought from the nearest lakes in winter in order to store beer for the summertime. One year ago, the brewer Rolands Zaharovs brought the brewery back to life. Zaharovs spend some time in Australia learning about the modern brew art to add knowledge to the historical heritage of the brewery. Madonas Alus specializes in fresh, natural and smooth Lager beers, as this was the traditional favorite kind of beers in Latvia.
Saldalus – Born in 2010, the brewery is located in the town of Saldus, 120 km from Riga. It all started when an upcoming brewer Mārtiņš Kazradzis decided to try to brew his own beer at his home. He wanted to do something distinct from what was offered on the market, but was also inspired by the potency and character of the Belgian beers. His wife joined him and together they gained experience and knowledge through experiments and studies of brewing literature. Forty tries later, their first recipe was born. They built a more professional brewery and started to produce commercially. Saldalus has four beers so far: Gaišais (Light), a stronger golden lager; Tumšais (Dark), a Dunkel; Puķu (Flower), a fruity and floral IPA; and the strong ale, Melnais Vilks (Black Wolf).
Odzienas Muižas Alus – The Odziena craft brewery produces select ales using modern methods and equipment. It is located in the Vietalva parish, 130 km from Riga. The brewery also produces kvass, a fermented non-alcoholic beverage – very popular in Latvia – commonly made from rye bread. The brewery is part of the Odziena Manor, which recorded history dates from 1455. The present manor house was built in the mid-19th century. It is one of the most prominent romantic neo-Gothic style monuments in the Baltics. The brewery produces two beers: a floral and fruity IPA, made with American hops, and a dry and malty English Pale Ale. You can visit the manor and the brewery enjoying the beers straight from the barrels.
BURSH – This is one of the smallest breweries in Latvia. Located in the Aiviekste parish, 135 km from Riga. BURSH offers two kinds of beer: a light and a dark, both lagers. The beers are prepared in a wood-burning stove and stored in oak barrels for thirty days. The brewery uses only natural ingredients.
Valmiermuiža – Located in the Valmiera city parish, Valmiermuiža (Valmiera Manor) is considered one of the best Latvian breweries. Its origins go far back to 1624, a time when, before brewing a great beer, one first had to build a great manor. That is where its name is originated. After 1764, years of turmoil followed and the manor was affected. Nowadays entrepreneurs are working to restore the manor to its former glory. In 2009 the brewery became active again and its brew masters delved into ancient recipes to make their beers as traditional as possible. All of them are unpasteurized. They have Light, Dark and Dark Smoked beer and an elderberry beer with low alcohol. The brewery has an “embassy” in Rīga (Aristida Briāna iela 9) with a shop, traditional Latvian food and, of course, their excellent beer.
Labietis – Be prepared to experience a different approach in terms of beer. In Labietis you will get out of the traditional line. This microbrewery is getting more and more fans, not only locals, because of its originality in recipes and its connection with Latvian culture. Labietis does serve classic beer styles, like Pale Ales, but the majority of their selection is brewed with spices, herbs (other than hops) or wild yeasts. They only produce Ales. The brewpub is beautiful and perfect to cheer out with friends. The brewery organizes beer events and traditional Latvian celebrations, like Jāņi (Midsummer) and Metenis (Shrovetide). Address: Aristida Briāna iela 9A2, Rīga.
Bierhaus – This restaurant brews on site ten varied styles of beers. The brewmaster, Gordon Van Houten, is American. He studied beer production in Germany. His goal is to introduce people with the diversity of feelings and flavors of different kinds of beer. Bierhaus produces a Pale Ale, a Pilsner, a Saison, an IPA, a Wheat Beer, a Brown Ale, a Stout and a Rye Amber Lager. The staff of the restaurant are also beer experts and will help you pick one that will please you and will pair perfectly with the food you ordered. Food is German style. Address: Lāčplēša iela 12, Rīga.
Lido – With excellent Latvian food, this chain of restaurants also has their own beers on draft and they are super tasty! You have to try the Latvian traditional potato pancakes with a pint of Lido Special (Speciālais), a smooth and tasty Amber Lager. Lido beers have been recognized by professionals and already received gold and bronze medals in beer competitions. Lido produces only live beer; besides Special, they have also a Lager (Gaišais) and a Honey beer (Medalus). The brewery has the capacity of 900 litres of unfiltered beer per day. It is located in Lido Atpūtas Centrs (Recreation Center), but the restaurants can be found throughout Riga. Address: Lido Atpūtas centrs, Krasta iela 76, Rīga.
Pubs and Bars
Brooklyn Pub – If you want to go out to eat and drink without missing that important game of your team, this is the right place. It has several TVs showing live sports. It offers Latvian and imported beers in draft and bottles and a wide variety of other drinks, like whiskey and wine. The food is very good, with options for vegetarians. Address: Lāčplēša iela 35, Rīga.
Rocabilly – A pub especially for rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal fans. There is always a nice selection of metal music playing. It’s a simple, nice and cheap pub. They have their own Rocabilly beer, a smooth Lager. There are some other commercial Latvian beers in draft. Food is quite good and varied. Sometimes there are live concerts. Address: Kalēju iela 52, Rīga.
Krogs Aptieka – Located in the Old Town, this place is perfect to enjoy a beer and music during the happy hours. The name means “Pharmacy” and it makes sense since beer is the best medicine after a tiring day, so come and relax! The owner is a Latvian American. There are Latvian beers on draft and a good selection of strong drinks. There is a juke box where you can choose music to play. Sometimes there are live concerts. There is also a good kitchen with very tasty food. Address: Mazā Miesnieku iela 1, Rīga
Sveiks, Švejk - A Czech pub in the heart of Rīga. This place pays homage to the great book, “The Good Soldier Švejk”, of Czech author Jaroslav Hašek. If you haven’t read the book yet, you will desire to do it after sitting in the cellar and tasting a tasty Czech beer. The decoration is very interesting and made like the Švejk pubs in Prague; there is the round, charismatic and silly face of Švejk everywhere! Food is traditional Czech and there is great selection of the best-known Czech beers, like Pilsner Urquell and Kozel, and also Latvian beers on tap and strong drinks. Address: Stabu iela 23, Rīga.
Beerfox – Located in Stabu iela. It is a charming small shop owned by an American beer specialist, Mike. If you chat with him about beer, you will learn a lot. The pleasant atmosphere invites you to stay for some hours. Even if you don’t know much about beer, Mike will help to find something good that you will truly enjoy. The shop has Latvian and imported beers in bottles. There are around 300 different beers from all over the world. Mike changes the products regularly, so there is always something new to discover. The shop also offers good options of presents, such as combined kits with bottles and glasses. Mike also organizes beer tastings and beer events with sommeliers and brewers at the shop. Address: Stabu iela 59, Rīga.
Alus Celle – Wide selection of beer in bottles from all over the world (and from Latvia too, of course) and eight beer taps. It’s a nice and cozy place for happy hours. Address: Baznīcas iela 35, Rīga.
The Latvian Institute 2016, text and photos by Maria Fernanda Stinghen Gottardi