Riga

Latvian beer

24 Feb 2017

It’s a sunny day and bearded millennials are imbibing IPAs and wheat beers on the wooden terrace of a stylish brew pub. Young women chat and enjoy the first rays of spring sunshine over tall glasses of cloudy lagers and sour fruit brews. Only 10 years ago this scene would either describe a casual bar in Portland, Oregon or be a complete fantasy dreamed up by a restless Latvian homebrewer.

Although the Soviets did their damnedest to stamp out centuries of local brewing traditions with cheap vodka, it seems that Latvians are finally returning to their first love – beer. In fact, while the Vikings were pillaging and plundering ever farther from their northern homes, the Letts of old seemed content to tend to their own honey-blessed lands coaxing glorious mead from the sweet nectar left behind by bees. Later, Teutonic knights would bring Christianity to these Baltic shores and even better beer recipes, for which the Germans are now so rightfully famous.

By the 19th century breweries could be found throughout what is now Latvia, but none as large as Waldschlosschen, which was founded in 1865. In 1906 it was Europe’s most modern brewery and roughly 30 years later the company was renamed Aldaris (or beer brewer in Latvian). In 1940 it brewed 8 million litres of beer (45% of the Latvian market), but trapped as it was behind the Iron Curtain the company’s output dropped to only 3.3 million litres in 1976. But the USSR and its infamous five-year plans didn’t spell complete disaster for Latvian brewers. Yes, there was plenty of swill that tasted of butter and lacked any kind of carbonation, but in 1971 the Tērvetes kolhoz began brewing beer with barley grown on its own land. This tradition continues to this day and it has earned them the coveted ‘green spoon’, a Latvian award that ensures a quality product that is made with a minimum of 75% local ingredients.

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