Category Archives: Travel
The last leg of my Baltic journey about a month-and-a-half back took me to Lithuania. I’ve been there several times before and know and admire their beer culture. Even their macro brews are totally OK – all the major breweries make a decent porter and main Lithuanian brewery Svyturys won a couple of medals in the World Beer Cup recently, including a Gold in the Dortmunder/Export or German-style Oktoberfest beer category for their Svyturys Ekstra.
But the real reason to love Lithuanian beer culture is the profusion of local beers and breweries – I hesitate to use words like “micro” and “craft” as Lithuania so far is not at all influenced by the US beer scene but quite happy with their own brewing traditions. This inevitably leads to offerings being a bit samey – small breweries typically brew a lager, a dark lager, a porter and a farmhouse beer – often they all come in filtered and unfiltered varieties, and sometimes there’s a wheat beer in there, but that’s about it. But when these offerings are executed to a pretty high standards, it’s still OK – in my opinion, Lithuanian dark lagers are second to none, often a bit heavier and with a better mouthfeel than your typical dark lager, more akin to altbiers or schwarzbiers than plain dark lagers. And even though it gets a bit samey, some breweries have some delightfully oddball offerings. Two of my favourites are Vilniaus Alus, the only brewery in the capital, and Čižo Alus, a small family-run brewery (owner is Ramunas Čižo, a fourth-generation brewer – the family has been brewing on the same site since 1865). As breweries, they couldn’t be more different: Vilniaus Alus is more of a small-scale macro brewery that exports quite a lot of their brews to their neighbouring countries, whereas Ramunas Čižo makes only one beer that hardly makes it outside the lake Sartai area except for a few specialist pubs and restaurants in Vilnius and Kaunas.
Other than the beer festival, Riga is not overflowing with craft beer – with one shining exception (or two, depending on how you count). This is the S.Brevinga “empire” which consists of a pub and restaurant in the Old Town of Riga (right near Dome Square/Doma Laukums, here’s a map) with a bottle shop next to it, and then another bottle shop/bar in Berga Bazars, a trendy mall in downtown Riga (here’s another map). The pub is S. Brevinga alus un viskija bars (S. Brevinga Beer and Whisky Bar, for those of you Latvian-challenged), the bottle shop/bar is S. Brevinga Alus Salons, and they are both essential visits for the craft beer fan in Riga.
My recent stay in the Baltics (Latvia and Lithuania 23 May – 9 June) coincided not-so-coincidentally with Latvia Beer Fest, the main beer festival of Latvia – this year held in Vermanes Park in central Riga. I’ve been to the Baltics before and I really enjoy the beers there (particularly the Lithuanian ones – Lithuania has a great brewing heritage), though there is relatively little variety – regular and dark lager being the typical mainstays, but there are some surprises.
Unfortunately there weren’t too many of those surprises at Latvia Beer Fest – as someone pointed out, this was a beer festival with emphasis on the “festival” rather than the “beer”. The venue was great – a big park in the center of town had been cordoned off and filled with beer stalls, tables, chairs, bouncy castles for the kids (at least I assume they were for the kids) and other sundry activities. The whole thing had a very family-friendly vibe to it and indeed I saw a lot of families there (there was a whole big play area for kids next to the bouncy castles) – it all felt very safe and relaxed and I did not see a single fall-d0wn-drunk person during the whole weekend. There were plenty of food options – my favourite beer snack was the freshly deep-fried potato
crisp spiral on a stick (see picture), but there was a lot of other rustic, beer festival-type food: sausages, sauerkraut (love sauerkraut!), kebabs, fried potatoes, ribs etc etc (nothing much for vegetarians though). The beer stalls were spread out around the park rather than concentrated in one part, which also made the atmosphere more relaxed as it prevented crowding – if there was a long line at one beer stall you could always go to the next one. So all in all, the festival aspects were great.