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Archive for the ‘Latvia’ Category

The Godfather of beer blogging, Alan in Canada, has asked the question:

What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?

And the question is a good one. This is a part of The Session. The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.

So the host of Session 95 is Alan, go to his blog to see a round up of all contributions this month.

He also wants to know what books we’d like to write. Well, there might be something happening over here, but it’s early days yet. I’ll let you know if and when things get moving.

So I need more beer books? Well. There are beer books silently staring at med from the shelves. Some have been gifts or review copies, some seemed more promising at amazon or in the bookshop than they turned out to be. So I tend to limit my beer book purchases, and I find it very convenient when I can buy an e-book from Evan Rail, ready to digest in one sitting.

But I digress.  There are many beer books waiting to be written. And I have at least three books I’d like to see published.

First of all, my friend the beer scholar Lars Marius Garshol has done some really impressive writing about farmhouse beers in Norway and in Lithuania. He should be given a scholarship to write about the history of small-scale brewing in The Nordic countries and the Baltic countries, including Finland and Russian Karelia. That’s probably too ambitious. But a book on Norwegian traditional beers would be most welcome. too!

 

On an even broader scale, I’d like a book on European beer brewing history. Starting with historical and archeological sources, painting the broad strokes of the major players.

  • How empires, was and legislation have given the background for clever entrepreneurs.
  • The contribution of Weihenstephan and other centers of brewery education.
  • The emergence of a science of brewing.
  • Family brewers growing into multinationals. Dreher, Carnegie, Jacobsen, Guinness, Heineken.
  • Did the Russian court really drink stout? If so, where was the beer brewed?
  • European beer in other corners of the world.
  • Intra-European beer trade. How much stout did the czars really drink?

There could be lots of tables and figures in such a book, but I’d prefer the good stories, the anecdotes and how beer history fits into the broader history. And I would like lots of maps, old ads and photos.

But there is another book waiting to be written, too. About the emergence of a company that defied all established wisdom within the industry. A company that has used social media, reached out to bloggers, provoked regulating authorities and getting plenty of press coverage without buying ads.

If I was given some months’ salary and freedom to write a book on a beer related theme, I would write the story of BrewDog. And I’d focus on the beer. Unlike the book by the founders of Brooklyn Brewery. That book is not about beer at all, it could have been a chronicling a chewing gum factory.

The Beer Book for Punks could be sold in pubs and bars, bottle shops – and the bookshops of business schools around the globe. Not to mention airports.

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Beer guide to Latvia

A very welcome addition to the beer travel literature is the Beer Guide to Latvia, written by Atis Rektins. In English. Every country should have one.

Thanks to Joe for the tip.

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A few extra bottles

My suitcase was checked in at Leonardo da Vinci Airport without any questions, even if it was a few – well, five – kilos above the weight limit.  My flight to Rome had been with the familiar Scandinavian Airlines, back home I had found a cheap ticket with air baltic.

This meant a one hour stop over in Riga. The three hours Rome-Riga were mostly spent dozing, my seat far to the back in Economy was not too comfortable. When we landed, I headed for the transit area and a shop I knew from last year’s visit.

In addition to the booze and perfume shops, the chocolate and the cigars, there is a shop specializing in local food and handicrafts. I bought a few Baltic Porters there last year, and had planned to do the same.

No porters available, but among a broad range of ciders and alcopops there was a decent selection of lagers. Not the pale international ones, but the Latvian style beers with some honey aroma. And the ticker in me could certainly not resist that there were four beers I hadn’t seen before.

The beers were a bit pricey compared to what you’d pay in a Latvian supermarket, but not outrageous. When I walked to my plane even the hand luggage was a bit heavier.

MAi 09 123

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More on Riga

Where do you go to find beer in Riga?

I visited two supermarkets, and did not get through the beers on their shelves. The Stockman supermarket is close to the railway station, and Rimi is a few blocks away in the Old Town. I am sure there are cheaper shops if you venture into the suburbs, but there is no need to bother. The beers in shops start at about 30 (Euro) cent, so they won’t ruin any visitors.

Riga has a huge central market in converted zeppelin hangars (!). There is lots of food to be had there – cheese, meat, vegetables, bread, fish.. – but not much in the way of beers. There are supposedly some cheap Latvian and Russian beers in stalls at the rear, but I did not see any. I recommend a visit to the market anyway – you feel a bit closer to everyday life than in the more whitewashed streets of the Old Town.

I had draft beer in a few places:

The Alus Seta and the LIDO recreation centre south of the city are part of the same chain. The concept is loads of food served from cafeteria style counters, with an emphasis on national cuisine. Lots of pork, but also pasta, chicken etc. Everyone should be able to find something here. Both the places we visited were family friendly, at least during the daytime. The cellar bar at the huge LIDO centre, with an amusement park outside, has its own micro brewery. Their beers are also available at the other LIDO restaurants. If you go to the brewpub you can also buy takeaway souvenir bottles of their beers at rather stiff prices. In addition to their own beers, the LIDO places also sells beers from other national breweries.

There is a LIDO restaurant at Riga airport, too, but it was not in the terminal we used.

The Alus Arsenals– the Beer Arsenal – offers beer, food and snacks at very decent prices. They have 6 beers on tap as well as a dozen domestic bottled beers and some imports. Nice service for Riga. Their house beer, another unfiltered pilsener style lager with honey, was very nice, and so were two beers from the Uzavas brewery. A pleasant basement restaurant, but I imagine this is dominated by stag nights when the tourist season takes off. Outdoor seating in the summer.

The vaulted cellars of the Rozengrals Medieval restaurant makes up a more pricey establishment, but it is a nice evening out. Good beers here, too, their house red beer is from the Ingver brewery.

For planning your trip, the Riga in Your Pocket web site is splendid, and you can pick up a printed version at your hotel. For more on the Riga beer scene, Gazza at Scoopergen has a comprehensive report.

There are a number of restaurants in Riga offering food from various corners of the former USSR. I had no time to look them up, but I am sure there are beer finds there, too. And if you are a beer ticker with time on you hands, I imagine Riga would make a splendid base for exploring, who knows what you could find in the Russian speaking parts of the country, not to mention crossing the border into the neighbouring countries!

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So how is Riga? The taxi ride from the airport does not tell much – lots of wooden houses, some being beautifully restored. Lots of traffic, with surprisingly flashy new cars. We cross a river and enter the Old Town. This is pretty. Picture postcard pretty. Some buildings go back to the late Middle Ages, some are beautiful examples of the jugend or Art Nuveau style. There is not much here to tell you that this was the capital of a Soviet republic. All signs in Russian are gone, and the architecture has more references to Swedish and German rulers than the Russian tsars and comrades.

This is an illusion, of course. When we leave the old town and approach the Riga Central Market on the other side of the railway tracks, we see the other Latvia. Old and grey people who try to sell stuff from their small stalls. Russians stranded here in this country where they are almost half of the population, but where they are a constant reminder of occupation and dictatorship, of kinsmen who were sent to the Gulag and replaced by Russians or others from the far flung empire.

with this background it should really be no surprise that the Lativans are a rather gloomy people, at least when the last remains of Winter refuse to let go, even if the calendar proclaims that April is just around the corner. They are helpful if you ask, but they do not waste their smiles or small talk with strangers. The only local that struck up a conversation with us turned out to be a settler from Belarus…

But I left you with a cliffhanger yesterday. Beer.

The old breweries in the Baltic regiaon are on private hands, to a large extent bought up by the usual global suspects. In Bulgaria this led me to believe that this can give some hope for a better average quality of the domestic beers in the years to come.

In Latvia, it is rather the opposite. There is a fine range of bottled and draft beers available. I did not count carefully, but in the two supermarkets I visited, there were more than fifty bottled beers to be found from more than a dozen brewers. Most of these are domestic, but there are a few Russian and Czech beers, too. In addition, the typical range in the bars and restaurants I visited is five or six draft beers on tap, often unfiltered.

There is a relevance here to the discussion in the beer blogging community about a month ago about extreme beers versus session beers. The Latvian beers are by no means extreme. But they have other qualities.

The emphasis here is on lagers. A few Baltic Porters occupy the stong ends, there are a few bocks and even alcohol free alternatives. But the majority are lagers between four and six % ABV. Light and dark. Dunkles and Helles. They may be related to the German and Bohemian beers – this is a Hansa city founded by German noblemen and traders and run by them for centuries. But there is a healthy disregard for the rules and definitions, there is certainly no Reinheitsgebot here.

Sure, many  of the beers share a common ground. There is a freshness, I believe the unfiltered beers on tap tend to be unpasteurised. There is also a full grain or biscuity flavour which could be due to them using domestic barley for malt which gives this full taste.

But then they add other ingredients. Honey is easy to distinguish in some of their beers. Others have spices – it seems to me that all the beers from the Ingver brewery have some ginger in them, giving a warming, lingering finish that was very pleasant. This is what I fear will not survive when Inbev, Carlsberg and the other want to standardize and make bigger breweries that will serve the whole region.

The conclusion? Go while you can…

(To be continued)

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It’s not as if I am running out of cities to visit. In fact, I’d be happy to return to many places across Europe. When I travel with my family, there are other considerations. In the summer, there is a strong demand for somewhere sunny with accommodation close to the beach. The transport should not be too tedious, either, but they are happy to travel around Greece by ferry.

The Easter break is something else. We have outgrown Legoland, and wanted something different. A more or less random search for tickets made me book a trip to Riga, Latvia.

When I was young and idealistic, freedom for the Baltic states was one of the issues I campaigned for. I have hardly been there since they regained their independence, just a brief business visit to Vilnius in the early nineties.

Well, we packed up and arrived at Oslo airport at a very early hour on Monday of Easter week. We had a rather important errand before checking in, as I had discovered the day before that the passport of our youngest had expired in February. Luckily, it seemed like the policeman manning the border control station had issued emergency passports before.

After a stop over in Stockholm we landed in Riga, and had a taxi waiting for booked through the hotel. We were downtown in twenty minutes, and checked in at a quiet hotel run by exile Latvians in Britain. Our family room was large and airy with a spotless bathroom, and we were in the middle of the medieval Old Town.

This is when I turn on my camera and get the message Change the battery pack. Did I bring the charger? Nope. So these reports will partly be illustrated by photos from my mobile phone, partly by photos from my wife’s camera, even one nicked from another web site…

It was afternoon already, and we went out for a walk to get our bearings and to buy some snacks. I was, naturally, soon wandering along the beer shelves of the local Rimi supermarkets, with a splendid selection for national beers. The room even had a fridge, so I picked some bottles for later consumption.

We asked the receptionist for a restaurant suited for families, and he gave us the directions for Alus seta, a cafeteria style restaurants five minutes away. Alus Seta means something like the beer barrel, so in addition to a broad selection of pickles, salads, grilled fish and meat they also had five beers on tap, including two of their own. The restaurant is a part of the LIDO chain of restaurants, more about them later. Together with my plate heaped high with pork, potatoes and sauerkraut I ordered half a liter of the Medallus, which was labelled as a mead, but was actually a pilsener brewed with added honey. Lovely beer that was not cloyingly sweet.

It looked like this was more of a beer destination than expected…..

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Back tomorrow

Thank you for your patience. I have had an Easter break with my family – I will report on the beer scene in Riga beginning tomorrow!

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