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Craft beer is making waves in Riga, Latvia. The time-honored practice of brewing beer has been employed in the small Baltic country for millennia, and with the renewed passion for excellence afforded by the craft beer movement, Riga is now home to top-notch offerings of craft beer.
Riga might not be a common city to include on a typical European travel itinerary. A far cry from the bustling metropoles of London or Paris, the quiet and unassuming Latvian capital flies under most people’s radars. This is a case-in-point example of why it’s never a good idea to follow the mainstream. You miss out on the so-called hidden gems with all their unique and sequestered charms. Riga is one such gem.
The largest city in the Baltic states, Riga’s wealth of history and culture has only recently begun to garner the attention it deserves. Since being named the European Capital of Culture in 2014, the city has become more of a destination for travellers from elsewhere in Europe and around the world. A notable aspect of Latvian culture is what they like to drink. Being situated right at the crossroads of Northern and Eastern Europe makes for a distinct intersection of cultural leanings, and Riga’s mix of influence was further diversified by the various empires who have controlled the small nation throughout its history. Despite a predilection toward strong drinks like vodka and the signature Riga Black Balsam, Latvians also enjoy beer. Historically they’ve been brewers of fermented wheat beverages of various kinds, often utilizing the naturally occurring berries and herbs of the region in their brews. This tradition is continued today by a select few breweries in the city of Riga.
To understand what’s so special about what these breweries are up to, we should probably make the distinction between a commercial brewery and a craft brewery. For those who haven’t quite caught the craft beer bug, it’s a movement within the beer brewing space that aims to replace the overly commercialized aspects of brewing with a more thoughtful and intentional approach. Instead of directing efforts toward the mass-production of affordable, analogous beer, microbreweries’ focus is quality, technique and refined flavor. It’s within this space that we find some really special brewing operations in Riga and the rest of Latvia.
Best Craft Beer in Riga
While most of the Latvian beer market is controlled by commercial breweries hugely responsible for a lager-saturated marketplace, there are a select few microbreweries in Riga bent on changing the public’s perception of beer and what it can be. Take for example the folks at Labietis, a microbrewery in the heart of Riga focusing on innovating new beer styles while taking cues from the brewing traditions of archaic Latvia. Just as their ancestors brewed beer with local herbs and spices, Labietis offers brews featuring these local, Latvian ingredients.
Additional sources for craft beer in Riga include craft breweries Bierhaus and Valmiermuižas alus, both pursuing exceptional beer through carefully refined methods and recipes. There are also a few bottle shops with exciting collections of beer brewed in Latvia, Estonia and elsewhere in Europe. Finally Riga has a handful of choice bars offering prime selections of craft beer on draft from some of the aforementioned Riga-based breweries as well as from other Latvian microbreweries and even others located further afield.