Thanks to some very cheap Ryanair flights, our first stop on the tour was Riga. We’d visited Latvia’s capital city before but having enjoyed it last time we looked forward to exploring further, including finding new beer places. In the three years since we were last here, a raft of new craft beer bars have opened – surely the perfect city then to find the best of Latvia’s own craft offerings? I’d researched the city’s highest-rated bars on Ratebeer and we hoped to come across examples of some of the country’s most well regarded smaller breweries, such as Malduguns and Viedi.
We headed out on the first evening intending just to have a look round rather than get started on the beers straight away, but it turned out that having wandered fairly aimlessly for about 20 minutes we came across Beerfox, a bottle shop that I’d seen the name of before. The shelves were filled with imported beers from around the world: Evil Twin and Crooked Stave from America; rare Belgian gueuzes and saisons and an extensive Estonian selection. When we asked where the local stuff was, the shopkeeper pointed us to a tiny cabinet by the door with only a handful of Latvian beers to choose from.
We decided to check out the adjoining bar of the same name and found a very bright and airy establishment with 10 craft taps. Norway (Lervig), Japan (Coedo, Hitachino) and Estonia (Tanker) again were all represented but unfortunately there was no Latvian beer to be found. Four of the ten beers were sampled, the most interesting for me being Sauna Session (Tanker, 4.7%), a pale ale brewed with birch leaves supposed to evoke the aromas of a traditional sauna. All in all, a decent enough bar but not the place to come in search of local gems.
The lady behind the bar told us about Nurme Bar round the corner, the taproom for a tiny local microbrewery, which sounded more like what we were looking for. This turned out to be an excellent find; there were five taps (of which three were the brewery’s own) with a tasting flight of all five coming in at a very reasonable €7. There was also a dozen or so of Nurme beers available in bottles and cans, including DIPAs, imperial stouts and an interesting-looking spiced carrot ale. My favourite was easily Lemongrassette (4%), a very refreshing take on the traditional Belgian grisette. I would definitely return here in the future.
It turned out that the Internet’s best-rated bar in Riga was literally next door to our hotel, so it would have been rude not to pop in. Like Beerfox, Alus Celle mainly specialises in US and Belgian beers, although there was again a modest selection of Latvian craft in bottles. Spotting my first opportunity to try out Malduguns beer, I opted for Sānslīde (6.5%), a very tasty but darker-than-usual IPA brewed with caramel malt. I also tried Black Oak (7%), a milk stout from Hopalaa microbrewery aged on oak chips. The barman claimed that this beer didn’t used to be very good, but a recent change from Latvian oak to French had improved it no end. This seemed rather ironic but seemed a fairly typical comment in a city where beer provenance is nowhere near as important as in the UK where local is king.
Another bar close to our base was Alķīmiķis, which Poppy and I both immediately recognised from our last visit despite a change of name and a new coat of red paint on the building’s exterior. This was a trendy but comfortable bar with a small brewery attached. Around 12 taps here showcased a selection of the brewery’s own offerings, surprisingly including several varieties of saison. However, although this is a great bar for ticking off new beers for those who are into that sort of thing, the beer definitely isn’t the best in Riga. The soundtrack, on the other hand, was perfect for anyone into mid-2000s indie rock and the big screen was showing old episodes of Mr Bean, so no complaints on that front either.
Having tried a few dedicated beer bars with varying degrees of success, we decided to change tack and check out the city’s Art Nouveau district. Here we came across a couple of nice places which actually sold local beers: Rasols was a very tastefully-decorated wine bar with a couple of Valmiermuiža beers in bottle (hopefully more on these in a few weeks’ time), while Buberts just up the street had a decent selection of draught beers alongside half a dozen or so bottles. Viedi Aklais Randiņš (5%), a dark lager with coffee, was the pick of the bunch.
En route back to the hotel, we briefly visited the Beer Museum but left again without making a purchase after seeing the range of very standard Belgian beers on offer and the extortionate prices they were being sold at. Our last call of the evening was Kaņepes Kultūras centrs, which from the outside was extremely popular with the locals. There were around eight draught beers on offer here, nearly all local, including an interesting Latvian take on a Belgian kriek beer.
We’ll be back in Riga in a few weeks’ time so any recommendations on places we’ve missed would be more than welcome. So far though the signs seem promising for our next visit!
I’m in Riga for the day, where should I visit? For me, the best bar visited so far was easily Nurme. The brewery’s own beers were excellent, while others such as Malduguns also featured in bottles.
Brewery to look out for? If by any chance you do see Nurme or Malduguns in the UK, they’re both well worth a try. On the strength of their milk stout, you might also want to keep an eye out for Hopalaa.