A couple of weeks ago as we were leaving the Valmiermuiža brewery tour, our guide gave us a leaflet about the Riga Beer District. Neither Poppy nor I had heard of this before, which seemed a bit strange given the amount of research we’d both done before heading out here. Having read the leaflet and looked for more information online, it appears that the Beer District is an invention of Valmiermuiža and some of their beery friends, designed to commemorate times gone by when Riga was one of Northern Europe’s biggest brewing cities. A bit of a gimmick maybe, but having enjoyed their beers during the tour and tasting, we decided to check it out once we were back in Riga.
The Beer District itself, which I suppose is really just a glorified pub crawl, consists of 10 breweries, pubs and bars all within about 1 km of each other. Having already been to two of the places before (Alķīmiķis and Kaņepes CC), we decided to start at the Valmiermuiža brewery tap, which also happened to be the furthest out from the Old Town. From where we were staying, near the river, it was about half an hour’s walk or 5-10 minutes by bus; having already spent three hours walking to and around the Ghetto and Holocaust Museum in the morning, we opted for the latter.
The Valmiermuiža Beer Embassy is actually in two parts: a tasting room/bottle shop with more than 100 varieties of bottled beer, and a restaurant which serves the full range of the brewery’s beers alongside meals designed to be paired with them. We ended up sitting in the restaurant although we only had a half each – Poppy went for one of her new favourites, the Elderflower Frišs (2.8%), while I opted for the Floor-Malted Pilsner (5.0%). As we found at the brewery, Valmiermuiža’s beers are simple but done well – not a bad start to whet the appetite, but we were looking for something a bit more exciting.
Labietis, just around the corner, definitely offered a bit more in the way of variety. We’d tried quite a few of their beers already but their taproom had loads we hadn’t seen before, with around 10 beers on draught as well as the brewery’s complete bottled range. I was in the mood for a good dark beer and really enjoyed the Lielais Kristaps (named after a legendary Riga ferryman) coffee oatmeal stout (8.5%). Meanwhile, Poppy went for the Soho Švītiņš (4.4%), the brewery’s take on an English bitter, and liked it so much she had a second one!
Next up was a five minute walk down the road to Zobens un Lemess, a bar specialising in heavy metal music and strong beer. It offered what it promised – the latest Latvian metal tunes were playing on the TV and there was a good range of beers from the best names in local craft beer such as Malduguns, Labietis and Viedi, who we’d enjoyed at the beer festival a couple of days earlier.
We attempted to visit Walters & Grapa for our fourth stop of the tour but found it closed despite the opening times on the door promising otherwise, so instead we headed down to Taka. We didn’t really know what to expect – the leaflet described a small bar featuring more experimental beers – but what we found was easily one of the nicest and most comfortable bars in Riga, serving some of the best beers we’d had all trip. Ārpus DDH Mosaic Pale (6.0%) was one of the best pales I’ve had in years, while Indie Jānis Kviesiešu Draudze (4.8% wheat pale) and Hopalaa Cloud #6 (7% milkshake DIPA) were both thoroughly enjoyable too.
After a quick sustenance stop in Hesburger (a revelation in itself – we definitely need this back in the UK), we ended up at what turned out to be our last bar of the night, Ziemeļu Enkurs. This brewpub occupied the upper floor of an oddly-shaped concrete building, with both the indoor bar and outdoor seating area decked out in an industrial style. There were around 8 of their own brews to choose from, but luckily they offered a 4-beer tasting flight, making our choice much easier! The pumpkin beer, Ķirbju Eils, and the rye IPA, Vadlīnija, were probably the most interesting ones we sampled, but there were beers to suit all tastes from pales and fruit beers to Belgian-style saisons.
We decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel after this but we both agreed that the Beer District had been an enjoyable evening with an interesting and varied selection of bars. I would say, however, that if you’re looking for the very best craft beer in Riga that while this route is a good start, there are definitely a couple of places that could be added on; Beerfox and Nurme, for example, both offer excellent beer and aren’t too far from the Beer District.
I’m in Riga for the day, where should I visit? Of the bars in the Beer District that we visited, Taka would definitely be my top recommendation – a really comfortable bar with an excellent range of beers from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
Brewery to look out for? I really enjoyed the Ārpus Mosaic-hopped pale I had in Taka, but I’ve not seen any other beers from them yet – I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled!