We’d successfully navigated the Latvian railway system and arrived in the town of Valmiera, our first stop back in Latvia, with a plan. Ask the tourist information centre there and even they will tell you that the only reason many people visit the town is for a tour of the Valmiermuiža brewery. Not surprisingly, this was also why we had come.
Having read that it was wise to book a tour in advance, especially during the busier months, we contacted the brewery the week before to be told that the only tour in English (our Latvian isn’t up to scratch yet) on the day we were in town started at 10am. A little bit earlier than we might have preferred, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices in the pursuit of good beer!
The brewery itself is located on the northern edge of the town, about 30 minutes’ walk from the centre. We headed off on what many would call a beautiful spring morning (Poppy and I called it far too hot) in search of the brewery. Eventually we found what we were looking for, the little white building where the tour begins, which also houses the brewery’s shop and restaurant. On arrival, we were told that there would be 6 others in our group, but they never showed up so we ended up with our own personal guided tour – not bad for €9 each.
Look at the Valmiermuiža branding, with the old-fashioned font and the year 1764 on the logo, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this is an ancient brewery with lots of tradition. However, our guide Ieva explained that it was in fact only founded in 2008, although it wasn’t until a year and 20-odd attempts at perfecting the recipe later that the first beers were released to the public. The brewery building was much like any other modern brewery in most respects, with the exception of an added distillation pot where several of the brewery’s beers are turned into beer aperitifs at around 40% ABV – these were available to try for €2 for 20ml in the restaurant but we opted not to as it was a little early on the day to get started on the spirits!
The tour of the building was interesting enough, but of course the beer tasting was the main attraction. We were led upstairs to the tasting room, a really attractive and comfortable space which was definitely once of the nicest brewery tap rooms we’d ever seen. All kinds of bottled and draught beers had been arranged, as well as a selection of the brewery’s own homemade beer snacks – crackers made from spent grains, garlic and cheese to pair with the lighter beers, and some delicious discs of caramel studded with malted barley to go with the darker ones.
Our tasting kicked off with the brewery’s signature beer, Gaišais (“Light”, 5.2%), a traditional amber lager. This had a really vivid, appealing colour with a slight haze (the draught version is unfiltered) and the crisp, malty taste was perfect for a hot morning. Next up was Tumšais (“Dark”, 5.8%), Valmiermuiža’s take on a dark lager. Again, this was a very tasty beer with the sweetness of the caramel malt coming through strongly.
Draught beers finished, Ieva took us through all our options from the brewery’s vast bottled range, which also included a selection under the Kokmuiža branding – Valmiermuiža’s “microbrewery within a microbrewery”. We chose another 2 beers each – both of us sampled the wheat beer, Kviešu Alus Nr.5 (5.6%), then I finished on the rich baltic porter, Baltijas Porteris (5.6%) while Poppy went for a very summery elderflower radler, Frišs Plūškoka (2.8%). Suitably impressed during our tasting, we also purchased a few bottles to take back to the apartment to enjoy during the Eurovision Song Contest that evening.
As mentioned earlier, most visitors to Valmiera are day trippers from Riga who go to the brewery and then home again. Because of this there’s not much on the Internet about other beer options in town, but seeing as we had a couple of nights we decided to have a look around the centre to see where else we could find. Studying the free city map it seemed like our best bet might be to check out the area around the market so we headed there with our fingers crossed.
Our luck was in as we came across two places within minutes of each other both serving a good range of different beers. First up was Alus Bārs (literally “Beer Bar” in Latvian) which had an interesting selection of lagers – all light beers but all different from the major national brands. My favourite here was Kuilīc (5.4%), while Poppy enjoyed Piebalgas Alus Gaišais (5.6%).
By now it was definitely time for some food, and luckily the other beer place we’d spotted round the corner, Tērbata, also had a tasty-looking menu to go alongside the range of bottled Labietis and Malduguns beers, as well as the bar’s own light beer. My highlight was Labietis Melnis (“Black Horse”), a 5% multigrain porter, while Poppy’s was undoubtedly the noodles she had been craving since we’d gone away – all in all, a very successful evening.
I’m in Valmiera for the day, where should I visit? Valmiermuiža brewery is well worth a visit at €9 for a guided tour and four tasters, but make sure you book your visit in advance. It’s also worth noting that the €9 price only applies if there are more than 4 people booked on the tour (so in our case, we booked as a 2 but at the same time as a group of 6 so it was meant to be for 8 people). Otherwise there is a minimum fee of €36 which could get rather expensive if you’re going alone or as a couple, but you can ask to be attached to another group’s tour and the brewery will accomodate this.
Brewery to look out for? After trying the Labietis beers in bottles, I’m really looking forward to visiting their tap room once we’re back in Riga – they had a really interesting range of styles and the ones I tried were very enjoyable.