Our very first visit to Riga back in 2016 mainly involved sampling the bars of the Old Town – in fact, it was where Poppy discovered her love of “Medalus”, or Latvian honey beer. We arrived back to the city a month after we’d left for Estonia hoping to relive some of that first trip, having stayed a little way out of the Old Town when we were here a few weeks ago. However, on the walk from the train station to our hotel, Poppy spotted an advert for Latvia Beer Fest 2019 – we immediately decided to drop our plans for the next few days and check it out!
The festival itself first took place in 2011 and has been held in the Vērmanes Garden every year since, growing to become the biggest beer festival in the Baltics. Breweries from all over Latvia and beyond descend on Riga to showcase their wares, along with street food vans, carnival games, a couple of music stages and plenty of seating (always much appreciated). Usually outdoor drinking is illegal in Latvia, except on New Year’s Eve, but for a few days each May the park is granted a special license so that the thousands of festival-goers can enjoy their beers in the spring sunshine (well, that’s the plan anyway).
This year’s festival saw more than 30 breweries, from tiny one-man microbreweries to national and international brands such as Kronenbourg, Baltika and Grimbergen. Each brewery brings their own stall and sets their own prices, similar to festivals like Indie Beer Feast in Sheffield, so when you go to one of the smaller names, there’s a pretty good chance you’re being served by the brewer themselves.
We ended up visiting the festival twice and had a great time checking out all the different breweries – highlights of mine included Viedi, Indie Jānis, Malduguns, Labietis and Sesks, while Poppy was delighted to find the full range of Iļģuciems honey beers on offer, including a couple of festival specials such as the cherry-hemp beer! There was a really good crowd throughout the festival too, from beer geeks like me ticking off new finds, to more casual drinkers enjoying the large range of Belgian beers and lagers, and even a few families just soaking up the atmosphere.
Overall, Latvia Beer Fest was a really enjoyable event which seemed really popular among locals and tourists alike. Whatever your level of interest in beer, there really was something for everyone and I would definitely look into visiting again in the future.
How much does everything cost? Entrance to the festival was a very reasonable €3 per person and the beers were very fairly priced too at around €2 for a small (30 cl) or €3 for a large (50 cl). Souvenir festival glasses were €3.50 each.
How long do I need? We visited the festival twice and spent around three to four hours there each time. The festival was open until 3AM on Friday and Saturday nights, so how long you spend there is really up to you.
Which breweries should I look out for? The line-up is open to change every year, but there’s guaranteed to be something to suit all tastes. Lovers of hoppy beers should check out Malduguns and Viedi, while if you’re looking for something dark then Labietis was probably best.