This post has been long time in the making but we wanted to be thorough and tell about Latvian brewery Labietis as much as possible. Why? Because it’s awesome. It’s unique. It offers modern, cosmopolitan brews with an unexpected ethnic twist (we feel that the same could be said about many Latvian things). We had the opportunity to taste a lot of their brews. That’s why we’re changing things up a bit with this post; otherwise it would become boring and repetitive. This here is a review of all the Labietis’ brews we’ve tasted and we’ll be sure to keep it sweet and short (and highlight the ones we liked the most).
But before we move on to actual brews, we have to tell more about the brewery itself. Labietis, much like many modern Baltic breweries, comes from humble beginnings, i.e. home-brewing. Helmed by two award-winning home-brewers, Reinis & Edgards, Labietis offers quality beer with a Latvian (or, as they say, Baltic) twist. Inspired by Latvian herb picking traditions, the clean abundant meadows and forests, they’re not afraid to use what nature gave us, including herbs, flowers, berries and spices, which creates complex and layered tastes. According to Labietis, their objective is to brew exceptional Baltic beer that could become the talk of the town. If people rave about Belgian brews, why couldn’t they be as excited about Baltic beer? With this in mind, the brewers keep offering unexpected combinations and are gearing up for an expansion. Looking back, the road to full scale professional brewing might seem long, but kinda straight: once upon a time Reinis just got bored of drinking commercial beer, and for Edgars brewing became a natural extension of cooking. By the way, both Labietis’ brewers are talented cooks, so it comes as no surprise that most of their brews have intricate palate-pleasing harmonies.
Labietis has two locations in Riga. We visited the main one, located off the beaten path, in an up-and-coming hipstery part of town. There you can taste the brews (we liked the glass sizing, very approachable for those who want to drink a bit of everything and not get wasted), buy some to-go & have a chat with the ever-friendly staffers (by the way, do they hire based on looks, because some of the guys made Ignė weak in the knees). There’s a communal table at the center and a brewing area closed off with a glass wall. In the summer, you can chill on the terrace and drink the night away. So, if you’re a beer geek travelling to Riga, visiting the main location of Labietis is a must!
So now that you (and us) know more about Labietis, let’s talk about their brews. As mentioned above, we managed to taste quite a few of them (13!). Some were very impressive and remain among the best we’ve tasted this year; some were more simple and casual, but still of high quality. For the record, we tasted all these in the span of 3 to 4 months, so no, we didn’t go through them in one sitting (a shame, we know, but we’re responsible drinkers, so).
Among the more casual ones were Ganuzens (Shepherd’s Boy), a 4.5% ABV saison/farmhouse ale with Citra hops. The label promised a simple every-day brew and Labietis delivered. Light maltiness, refreshing bitterness and golden body with a thick white head – everything you could wish from such beer. Another brew that didn’t quite rock our boat (although Ignė loves berry-infused beer) was Avenu Ragana (Raspberry Witch; 5.9%). Sure, it looked quite lovely, with very clean and natural taste (loads of raspberries) but in the end it didn’t match up to other Labietis’ brews.
Now, we must admit that there were a couple of brews that were lovely, but we were too late to taste them. Labietis has a lot of seasonals and some of them have a short shelf-life and since we are a couple of goldfish, those got spoiled and we decided not to rate them…
… but we still were left with loads of great brews, for example, Asara (Teardrop), a 4.5% ABV gose. We’re not sure how they made it, but Edgars (Labietis indicates the name of the brewer on the labels) managed to create a beer that does taste like tears (the tears of enemies, we hope!). It’s a light-bodied beer with earthy & spicy (coriander FTW!) undertones on the nose and salty-sour taste. Well-balanced, very pleasant to drink.
Another example of a well-balanced and multi-layered beer is Mežs (Forest; 5.6% ABV). This one is darker, with sweet & refreshing flower and candy notes on the nose. It’s a real forest in the bottle, where malts are quickly replaced by juniper berries and hops. We’d say it’s a beer for the summer… or summer in beer?
Another herby and flowery beer is Plava (Meadow; 6.3% ABV). This copper-coloured beer smells like flowers and grass, the aroma is quite sharp. The same sharpness also features in the taste. A very gruit-like beer, Plava has some sourness and subtle hints of herbs. We found it to be a more intense brother of Mežs.
With Forest and Meadow, comes
great responsibility Papardes Zieds (Fern Flower; 5% ABV). Latvians are big on summer solstice, which they call Ligo or Jani. And everyone knows that on the shortest night of the year it’s a must to go searching for the mythical and magical fern flower. Some might argue that this procedure is just an euphemism for hot action in the bushes, but you never know — there might be a fern flower somewhere in the world. And Labietis’ Fern Flower is nutty, roasted, with hints of coffee and cocoa on the nose. It’s a subtly sweet and quite intense beer that’s really worth a try. It’s an interesting combination for the summer, but we liked it.
Speaking about intense, Viršaitis (Chief), a 6% ABV IPA, was exactly that! Ignė decided to take a step back with this one, because Mosaic is just not her thing, but Paulius was impressed. Pineapple & exotic fruit in the aroma translate into slight sweetness at the beginning and mellow bitterness at the end. It’s a creamy kind of beer and that creaminess makes it very easy to drink. Although we’d say this is decidedly a wintery, less refreshing beer.
Continuing with the heavier artillery, here comes Pipars (Pepper; 5.5% ABV), beer spiced with Cayenne peppers. We also tasted this in Riga on tap and Paulius really liked it. The beer head leaves beautiful traces. It smells like caramel and berries, but once tasted, the sweetness is replaced by very pleasant spiciness. The peppery character takes a while to build up, but once there, it doesn’t let go. Recommended for those who love spicy things.
Since we’re talking about the things we liked, Ignė was in love with Kamins (Fireplace; 6.6% ABV). Keep in mind, this one isn’t a crowd pleaser. It’s a bit off-kilter and you really have to taste to know if it’s your jam. It uses chamomile in the most wonderful way possible, blending it with roasted malts. The result — sweetish, berry-like beer. It’s a bit difficult to describe, but Ignė just couldn’t get enough of that soft, almost creamy berry-like character.
And now, time for more darkness. First up is Lielais Kristaps (The Legendary Ferryman of Riga), a 7.2% ABV porter. Dark brown body and thick brownish head hide an intense, heavyish beer that smells like bread crust and herbs. There’s a lot of roastedness here, interspersed with sweet and sour notes. This creates a nice overall harmony and a long-lasting taste.
And last, but certainly not the least is Pelašku Velns (Yarrow Devil), a 8.8% ABV imperial stout. Very dark with a thick impressive head that left beautiful traces. Toasty notes in the aroma are accompanied by peppers, citrus and eucalyptus. The taste is even more complex, making us wonder: what is it? A stout? A gruit? Or just another level of awesomeness? There are heaps of herbs in there. The body is smooth & nice, with a perfect balance between roastedness/spicyness and refreshing citrusy notes.
Although we liked (if not loved) most of Labietis brews that we had the chance to taste, not everyone might appreciate the herbal character in most of them. If you’re looking for complex, multi-layered, challenging brews, go for Labietis, there’s definitely something that you’ll like. They also offer some cleaner & simpler beer, so if you’re a sucker for that — grab a bottle of Ganuzens, for example. Anyway, give this brewery a chance and it will be even easier to do this because some time this year Labietis is planning on introducing their brews to the Lithuanian market. Hooray for that!
And we can’t end without saying thanks to Reinis who patiently answered our questions and was overall a fun and friendly e-mail buddy.