Thursday, July 9, 2009

Latvian Beer Labels, 1993

When Ezra threw his Baltic Porter party a few weeks ago, it reminded me of my trip to Latvia in 1993, when I visited my friend Kristen who was in one of the first batches of Peace Corps volunteers there. There was a fair amount of beer involved, some of which was fresh and delicious, some of which was bland or worse. Sadly, that's the extent of my memory of the beer situation.

Luckily, I did save a few cool-looking beer labels. The top one commemorates the summer solstice, Ligo, which is celebrated in Latvia by staying up all night burning bonfires to scare away the witches. It's where the phrase "You can sleep in the grave" entered my repertoire -- it was considered bad luck not to stay up and see the sun rise. Cool iconography on that label: the maroon and white Latvian flag draped down the left and back up the right; forest ferns on top; oak leaves at the bottom.

I dug out these labels because I remembered drinking some porters at the time, so I hoped I had a cool porter label to commemorate the porter party. The only one I could find was the Aldaris Porter label here, which wasn't as interesting as I hoped. I seem to remember having a lot of porters, but since this is the only label I can find, I might be remembering it wrong.

Most of my time was spent in Bauska, a small town south of Riga. There was a local brewery there, whose unpasteurized bottles of beer -- a dark ale and a lighter one -- were tasty and cheap. The bottles didn't have a big label around the middle, only a small one on the neck, commemorating the castle ruins the town is known for. I don't know the meaning of the "16%" on the label -- it's not the ABV or ABW: the beer was not even half that strong.

This "Labrit" label is one of my favorites, mainly because of the story behind it. I had taken a side trip to Lithuania, and took a night train back to Riga, arriving the morning of July 1. As I stumbled around in front of the train station, the usual small-time vendors were out, including the beer sellers. When I saw this bottle sitting on top of one vendor's icebox, I couldn't resist, because "labrit" means "good morning" in Latvian. What can I say? it spoke to me.

No comments: