Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Homebrewing: It's in My Latvian Blood

I was recently leafing through some of the memoirs written by my grandfather, who was from Latvia. Though most of the memoirs are in Latvian and have yet to be translated, there was a particularly interesting passage describing his obligatory entry into Latvian military in 1928.  He had been selected for the main headquarters company in Riga, which was tasked with guarding the Presidential palace, Ministry of Defense, and Parliament.  He describes his first day as a soldier:

"We repeated the oath being read by the company clerk.  We signed the oath with our right hand while holding a rifle in the left.  Thus, we became full-fledged soldiers in the Latvian army who would be responsible for order and freedom of Latvia, and give our lives to protect it. Then we paraded in front of the officers.  After that we were given a feast:  soup, roast, vegetable, rice pudding with cranberry sauce, and a bottle of beer.  That was my first bottle of beer that I had tasted.  Up to then I had only had home brewed beer."

My father had told me that typically, at least in the farming communities where my family was from, beer was brewed by the women of the household as part of the regular cooking and household duties.  In addition to brewing for the household, it was especially important for the many different festivals such as the St. John's day celebrations.  All the different households would bring their home brewed beers.  So there was much variety, both from household to household, but also by region as well.

I've always thought about trying to brew a Latvian style of beer but don't speak Latvian, and haven't been able to find an authentic looking recipe. (Most I have seen are from Estonia or Lithuania)  From what I have seen, I imagine the beers were probably wheat based, bittered with whatever flowers or herbs were native to the area.  Would appreciate any information, if anyone happens to know of styles or recipes representative of the type of farmhouse beer that would have been brewed in the late 1800's and early 1900's in Latvia.

Uz veselību!