As Holland has ever since it’s Golden Age been an internationally oriented country, we at the Dutch Beer Pages decided to be no different and look across our borders for some great beers. Not across our eastern border into Germany or to beer giant Belgium to our south but further. This article will be about three guys in Latvia who are wild about good craft ale and who now run and own ALEhouse. But it wouldn’t be the Dutch Beer Pages without some Dutch connection.
Iowa to Riga
The story starts in the American State of Iowa where brewer Gordon VanHoutan went to Iowa State university to study architecture. He went on to be an architect for 11 years before changing his career. He studied brewing at the Siebel Institute in Chicago followed by the Domens academy near Munich. Gordon married a Latvian woman and left for Riga.
Gordon is one of the three guys behind Alehouse. The other two are Sergey and Andrew, co-owners of pubs and craftbeer stores in the Latvian capital Riga. They met Gordon in Latvia where he was brewing at home but also was the inspiration behind Kupla, the Latvian equivalent of Camra & Pint.
It is Sergey who gives us the connection with the Netherlands. He was bringing De Molen beers into Latvia and while at De Molen asked Menno Olivier if it was possible to brew at De Molen, since he considerd it to be one of the best breweries in Europe. The size of the equipment seemed the right size for Alehouse. Menno agreed and in October 2012 the Black Sheep stout and Bitter Poet Pale Ale were made. Of this most of the first three batches (around 1700 liter) was shipped to Latvia with some bottles left behind. A new beer, Prima Donna, should be made around now.
For now the Alehouse concept is unique in Latvia, a country that like a lot of countries in that region does not boast a wide array of styles. Usually you can get either a dark or a light lager. ALEhouse therefore brings the best beer from all over the world to Latvia, also serving as the starting point of their own beers. Sergey: “Our main idea is to create a craft beer centre in Latvia (brewpub with tasting room and craft beer shop) with beers from all over the world.“ The bar opened in June of 2012 with over 100 beers. In March an ALEhouse bar was combined with the S. Brevinga craft beer shop which sells over 300 beers and ciders. From that point on it’s a small step to the final stage: an actual brewery.
According to guys ALEhouse provides a real boost to craft beer in the region ever since they started in December 2010. “What can I say, thanks to Mikkeller, BrewDog, De Molen and others army of Latvian craft beer lovers are growing with each month. And when we had launched our own beers it was much easier to promote it to local customers”. As examples of what they want to do they mention the Beer Temple and De Molen in Holland and Mikkeler in Denmark.
We asked Gordon if this background in architecture helps in any way? “Yes, I see a lot of parallels between the two. They both involve an element of science and art. To make a good product in both architecture and brewing both aspects of science and art come together to make something special. There are many cases where one is much stronger than the other and the end product suffers. it is a hard balance to get just right. the big brewers have the science down, they are some of the best brewers in the world, but the art of brewing is lost to them. as well there are some small brewers who are great artisans but lack the understanding of the science. Either independently can make a good beer but when the two come together in perfect balance it is something that can change your world. That is what happened to me. It is the quest for this perfection that is my religion.”
ALEhouse’s favorite Dutch beers
Sergey mentions the Amarillo, Tsarina Esra and Rasputin from De Molen, Chica Americana & Stout from Rooie Dop and some beers from Emelisse. Gordon eloborates: “My trip to De Molen was my first real exposure to Dutch beer. Menno was a great host for us. The first day we were brewing there he was doing the brewing, showing me how their system works, and kept bring out bottles of their great beer. I couldn’t refuse and of course I didn’t want it to go to waste. one of my favorites was Hemel and Aarde, but there were so many good ones. This is probably the biggest difference between Menno and myself. He makes great beers to end the day with, but I like to make a lighter refreshing beer when the first one begs for a second. Of course this is what is so great about having many small breweries, each can do their own thing and one is not stepping on the toes of the other. This is why the craft brewing industry is such a good fellowship. We are helping each other, and this helps us spread the message about great beer from independent brewers. We all are the winners for cooperating. You just don’t see that in the mass lager market.”
For a long time only Heineken marginally inspired other brewers in the world, but in the case of ALEhouse we are now seeing that our own craft beer is concurring the world as well and inspiring others to do the same. It has been a trend the last decade that the bigger lagers but also the Belgian brewers are losing their crowns as kings of beer. Ok, we still have to see where ALEhouse stands in ten years but the ease of traveling and language makes it easier now for people in Latvia to travel all over Europe to look for that one beer that blows them away, and isn’t it great that it’s that brewery in Bodegraven led by the remarkable Menno Olivier that does just that. Time to visit the travel sites for tickets to Riga!