In heaven, there is no Latvian beer

In heaven there is no beer, according to a polka classic. If that is true, then I must be living in some sort of Latvian heaven here in Minnesota.

With Jāņi approaching, I thought the right thing to do would be to buy a few bottles of Latvian beer. It should be a simple enough chore, because I had bought Latvian beer in the Minneapolis area before.

But a visit to Surdyk’s, a liquor store in Minneapolis that has a fairly broad selection and where years before I had bought some Latvian brew, proved fruitless. As insurance, I purchased a six-pack of Kalnapilis, one of several Lithuanian beers stocked by the store.

Returning home, I decided to call around. Surely, in a region with 2.5 million people, someone must sell Latvian beer.

I began with Surdyk’s on the chance that I simply had not seen the Latvian section.

Surdyk’s “beer person” replied enthusiastically to my query about the availability of any beers from Latvia.

“Sure, we do! Are you looking for anything in particular?”

Aldaris, I said, figuring that if anything Latvia’s best-known export would ring a bell. It didn’t.

“Doesn’t sound familiar,” the beer person said. But he put me on hold and went to check.

“We carry Švyturys, Uosto… We carry about four,” he assured me upon his return.

Those are Lithuanian beers, I told him, not Latvian.

“Are they, really?” he said. “Well, I guess then we don’t carry any (Latvian beer).”

Asked for suggestions about where a Latvian beer could be found, he recommended a big liquor store in the southern suburb of Burnsville. That led me to the Burnsville branch of the MGM Liquor Warehouse chain.

The manager there double-checked the store’s international section and confirmed that no Latvian beers were available. He suggested Blue Max Liquors, a smaller store in Burnsville that specializes in microbrews and import beers.

But I was shot down by Blue Max, too.

“If we don’t have it, nobody in the Twin Cities will have it,” said the confident woman who answered my call.

The situation looked hopeless. I called a couple of liquor stores in areas of the Twin Cities where Russian immigrants are concentrated, figuring that maybe they might have a wider selection of East European beers.

Finally, one salesperson suggested calling an ethnic food store. Because no Latvian food stores can be found in Minnesota, I called Kiev Foods, an East European store in St. Paul where I have bought Laima chocolates, Lāse milk, šprotes and bread from Latvia.

The woman who answered the phone couldn’t think of any place that might carry Latvian beer, but said she would ask someone else. She rattled off something in Russian to a co-worker, and the only two words I understood were magazin (store) and litovskii (Lithuanian).

“It’s Lithuanian you want?” she asked me, just to be sure.

No, I said with urgency, Latvian, latysh—probably butchering what little I know of the Russian language.

“Continental Liquors,” came the reply. The store is located on the outskirts of St. Paul.

The man with the Eastern European accent at Continental Liquors told me that in the past the store had carried Aldaris, but no more. No distributor in Minnesota carries Latvian beer, therefore no liquor store sells it. The same is true for the delicious Rīgas šampānietis (a sparkling wine made by Latvijas Balzams), which Continental also used to carry. In fact, I was told, the late hockey player Sergejs Žoltoks, who used to play for the Minnesota Wild, sometimes bought his šampānietis there.

So here I sit, a day before Jāņi, staring at a six-pack of Kalnapilis. In Minnesota there is no Latvian beer, that’s why I’m drinking Lithuanian.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

26 thoughts on “In heaven, there is no Latvian beer

  1. If there is no Latvian beer in a state where a lot of Latvians live, you can imagine how it is in Arizona, where only a few of us live. So, Janu vakara I will have some German beer. Janis.

  2. I had two six packs of Aldaris Zelta in my fridge for Jaani! And I live in South Florida, where there are no Lats to be found. The store that sells Aldaris here is not a liquor store, it’s an upscale grocer called ‘The Fresh Market’. They used to carry the Russian Tinkov, but replaced it with Aldaris a couple of years ago. So try some grocers, you never know! Starp citu, our big local grocery chain, Publix, sells Riga sprats!

  3. Rumor has it that the Grand Rapids MI company that formerly imported Aldaris to the midwest U.S. has folded/gone bankrupt/the owner is in prison (pick one). As far as I know, Baltic Marketing in NJ still imports Aldaris Zelta & it is distributed in several NE states. BM also imports Piebalgas alus, including Minhauzens (much yummier than Zelta, imho) & Satans. Bought some at Last Chance Cheese in the Catskills (near NY draudzes nometne) last summer. . .

    Riga Sprats Pate is now available at Jewel (part of Albertson’s?) food stores.

  4. The good news from the Province of Ontario in Canada is that Aldaris Zelta has cracked the line-up at LCBO, the provincial government’s liquor monopoly and is widely available. The bad news is that the LCBO has shown little interest in carrying other Latvian beers. In addition, they made things so difficult for the Latvian Centre in Toronto that it has had to drop imports of up to six Aldaris beers including Porteris and Tumsais (Dark) through the LCBO’s private order program. Haven’t checked recently if the Centre’s stock of other Aldaris beers have run out.

  5. I bought some dusty bottles of Zelta in Columbia Heights, MN, in the past. I can’t recall which liqour store sold it, but I think it may have been Top Valu Liqors on Central Avenue.

  6. In Miami we have plenty of places where one can buy Latvian beer – mostly “Russian” grocery stores – as well as other imported latvian foods – Vaverite torti and Rigas shproti … that is why I dont want to ever leave Florida :)

  7. I too have searched for Latvian food products — beer, salted herring, grey peas, etc., with no luck. I live on the west coast of Florida. Must not be many Latvians in this area.

  8. I live in Tokyo for a while (some 8 months). I am student. For a while I am dreaming a dream to have Latvian Beer in Japan. Actually, I have had it (in Jani; because of just-opened Embassy of Latvia in Japan) but it was just a small piece of pleasure and great taste of home so far away from it. I would like to make Latvian beer (and not only beer) more popular at least in the place I live. My question is: Is there any Latvian community or company outside Latvia (America(?)) which is specializing in promotion of Latvia goods (especially provisions and beverages). And which could give me some advices. If there’s, please, send me an e-mail.

  9. Same thing happened here in New Jersey. Distribution of Aldaris is not available anymore. Hopefully they can fix the problem soon. Anyone find anywhere in the NE to buy it, please let me know!!


  10. This may seem strange but there is a “Russian market” (Yasha from Russia…ugh) in Phoenix, of all places, where I have found Aldaris (Zelta). Apparently shipping is so expensive that they don’t stock it regularly though. Unfortunately, I am now in Tennessee so even Yasha can’t help!!

  11. We used to be able to buy aldaris in Lancaster, Pa. But as I just called the Wheatland distributors. The wholesaler in Philadelphia, Pa., sold out his business and so far no one has picked up distribution of aldaris. Suggestion: look on Internet for Aldaris Web site and find out where they have distributors in the United States.

  12. Four weeks ago Wheatland Distributors in Lancaster, Pennsylvania are again stocking Aldaris beer. in addition in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania English Brothers Distributors are able to order Aldaris.

  13. We do have some limited sources of Latvian beer in the UK but not for my prefered tumšais varieties. I am fortunate to be close enough to make several trips to Latvia each year bringing back a few litres each time, but it would be nice if the Russian shops extended the range. However, I can buy several Lithuanian dark beers which I prefer to the Latvian light beers, so when my personal imports run out (usually 3-4 weeks after I get back to old blighty) I am forced to ‘go over the border’.

  14. Greetings to Aldaris fans. Fortunately I still have one and half cases of Aldaris that I purchased in Elizabethtown. For Aldaris fans that live around Philadelphia and in New Jersey close to kink of Prussia, Pa., the Kunda Beverage Co has Aldaris and Aldaris Gold. Good luck.

  15. There’s a Latvian/Lithuanian food store I like Latvian sweets and fish and I buy bread which is the best bread I had in United States past 8 years. They had responded to me that they will have alcoholic drinks from latvia or lithuania soon. hope it’ll help.

  16. Wine Beer & Deli in Florida has all the necessities for the Latvian food guru and a good selection of Latvian beer and vines. This is an Russian store that sells Latvian food among other things. It has suprisingly good choice of products including all the necessities plus much more. I loved their deserts and breads selection. The store is conveniently located on San Antonio road not too far from 101. The service is great and not too many people know about it so it’s not very crowded. I strongly recommend checking it out. Wine Beer & Deli 217 N. Federal Hwy., Hallandale Beach, FL, 954-458-9880. This store has all the traditional dishes and delicassies that one can look for.

  17. FYI I just bought a case and a half of Aldaris yesterday in Kalamazoo at Tiffany’s party shop on West Main ST. They have 5 different kinds in stock pretty much always.

  18. Zel ka Aldari vairs nevar dabut Minneapoles apkartne. Toties Rigas sprotes var dabut Minneapole pie Bill’s Imports. Grieku veikals pie Lake un Bryant.

  19. There is Latvian Alus – Rigas Pils in St. Louis. Global Foods Market on S. Kirkwood. (weekly supply, but sells fast). There is some less desirable beer, from the Baltics at Trader Joes in the St. Louis Metro area of Richmond Heights (I-170 & 64-40).

  20. I did not know that Latvians drank beer. Seriously though my favorite beer is the next one. Wow, someone posted that they could buy Aldaris in Lancaster, Pa. Did not know that the Amish drank beer. Will be going to LV Fall 08′., Is there a must do or beer anyone can recommend? Thanyou for your support.

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