Regular readers will already be aware of my quest for kvass, and I’m happy to report that it’s recently taken an historic new direction.
Just as I had about decided that Bruveris kvass was the best one on the market (particularly if drunk from one of the big glass bottles with an old-fashioned stopper attached) along comes the Cesu brewery with a new take on the thirst-quencher – or rather, an old take.
Cesu has a nifty marketing department that is always dreaming up new twists to sell its products. That’s literally true in the case of the “twist bottom beer” that allows you to remove the cap from one beer bottle by inserting it into an indentation in the bottom of another bottle and twisting it off, effectively creating “chain drinking” in the same way a smoker might indulge in chain smoking by lighting one ciggy with the still-smouldering stub of the previous one.
Cesu also devised an excellent ‘English Ale” (sadly no longer available) and each year releases a Christmas Porter that provides a nice alternative to mulled wine.
But this time Cesu’s marketeers have outdone themselves. While arch-rival Aldaris is busy trying to depict itself as traditional by inserting its unpleasant Zelta beer into clips from the hammy independence film epic Rigas Sargi, Cesu has trumped it by recruiting none other than former Latvian prime minister and subsequent dictator Karlis Ulmanis to its cause!
Ulmanis is a member of that small club of “dictators it’s okay to like” along with Cromwell, Napoleon, Tito, Pats, Castro, Nasser and a few other odds and sods.
Just as the French might hark back to the First Empire as a time when France brought liberalisation to Europe via somewhat despotic methods, the ‘Ulmanlaiks’ or ‘Time of Ulmanis’ is nostalgically remembered as a time when Latvia enjoyed unparalleled economic development and national pride notwithstanding the fact that power was in the hands of one man.
Ulmanlaiks itself has more than an echo of that other “golden age” in Latvian history, the “Zviedrulaiks” or “Swedish times” when the Swedes subjected Latvians to what is felt to be a rather enjoyable form of occupation.
Like old Boney, Ulmanis was initially elected but seized the reins of power later, an act generally regarded as a necessary evil at a time when continental Europe was dictator-crazy.
And now, courtesy of the Cesu brewery we have “Ulmanlaiku kvass.”
Complete with a retro 1930s style bottle and folk motifs, it’s gone straight to number one in the kvass charts.
As well as looking and tasting good, it’s being cunningly priced. In a current promotion you can pay 50 santimes for a 50cl glass bottle (‘cos everyone knows it tastes better from glass, right?) or 55 santimes for a litre of the stuff in a plastic bottle shaped to look like a glass bottle.
With the former Piebalga brewery boss now in charge of the agriculture ministry and seeming to do a decent job, maybe Latvians should simply hand the government over to the brewers?
They seem to have the imagination and professionalism necessary and what is there to lose? Even if they make a bigger balls-up than the current situation, at least there would be no problem drowning our sorrows.