GOLDEN HORSE. A secret beverage as old as the land.

There is this seemingly new distinctive, full-bodied taste that, we think, resembles Latvian character. At first, many find it strange, maybe unimportant, different. But once you try more and indulge, it's very easy to get hooked up in a forever relationship and realize - even if it does not have a hot-blooded temperament and it does not get you high, there is so much depth below the surface.
Could "Zelta Zirgs" or "Golden Horse" from Valmiermuiža brewery be the best kept non-alcoholic taste to represent this land and Latvians to foreigners?

valmiermuiža, zelta zirgs, ascetic design Latvia, capital r, 2018


Valmiermuiža was initially founded 12 years ago as a beer brewery that would develop a couple of tastes only. Then, around Summer of 2014 Aigars Ruņģis, the founder and master of the place 100 km afar from Rīga, received an invitation to collaborate with Reinis Kalnaellis. He is an animation movie director, who at that time was finishing a feature film for kids - “Zelta Zirgs” based on a play by our famous playwright Rainis - it's about a teenager riding up a glass hill to wake up and save just another princess.

Reinis Kalnaellis would already now - Valmiermuiža are open to special edition brewages for interesting occasions, therefore he would suggest making a special beer sort for the opening event. It is not hard to realize there was a problem - the main audience of the film would be kids… Of course, beer obviously didn’t fit, but Aigars asked himself a question - what would be a taste of the same malt origin, yet suitable for underage?

The first thing that pops in one’s mind in Latvia is Kvass (another sweetened type of root beer) or Veselības “Health” drink (bread soda, basically). But the thing is - Valmiermuiža never really enjoys adding any processed sugar to recipes. In their opinion it’s spoiling the ancient natural taste of malt drinks, especially when creating brewages traditional to Latvia, where most Latvians never saw sugar until late XIII up to mid-XIX century. One could maybe consider adding honey as a sweetener, still, most definitely, sugarness would only derive from maltose in older recipes.
“I, too, personally like the etymology of the word “malt” in Latvian – "iesals" short for "iesaldināts" or “sweetened”. This natural thick sweetness we always encounter, before it mixes with hops and turns into bitterness of beer,” adds Aigars Ruņģis.
Therefore again he asked himself a now updated question – could Valmiermuiža make a non-alcoholic drink without any added sugar following local traditional values – water, malt, hops and yeast?

After many experiments they came to conclusion that a good taste is formed when combining three types of malt – the roasted note of rye (as the base), then barley and a slight note of wheat to add more “slip” or softness to the taste. Then they added a pinch of hops to kill the queasy sweetness with some bitter tone, and fermented (more like settled) all the mass for a nick of time, basically just to reach 0,2 – 0,3 % of alcohol (which is the same as for sour milk or kvass).

The first design of labels for a limited edition of this drink was made to honour the opening of the animated “Zelta Zirgs” film, thus it had an actual cartooned poster-like print and typeface on the bottle. But the overall feeling was very festive and extremely symbolic – 1) the opening of Valmiermuiža’s first ever non-alcoholic drink (from all-Latvian malt) at 2) the opening of the movie of this significant “Zelta Zirgs” fairytale made by Rainis (who’s remembrance year was coming up next), and 3) it’s all taking place in the newly finished Latvian National Library a.k.a. the Light Castle (by another XIX century poem by Auseklis) that again, 4) as legends say, could be located near Burtnieku lake, where Valmiermuiža's brewery is located!

Aigars saw the invisible strength of Latvian land in the drink reminding him about the boy from the play, and it inspired Valmiermuiža to produce “Zelta Zirgs” further even when the movie was over. The label design was updated to be more independent, it was done by Miķelis Baštiks from “Asketic” studio (or “ Miesai” - we have mentioned them when talking about Avotu kvartāli district already), and the story continued.
“Now we also support sports events with “Zelta Zirgs”. We even consulted with nutritionists and discovered that the drink is very good when soothing thirst after heavy duty exercises. It’s rich in B complex vitamins and helps regaining energy pretty fast. The only side-effect is “Zelta Zirgs” being so high-powered that, if you want to gain the most of its potential in a very short time you need to drink some water after to make the drink lighter. “Zelta zirgs” therefore is the real “liquid bread” as we tend to call beer.”


If we contemplate on the aspect of origins, there are some sources explaining the seminal taste of “Zelta Zirgs” being as old as beer itself. The pre-mash of brewing was occasionally given to children as a sweet treat in old times. It was still rich in maltose and contained no alcohol before entering the fermentation process. Therefore “Zelta Zirgs” could be the ground taste of all, Latvian and global, malt brewages and marginally appear everywhere there was beer-making for centuries. Therefore, no doubt, it represents some historical, even national value.

As mentioned in the beginning, at first this beverage might even seem slightly annoying. But, trust us, it is eventually very easy to get addicted to it - and not in a bad way! Many enjoy drinking "Zelta Zirgs" simply because, if you need an alcohol-free alternative, it has no extra sweetness that wears your taste buds off and makes you sick. How many 0,5l cokes or how many root beers can you actually empty in one evening? One, two, three the dead maximum? On the contrary, "Zelta Zirgs" has a perfect balance of sweet, thick, malty and bitter to make the interest last to soothing your thirst longer and pleasuring yourself with an extra bottle.

So, after all, doesn't it resemble a true soul of a Latvian - it's harder to make friends with one, but once you do, it's forever?

Find: Zelta Zirgs can be found in most grocery stores. For best result we suggest visiting "Rimi", but for 100% chance try Valmiermuiža Embassy in Rīga.
How Much: the usual price per 0,5L bottle is 1,19 - 1,29 eur.
What else: During this Summer in Valmiermuiža their food technologists and nutritionists tested a new version of malt flapjack, you can try it at Valmiermuiža embassy, too, and find out the real power of grain!