Things of Latvia: Two-liter beer bottles

Take note – story published 6 years and 9 months ago

Soon, the Mother Of All Bottles will be no longer. There will instead be a lack, an emptiness, a void at which confused-looking men with three day stubble will stare with regret.

Two-liter bottles of awful beer, sometimes sold cheaper than bottled water and with alcohol content of about 7%, are a tell-tale giveaway of a seasoned drinker but also a way for bored teenagers to spend part of their allowance. They're rarely found in the West but are common in Eastern Europe.

Right from my first encounter (terrible headache, parents disappointed) I was also brought into the fascinatingly diverse world of naming these glossy plastic juggernauts.

The words divlitrene (two-liter [bottle]), bamslis (likely from 'boom!'), baterija (battery), divcis (from 'two'), ciska (thigh), and my favorite - māmuļa (mother, literary) - as well as many others helped form an aura of ironic rebellion and mock-respect around these cheap sources of low-quality intoxication.

It may be that the penchant for naming them came from the equally ridiculous but colorful brand names and labels, ranging from the avian Rubenis (black grouse) and Vanags (hawk) to the nautical Bocmanis (boatswain), traditionalist Apinītis (little hop) and the absurd Bitīt' matos (a very old-fashioned way of saying, goddamn!).

On a more benign note, however, at least the old, the shriveled and the hopeless that never separate from their māmuļas are generally less aggressive than those who drink vodka and beer from glass bottles. It's also harder to injure someone with what is basically a large plastic bladder.

Believing the ubiquitous two-liter beer bottles are indicative of a society-wide drinking problem and might be exacerbating it, the Latvian parliament has banned them starting next year.

This is a thing that few people will miss with any degree of sincerity, and while anyone determined to get sozzled to the same degree will be able to simply buy two one-liter bottles instead, it somehow lacks the Rabelaisian, over-the-top quality of the two-liter māmuļa, the poor man's Jeroboam of champagne (which, incidentally, has not been banned).

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