The last leg of my Baltic journey about a month-and-a-half back took me to Lithuania. I’ve been there several times before and know and admire their beer culture. Even their macro brews are totally OK – all the major breweries make a decent porter and main Lithuanian brewery Svyturys won a couple of medals in the World Beer Cup recently, including a Gold in the Dortmunder/Export or German-style Oktoberfest beer category for their Svyturys Ekstra.
But the real reason to love Lithuanian beer culture is the profusion of local beers and breweries – I hesitate to use words like “micro” and “craft” as Lithuania so far is not at all influenced by the US beer scene but quite happy with their own brewing traditions. This inevitably leads to offerings being a bit samey – small breweries typically brew a lager, a dark lager, a porter and a farmhouse beer – often they all come in filtered and unfiltered varieties, and sometimes there’s a wheat beer in there, but that’s about it. But when these offerings are executed to a pretty high standards, it’s still OK – in my opinion, Lithuanian dark lagers are second to none, often a bit heavier and with a better mouthfeel than your typical dark lager, more akin to altbiers or schwarzbiers than plain dark lagers. And even though it gets a bit samey, some breweries have some delightfully oddball offerings. Two of my favourites are Vilniaus Alus, the only brewery in the capital, and Čižo Alus, a small family-run brewery (owner is Ramunas Čižo, a fourth-generation brewer – the family has been brewing on the same site since 1865). As breweries, they couldn’t be more different: Vilniaus Alus is more of a small-scale macro brewery that exports quite a lot of their brews to their neighbouring countries, whereas Ramunas Čižo makes only one beer that hardly makes it outside the lake Sartai area except for a few specialist pubs and restaurants in Vilnius and Kaunas.