15 October 2015

Brewing outside the box

The determined ticker will find Vilnius frustrating. Reliable information in bars about what beers are available and precisely which brewery supplied the ones on offer is often hard come by. You can ask, of course, but armed with those sorts of high-level social skills you're not likely to be a ticker in the first place.

IPAs were a case in point. Lots of pubs had one on the menu but they tended not to be so forthcoming with whose it was. However, I think that may be in part due to the fact that the first and original Lithuanian IPA arrived not that long ago and probably had the market to itself for a while. And it's this one that I think most places serve to punters asking for eepa. The brewery is Dundulis and the beer is Humulupu (left of picture). At 5.5% ABV it's around "normal" strength for Lithuanian beer and is a bright clear shade of orange. It resembled English IPA more than anything, I think: the orange blossom aroma and then a pithy zesty bitterness which builds pleasingly as it goes, finishing quite serious and resinous. I detected a bit of a meaty, gamey flavour in it too: perhaps a side-effect of the hops. Overall it's quite a serious beer and definitely not one of your frivolous tropical fruit jobs.

Dundulis, conveniently, runs a bar in Vilnius: a charming but poky little stand-up joint called Špunka. There's lots to choose from and everything, for a change, is helpfully listed and labelled. They had another IPA on, called Simkala (right of picture), a Simcoe single-hopper. It arrived worryingly grey coloured and while it smelled of lovely fresh jaffa hops, and had a wonderful juicy foretaste, the sudden wave of clanging earthy yeast completely spoiled the whole thing. Cleaned up, this would be beautiful.

Dundulis Roggenbier is another beer of two parts, though rather better made. It's dark garnet in colour and though cloudy is more wholesome and rustic than flawed. The flavour delivers a grassy acridity first, followed swiftly by sweet milk chocolate, and then see-saws between the two elements. It's a strange experience and I'm not sure I liked it.

I think there were a couple of stouts on the board at Špunka. I just had Gutstoutas, a 5.2% ABV one, brewed with oatmeal. Rather good too: it's very black and very dense with a big rich dark roast flavour, some meatiness, some smokiness, but also lighter forest fruit notes. It's rare to find a stout this complex served from the keg.

Finally for Dundulis, and possibly a nod towards farmhouse brewing, there's Juodaragio, a 5% ABV juniper ale. It's golden coloured with a sweet floral perfume aroma. The flavour is spicy, with a touch of ambergris and a resinous texture to match. Despite this it doesn't get too sticky, displaying a lightness of touch that keeps it drinkable throughout.

A mixed bag from Dundulis, quality-wise, but it's nice to see this sort of variation, especially under one small roof.

Still hankering after IPA? About the best of them, I thought, was Green Monster, from the snigger-worthy Apynys brewery. 6.3% ABV and mixing in Citra, El Dorado, Cascade and Magnum for the full-on west coast experience. The aroma is a dense and dank cocktail of oils and pith while the flavour comes out fighting, although it's an orangey bitterness rather than the expected grapefruit. There's a considerable dose of malt in here too, for balance of a sort, and you get that orange barley sugar effect in the finish.

I also got to try Klausučiu IPA, a dark amber one, smelling of lemons and caramel, heavy of body and with an almost roasted edge to it. The weight is added to by plentiful hop resins which give it a long lasting finish. It's a little bit all over the place, but not a bad beer. I'll throw in Klausučiu's tamsusis here as well. It's called 666 and isn't very accomplished either, smelling of dry malt extract and tasting of earthy yeast and cheap gritty chocolate. I saw it in a few places. It's not as cool as it thinks it is.

Brewpubs aside, I saw just one microbrewed Lithuanian pilsner, namely Cyrulis Pils: yet another rough and rustic homebrewish effort. It has no aroma to speak of but there is a charming lemon cookie flavour nestling in the fuzzy yeast. Once again, a bit of fine tuning to the production and this could be a really good beer.

We need to scale up to find a German lager style done well. Gubernija is listed in Lars Marius Garshol's book as a regional brewery and I found its Doppelbock on draught at Alaus Biblioteka, a library-themed international beer bar, complete with classified bottle shelving behind the bar. It does all the things doppelbock is supposed to do, from the chestnut red appearance to the chewy wholesome body and the rich chocolate and fig flavours. A sizeable heat acts as an extra brake on one's drinking speed.

Gubernija is no stranger to traditional styles either, if I can just squeeze another one of those in. Tamsusis Elis was one of the best of them that I tried, mahogany red with a sumptuous liquorice aroma and lots of tangy metallic liquorice bouncing around in the flavour. There's plenty of burnt caramel as well, making the whole resemble a Baltic porter more than anything. I suspect that even when they're trying to stay local, outside influences creep in, and as far as this drinker is concerned, that's for the better.

But as far as the micros go, I don't think they've quite nailed the global craft beer thing yet, quality-wise. I'm all for a varied beer diet but I can kinds see why commentators on the Lithuanian beer scene, including the bar manager at Alaus Biblioteka, recommended sticking to the traditional styles.


  1. Humulupu

    I'm going to become a brewer and make an IPA called Humulupunukunukuapua'a. Unless of course it's been done.

  2. Do it anyway. I want to read the transcript of the court case when the original owner sues you.

  3. Apynys is sniggerworthy but you're giving Špunka a pass?

    1. Yesh. It doeshn't shound ash rude. Though there was this.

  4. keep meaning to ask, when did you taste ambergris?

    1. My whale-sucking history is between me, my therapist and the International Whaling Commission.

      When I use the descriptor it means something like theatrical make-up: an unctuous, spicy incense thing.

  5. so oily hop and yeast ester? Not familiar with theatre makeup either!

    1. Yeah, probaby elements of both.