14 October 2015

Old Town brews

There are three brewpubs in Vilnius Old Town. Newest among them is Alinė Leičai, part of what seems to be a growing food and drink empire along narrow, twisty Stiklių Gatvė. I mentioned Bambalynė in Monday's post: it's under the same ownership. The Leičai brewpub is a couple of doors along, and then across the way is Alinė Leičai the restaurant, specialising in traditional food and carrying a large range of Leičai beer. This is where I started my explorations of their range.

Having only the English-language menu to hand, I didn't record the native names for these beers. The one I started with was billed as Leičai Light Ale (pictured) and was 5% ABV. Dark gold in colour it had a sweet, hard-candy aroma and a spicy-sweet flavour, putting me particularly in mind of Duvel. "Light" here refers to the colour only, I'm guessing, because it's pretty dense and chewy. While there's a nice bitter hop bite on the finish it's quite far from being refreshing. Leičai Šviesusis, at the same strength, was much more what I was after. A gentle honey note opens the flavour, giving way to a bitterer grassy pilsner finish. It had a few things in common with Leičai Bohemian Pils which was on at the brewpub, pumped directly to taps on every table on a serve-yourself basis. In typical brewpub lager fashion it's hazy with lots of raw, rustic crunchy grain, but also a proper nettle-like noble hop bitterness. I enjoyed it, but found it just a little too rough around the edges to be a properly happy pils.

Leičai brewpub is a lovely place, compact, though that aids the pipework required for the tabletop draught system. The brewkit is visible down the back and quite a few of the beers are served from handpumps. One such was their IPA, a bright orange colour and mixing up jaffa sweetness with spicy myrrh-like resins. Refreshing enough to sink sessionably; complex enough to sit over and savour: I did both on subsequent visits. The Kveitinis (wheat beer, see Monday's lesson for vocab) didn't work so well, though poured a normal looking pale hazy blonde. Lots of coriander in the aroma but it tastes very sweet, edging toward syrupy, which is never good in a wheat beer. The low carbonation and high temperature did it no favours either.

Two dark beers before we leave Leičai. There was a Porter at the restaurant which I quite enjoyed, it being a simple and chocolately pale brown beer which had a bit of yeasty fuzz to it but managed to style this out as wholesomeness. There was a stout too, Vasaknai, at 5.8% ABV. More yeast rawness here, but largely drowned out by shouty stouty characteristics: an invigorating coffee aroma and a big bitter, roasted flavour. It was impressive for the first couple of mouthfuls but didn't really do much else to hold my attention after that. Fine for one, but then move on. And so we move on.

Prie Katedros is in a vaulted basement off Vilnius's grand main boulevard Gedimino Prospektas. You pass the brewkit on the way down the stairs, its gleaming copper drawing you in from the street. Specials come and go, though there were none on my visit, just the three core beers. Katedros Šviesusis smells very honeyish and has a crusty white bread flavour followed by more of that honey, finishing on a crunchy, grainy note. Despite a considerable heaviness, calling strong Belgian ale to mind once more, it's actually quite easy to drink.

There was also an actual honey beer: Katedros Medaus, this one amber coloured, like its special ingredient. The aroma is definitely honey: herbal, a little spicy, but definitely sweet. Oddly, though, it's quite light of texture, lagery even, with just a gentle pleasant honey complexity on the edge of the flavour. I'd go as far as to say it's less honeyish than the honey-free blonde, though that may have something to do with palate calibration. Either way, I enjoyed this more than I expected. Dark honey beers need not be all hot and sticky.

The third core beer is Katedros Tamsusis and -- guess what -- it smells of honey. There's lots of sweet toffee but it's another lightly textured one, with a herbal, manuka sort of perfume. Ultimately, however, it's not as interesting as the other two. I felt a little wrong-footed by the Prie Katedros beers: they seem, and smell, like they should be under-attenuated sugar bombs but it's also apparent that the brewers on the stairway do actually know what they're doing.

Finally, just around the corner, to Būsi Trečias. It's a rather sparse, barnlike pub. The brewkit is in the basement out of sight, so marks off for poor theatrics. And marks off for the Tamsusis being unavailable. I started with Šviesus the, I assume, šviesusis. It's the de rigeur hazy pale gold and 5% ABV and has a lovely, quenching, lemon sherbet flavour. It doesn't do much else, but doesn't really need to either -- it's a conversation beer. A little bit of vanilla syrup creeps in as it warms, but that's easily avoided by drinking it fast.

The other beer they had was Juodas: 6.5% ABV and an opaque red-brown colour. The chewy texture and mix of toffee and liquorice in the taste reminded me of Czech tmavý, with the same sort of flawless clarity and balance to the flavours. There's a touch of smokiness in it as well, but zero off flavours. If it wasn't for the soupy appearance I'd suspect this of being a re-badged ringer from a bigger brewery.

Vilnius has other brewpubs but they're further out and I didn't bother with them on my short trip. In the final post from the city I'll be moving away a little from the typically local beer styles and trying a few more exotic options.


  1. Eeee it's good blogging this, like

    1. Not to worry, I probably have something utterly joyless cued up for next week.