09 October 2017

Unexpected items

Perusing the selection in Molloy's off licence on Francis Street, my eye was caught by these three from Lithuania's Rinkuškiai brewery.

First up, Alaus Kelias, at 5.5% ABV. It looks like an average lager, a clear golden colour with a full head which vanishes quite quickly. The Lithuanity kicks in from the first taste: a sweet mix of honey and brown sugar, defining characteristics of Lithuania's unique farmhouse beers, yet wonderfully clean and still managing to be refreshing. There's a slightly under-attenuated malt stickiness in the texture, but like the sweetness in the flavour it doesn't build or make the beer difficult to drink. Once you get used to the sweetness -- and I was expecting it so didn't mind -- the whole thing is rather tasty. It's kind of what I expected from a mainstream take on traditional Lithuanian beer so I was interested to find out where they went from here.

To follow: Seno Rūsio, 5.4% ABV this time, and a slightly dark shade, with a copper tint. Again, head retention is not a strong point. Though just as full-bodied, it's a lot less sweet than the previous beer. The problem is that it doesn't really replace the absent honey with anything. There's just a faint metallic hop bitterness alongside the residual malt, but not enough to balance it. I got a certain Irish red ale vibe from this one, something about the way the heavy sweetness meets tangy hop bitters. If it just veered further in one direction or another it would be a better beer.

Lastly we come to Rinkuškių Drumstas, stronger than the others at 6% ABV, but paler too, and smelling distinctly hoppy: the fresh spinach and cabbage of eastern Europe's varieties. It's light bodied, for a very refreshing change, and the honey malt is reduced to a supporting role in the flavour profile. Again, though, it's diminishing returns where the substitute flavour is concerned: the hops are there, but no more than you'd find in a very mild pilsner. And there's a hollow wateriness too, like you'd find in, well, a poorly-made pilsner. It's perfectly drinkable, and quite refreshing too, given the strength, but lacking in complexity and originality.

As someone who's been blathering on about Lithuanian beer to anyone who'll listen since I got back from Vilnius, I liked the way that these offer an intimation of what the national beer is like in that unique culture. The Alaus Kelias is the closest, however, and it's the one I enjoyed most, perhaps because it tastes that bit different to the lagers of the rest of Europe. The other two seem like standard Euro lager given a Lithuanian twist, which is much less interesting. Nevertheless, it's good that the Irish beer drinker has these beers to help acclimatise before a trip north-east. While they're not exactly full-tilt šviesusis, that's definitely lurking in the background of all three.

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