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Kupiškio - underground brewers

Posted in Beer on 2016-09-11 13:41

Brewery and outlet

Eventually we ran out of breweries to visit in Pakruojis, and started discussing where to go next. I told Vidmantas I've always wanted to visit Kupiškio, but he didn't want to go there. I explained that the very first Lithuanian beer I had was from them, and it really blew me away. It's what really kicked off my interest in Lithuanian beer. Vidmantas looked at me queerly, then said, "well, let's try," and started the car, heading east. (This is part 7 of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015.)

Eventually we arrived in the town of Kupiškis, parking the car outside a small, industrial building. This turned out to house a small beer shop, as well as parts of the brewery. In the shop Vidmantas asked the girl behind the counter if we could talk to the manager. After a couple of minutes she arrived, looking very skeptical, and almost angry. I heard Vidmantas say something about "blog," "book," "brewery," etc etc. This did nothing to make the manager any happier. She told us she'd have to call the owners. After a while she came back. Ok, she said grudgingly, we could see the brewery, but only if they were allowed to see my photos before I published them.

So we headed off, out of the building, and round the back. It turned out that part of the brewery is in a kind of underground bunker. Vidmantas explained that this was a WW I army ammunition store, built into the ground to minimize the damage from any explosions. That's perfect for a brewery, because it provides partly natural cooling for the maturation room. The actual brewkit is in the same building as the shop, but the fermenters, maturation tanks, and bottling plant are in the bunker. It's very clearly a modern brewery, and the batch size is the same as at Davra, 2000 liters.

Foggy maturation tanks

Kupiškio has a very different portfolio of beers from Davra, however. They make several semi-traditional beers that are quite unusual. One is flavoured with roasted hazelnuts. One is a keptinis, a very rare style. There are also some more craft-like beers under the "Apyniu Virtuve" (hop kitchen) label. I'm a big fan of the traditional-like beers, and the craft-like beers are not that hoppy, or even that similar to foreign craft beer. I quite like those, too.

The manager looked quite grim throughout the whole tour, and I didn't really get much information out of her. Once I'd seen the whole brewery we made our goodbyes, which she acknowledged with a curt nod. In the car Vidmantas explained a bit more. The brewery was started in 2005, and the owners are really business people who saw it as a business opportunity. They've hired a professional brewer, who lives in Vilnius.

Kupiškio is actually part of a group of breweries, called Aukštaitijos bravorai, after the Lithuanian region of Aukštaitija where the farmhouse brewing is still alive. None of the breweries in the group are farmhouse breweries in the way that Piniavos, Su Puta, and Jovaru are, but they do make interesting beers.

Kupiškio Magaryčiu (with roasted hazelnuts)

Of the beers Kupiškio makes right now, the most remarkable is perhaps a beer for the Iki supermarket chain, called "UKIS Tradicinis Alus". It's hazy deep red with a mid-sized offwhite head. The aroma is a complex mix of toffee, cinnamon, dried fruit, and butterscotch, with faint smoky notes. Neither sweetness nor dryness dominates, and the taste is even more complex, adding in heather honey, minerals, and caramelized sugar. I remember drinking my first 0.75l bottle of this and enjoying every sip the whole way down the bottle, as the flavours kept changing and revealing something new.

So how is it made? What makes this such a great and unusual beer? The label says (in Lithuanian): "Water, barley malts, caramalts, hops, yeast." That's all I know. The brewery wouldn't talk to me, and there doesn't seem to be any other way to find out. Maybe if they read this they'll change their minds so I can visit them again and learn something about the brewery and their beers.

Meanwhile this is yet another illustration of how hard it can be to study Lithuanian beer.

(I wrote an email to Kupiškio trying to get permission to publish the photos, but I never heard back. After waiting a week I decided to go ahead anyway. The two photos are so innocuous I don't really see what there could be to object to.)







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Comments

Vidma - 2016-09-11 09:08:30

This brewery is bakcrupt no activity, so you can use photos :D

Lars Marius Garshol - 2016-09-11 10:14:12

@Vidma: What? Kupiškio bankrupt? That's sad. :-( I was looking forward to trying their Iki beer again in November.

Alec Latham - 2016-09-11 12:48:17

Well the clandestine nature of some Lithuanian brewing just makes these posts all the more readable. The secretiveness gives it a vibe somewhere between Enid Blyton & Twin Peaks.

Martynas - 2016-09-28 15:57:39

Lars, don't worry you will be able to try those beers despite Kupiškio closing. Most of the brewing activity was moved long time ago to other Aukštaitijos bravorai group's breweries such as Taruškų/Miežiškių and Butautų. The sad thing is that the group which used to own 7 small breweries and a maltstery at one point, is suffering a lot from owner conflicts and management issues, which is evident not only from the diminishing number of breweries, but also diminishing quality of their products.

Lars Marius Garshol - 2016-10-12 12:16:25

@Alec: Yes, exactly. That's part of what's kept me going. :)

@Martynas: Phew!

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