Hunting Lithuanian white whales
Posted in Beer on 2016-09-28 14:54
A. Grigonio brewery shop, Pakruojis
On the morning of the second day of the Lithuanian brewery tour 2015 we stopped by a small and little-known brewery called A. Grigonio. It's literally just a few hundred meters from Jovaru Alus. As far as I know, it's a farmhouse brewery in the same vein, but I never got to see it. Vidmantas said the owners were not at home, and so a tour wasn't possible.
We went into the little brewery outlet, where a shy local girl sold me a couple of 1-litre PET bottles of beer for about a euro each. (I'll pause here while you ponder the price/interest ratio for these extremely rare and unusual farmhouse ales.) While we're waiting for her to fill the bottles from the draft tap, Vidmantas points me to an empty beer glass. It has the brewery logo, and the name of the beer is "Nakvoselis." Vidmantas explains that this is another name for "trečiokas," that is, the third runnings. Small beer usually means the second running, but in Lithuania many also made a third running. So they've actually sold trečiokas within the last couple of decades!
We then drove some distance north, to visit E. Mozūro in Linkuva. Vidmantas struggled a bit to find it, since he hadn't been there in several years. Eventually, we stopped outside a nondescript home, perhaps slightly more affluent than the neighbours. A dog barked, but otherwise there was no sign of life. Vidmantas went out, but came back dejected. Nobody home. Very frustrating, as I've never managed to find a single one of their beers.
Rozalimo alus, Rozalimas
We stopped off for lunch at a small brewpub called Rozalimo alus, on the outskirts of Pakruojis. It's a lovely, small wooden cabin with the bar inside, and a beautiful garden outside. I ordered my food, a pint of the pale beer, and a takeaway bottle of the dark beer from the girl behind the bar. While she poured the beers I took a few steps back, then lifted my camera to snap the bar, causing her to literally run out of the frame and hide. Clearly she did not want to be in any photos.
We had our lunch outside in the sunshine. The pale beer was excellent, with very vivid dusty strawy flavours, backed by earthy nutty oily notes. Well balanced, harmonic, and unusual, but recognizably Lithuanian, and in some ways reminiscent of Jovaru. Definitely easy-drinking. I could picture myself staying the rest of the day in the sunny garden, happily drinking this beer.
I asked Vidmantas whether we could talk to the owners about a tour of the brewery. He just looked at me. "Even I have never been inside," he said with a tone of finality. And, indeed, if Vidmantas in twenty years of studying Lithuanian beer had never been inside, then there was no point in trying.
Closed brewery, somewhere in the countryside
After lunch we drove east to Pasvalys, in search of a brewery named Raginelis. Vidmantas eventually located the correct address, a big walled-off private property with no sign of a brewery. We went into the shop literally across the street, and they confirmed it was the brewery. They had none of their beers, though. Vidmantas tried calling the brewery a couple more times, getting no reply. The gates were closed, so clearly they were away. Another disappointment, as I'd never tried their beers, either.
That afternoon I got back to Kaunas, and said goodbye to Vidmantas, who headed back to Vilnius. I wandered around the city for a few hours, before returning to my hotel room, lured by the call of those bottles I'd brought back from the trip. I started with a beer from Apynys, and was happily surprised by the quality, and very surprised by the unusual flavours. It's a shame you have to go to Kaunas to get these beers, because they deserve to be much more widely available.
Then I tried A. Grigonio's Algio, and had another surprise. It was a very good beer. Sweet, nutty earthy caramel, very complex, with chocolate, honey, and many other flavours coming and going. Even traces of wax. It felt like it should have been too sweet, but for me it wasn't.
Rozalimo tamsus alus
Finally, I tried the dark beer from Rozalimo, and was shocked. The balance of soft piney resiny bitterness with sweetish caramelly rye flavours was just perfect. Low carbonation, smooth mouthfeel, and clear, vivid flavours. As my notes say: "Wow! This is incredible!" A single 1-liter bottle clearly wasn't enough, but by then it was too late.
That night I spent some time browsing the information I could find about the beer bars in Kaunas, trying to see which ones would be most likely to offer something interesting. One bar, named "Pivorius", on the edge of town seemed interesting. They clearly served farmhouse ale, and one photo showed a keg of Raginelis beer on the bar. I decided I had to pay them a visit.
The next afternoon I set out, walking the 5 kilometers from the old town in the scorching July sun. The location was not very promising, in between a small shopping center and some tall Soviet-era apartment buildings. The bar itself looked even less promising from the outside, being basically a small door at one end of a windowless concrete box. But there were people outside, relaxing with their beers in the shade, and inside the bar actually was quite nice in a low-key, homely sort of way.
The Raginelis keg was gone, though, as were their beers. The bartender was friendly, helpful, and English-speaking, so in the end I ordered something less exciting, and sat down. People came and went, ordering beers and chatting with the barman. Then in came a grandmother, carrying a grocery bag, and her grandchild, perhaps 8 years old. They ordered a beer for grandma, and a fruit juice for the little girl. Grandma chatted with the barman while he prepared their order, then they headed outside to sit in the sunshine.
Thirty minutes later the little girl comes back with the two empty glasses, puts them on the counter, flashes a smile at the barman, and skips back out into the sun.
Meanwhile, I was nursing my beer, staring out into space, thinking. So after five years of beer hunting in Lithuania there were still new surprises to be found? What else was out there, still to be discovered?
Eventually we ran out of breweries to visit in Pakruojis, and started discussing where to go next
Read | 2016-09-11 13:41
Until recently, the city of Kaunas in Lithuania was home to three breweries all named Apynys
Read | 2016-05-01 18:11
Apynys - 2016-09-28 15:43:18
Reads like a candy:)
Raginelis is quite a frequent guest to the biggest craft fairs/festivals in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda, such as Kaziukas or Juros festivalis. Quite different from other farmhouse breweries present there, who have learned modern business practices and spread several tents in different places of the event, they always only have one massive-barrel-shaped, wooden stall. Last time I tried their beer was in Klaipeda Juros Festivalis (Sea Festival) and their beer was excellent.