Gintaro, a neighbourhood brewpub

<< 2013-08-09 21:34 >>

Entering the brewery

We pull into a parking lot and stop. Everyone looks at each other: why are we stopping? Vidmantas sets off to what to my untrained eye looks like a private house. As it turns out, it is a private dwelling, but also the brewpub of one Gintaras Jucevičius. Hence the name of the brewpub: Gintaro. (This is part 1 of the Lithuanian brewery tour.)

We enter what looks rather like a living room, except there are way too many tables and chairs, and also there is a bar. Gintaras asks if we want to try the beer. There's a moment of hesitation, as it's only 10 o'clock, but, what the hell, we're on a beer tour, aren't we? So we say yes, and probably thereby avoid giving major offense.

Gintaras pours a clear yellow-bodied beer with a small white head. It could be anything, so we ask him what style it is. He hesitates, then says "lager". So this will be his Gintaro Sviesusis. On the draft tower he also has an ale, called "Elis", which is just the Lithuanianized form of "ale".

The bar

On the nose it's light, fresh and grassy, with sugary herbal notes in the background. Pleasant. I take a sip, and am met by a well-balanced dusty dry straw flavour backed by a good dose of sweetness. It's good, clean, and very drinkable. To me it seems a little sweeter than your usual pale lager, and with some of that typical Lithuanian straw flavour. It's like a Czech pilsner that's moved to Lithuania and now speaks with a Lithuanian accent.

Suddenly a woman I take to be his wife shows up, passing around a wooden plate of a classic Lithuanian beer snack: little sticks of sliced dark bread fried in garlic and oil. The house must of course offer the guests more than just drinks, and I tuck in happily, as it really is nice.

Gintaras takes us round the back of the house and down into the cellar to his brewery. It's basically a tiny, narrow corridor, with two small rooms off it. One has mash tun and boiler, the other the fermentation vessels. He calls himself a nanobrewer, and you can see why, because the brewery is tiny. Vidmantas laughs, "it's the smallest brewery in Lithuania." Small it may be, but it looks very carefully designed and practical in use. Everything is fitted exactly into the space available, filling every centimetre.

Carefully packed brewkit

It turns out he buys yeast from Belgium, uses German noble hops, and both Czech and Lithuanian malts. We discuss a bit the source of that Lithuanian straw flavour I noticed, and he says it's probably just because the beer is fresh. After a pause he says it could be the water, too. I ask him about the final gravity of the beer, and if I understood the translation right, he says 1026. So pretty sweet.

He says he learned how to brew from the Internet, via the site Savas Alus. Also, he says, through John Palmer's book. And that kind of completes my picture of him as not a traditional Lithuanian brewer, but one working in the international tradition, with a good dose of Lithuanian tastes and ingredients added. In one way what is most remarkable about his brewery is the quality, because what he produces in that tiny cellar of his puts most industrial brewers to shame.

In any case, we must take our leave, because we have many more breweries to visit, and hundreds of kilometers still to drive. It's a shame, because I could see myself spending many happy hours in that homely pub, drinking quality session beer.

Gintaras explaining

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