Apynys and Apynys

<< 2016-05-01 18:11 >>

Kaunas city hall

Until recently, the city of Kaunas in Lithuania was home to three breweries all named Apynys. The name means "hops," which is probably why it's so common. Now, however, there are only two breweries named Apynys left, a few kilometers apart on the outskirts of the city. I visited them on a guided tour with, in an attempt to learn more about Lithuanian beer so I can improve my guidebook.

Apynys Alaus Darykla

Apynys entrance

Our first stop was Apynys Alaus Darykla, located in a private home on a residential street. It has to be the smallest brewpub I've ever visited. Outside, in the garden, were one or two tables. There was nobody there so early in the morning, so we went down into the cellar. A woman stood behind a counter in what looked like a private convenience store. Except it had some beer taps. The owner and brewer was on holiday, so we didn't get to talk to him, but I bought one bottle of each of their beers to take away in 1-litre plastic bottles.

The owner, Vytautas Zubavičius, moved to Kaunas from Pasvalys in northern Lithuania, taking the family yeast and the recipes with him. I was not able to find out how he brews, but the brewery is approved as traditional culinary heritage by the Lithuanian culinary heritage foundation. That should imply that the beers are traditional raw ale. Which fits with his product lineup, which has only four beers: a kvass, a honey beer, a "normal" farmhouse ale, and a hoppy farmhouse ale.

And, intriguingly, he uses Lithuanian hops, picked by friends in the forests around Kaunas. As far as I know, he is the only Lithuanian brewer to use Lithuanian hops, and presumably this is where the name of the brewery comes from. Of course, this is farmhouse ale, so very likely he hasn't used much hops by craft beer standards.

Anyway, once the tour was over I sat down to try the beers in my hotel room in Kaunas. I started with the one called Vytauto Alus (6.5%). It looked fairly normal: big offwhite head, hazy brown body. It didn't smell normal, though: fruity minty aroma wrapped in powerful wafts of cloves and other spices. It was very complex, and very sweet, and the finish was an earthy minty spicy combination of herbs. A very good beer, and extremely unusual.

Vytauto alus

So what makes these flavours? There's no telling, since I don't know enough about how the beer is made. I tried the Medaus (6%) beer, which has honey in it, and found a kind of perfumy honey flavour, but the same familiar clove spice mix aroma was in this beer, too. So I tried the Apynio (6%), too, which has more hops, and found this added laquer, flowers, and peas, and also brought out the mint more. That clove spice mix thing was still there, though.

So as far as I can tell, the hops really do add flavour, but they're very likely not the cause of the extremely unusual spice taste. I doubt he's adding those spices to the beer, which could mean that his family yeast is a wonder among yeasts. DNA analysis of it indicates it's Saccharomyces cerevisiae, ordinary ale yeast. So perhaps it's not the yeast, after all, but something else.

There, frustratingly, I have to leave the story. This brewery makes excellent, strange, unique beers. But nobody knows how. Perhaps I can come back one day and talk to the owner.

Bravoras Apynys

Baublys baras

From the one Apynys, we drove to the other. It's located in a bar that, confusingly is called Baublys. From the outside it looks like a normal bar. Inside it's modern, but in traditional style, with brick and lots of lacquered wood. A small lunchtime crowd of sharply dressed businessmen and -women are eating lunch, and mostly having beers with their lunches. The bar serves beers from Kaunas brewery, Utena, and Apynys.

This Apynys, however, is a very different affair. They were originally a lager brewery, but when the craft wave came to Lithuania they decided to switch sides. "I think we jumped the train in time," says the brewer. They're not going to make any more lager. "There are enough pale lagers in Lithuania already," he explains. It's hard to disagree with him there.

I was surprised to see the beer lineup in the bar was so normal: pale lagers and a cherry beer. Asking the brewer he says it's hard to sell the craft beers in this place. Students and people in Vilnius drink it, but not people here in the suburbs of Kaunas.

A baublys

In a corner of the bar, I spot something odd. It's a part of a tree trunk, about 2 meters high, hollowed out with a door and a roof mounted on top. It's like a tiny house made from the trunk of a tree. Asking Vidmantas, the guide, I discover that this is a baublys, which is what the bar is named for. These were traditionally a simple and cheap way to make a small storehouse.

The brewery

The brewery is in the cellar below the bar, and is pretty small, with a batch size of 500 liters. It's quite modern, and has some interesting energy efficiency features. Their flagship beer is Green Monster IPA, which apparently has been a sensation with local beer enthusiasts. To foreigners it comes across as a normal IPA, but a good one.

Weirdly, these two little breweries on the outskirts of Kaunas are like a microcosm of Lithuanian beer anno 2016. Older, traditional beers that are puzzling and unique, as well as modern brewing scene shifting from pale lager to craft.

Other posts from the trip

Below is a list of the other posts from this roundtrip:

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