As I write this, Poppy and I are three months into our trip, just about the half-way point before we head back to Sheffield for the festival in October. Everything sounds like it’s coming along nicely and it should be another fantastic event this year!
We arrived in Lithuania, the last of the three Baltic states, to an unprecedented heatwave. The sun was blazing as our bus pulled into Klaipėda, a picturesque seaside city at the northern end of the Curonian Spit. The city is home to one of Lithuania’s oldest and largest breweries, Švyturys (“Lighthouse”), so of course we had to check them out. They actually moved into a shiny new brewery just last year complete with a bottle shop and tap room, called the BHouse, which offered all of the brewery’s core beers. Like some of the bigger brewers back home, they also had a craft range under the name Raudonų Plytų (“Red Bricks”). These were definitely more interesting than the core selection – highlights included the generously-hopped Bocmano Ūsai (6% IPA), and Bėganti Kopa (4.5% witbier).
Back in Klaipeda’s old town we came across Herkus Kantas, a classic cellar bar beneath a row of townhouses with whitewashed walls and sturdy wooden furniture. Nestled among the local beers on tap we spotted a very familiar sight, Thornbridge AM:PM. I couldn’t resist a taste of home and can confirm it’s a beer that travels well.
Leaving Klaipėda, we took a two-hour ride on a standard of train we can only dream of back in the UK to the town of Šiauliai. Like most, if not all, other visitors we were really there for the Hill of Crosses, but as it was a Friday night we decided to check out the local beer scene too. We came across Cask 215, where we had our first introduction to Genys (“Woodpecker”) Brewery. The brewery offered the full range of styles from pilsners to porters and soon became one of our go-tos around Lithuania. Poppy was particularly enamoured with their tart but refreshing Raspberry Milkshake Ale (3.5%).
Next up we arrived in Panevėžys, the country’s fifth-largest city. Apparently they don’t get many tourists here, but as there were two breweries in town (Kalnapilis and Dundulis) we opted to stay for a couple of nights. There was actually one excellent place in town, just around the corner from the bus station. Špunka Old Barrel Pub offered 8 beers from Dundulis on tap, and we duly tried most of them.
More “interesting”, however, were the numerous anonymous bars dotted around Panevėžys offering some of the cheapest beer we’d ever seen, some less than 60p per pint! Unsurprisingly, these places were very popular with the locals. We didn’t exactly fit in with the clientele but we couldn’t resist popping in to try one out – as you can imagine, the beer wasn’t the best quality but the people-watching was second-to-none.
Much of Lithuania’s brewing heritage belongs to the north of the country, centred around the small town of Biržai. In fact, when the town was destroyed by the Swedes in 1704, the brewery was rebuilt before the castle and the market! The brewery, Biržų Alus, still exists today but unfortunately tours were only available to groups of 15 or more people. Instead, we decided to visit Rinkuškiai Brewery about half-an-hour’s walk out from town, where we sampled an exquisitely presented nine-beer tasting flight. Highlights included the dark lager Juodasis (“Black”, 4.2%), and Naminis (“Homemade”, 7%), a traditional Biržai-style beer with plenty of malty flavour and hop bitterness.
From Biržai, a rather hot and uncomfortable three-hour journey on a bus from the 1970s brought us to the capital, Vilnius. This was easily the most touristy place we visited in Lithuania and many bars had prices to match. The locals seemed to have a peculiar penchant for Newcastle Brown Ale (it was available in a surprising number of places) but there were plenty of pubs for the more discerning drinker to enjoy too.
Just like in Tallinn and Riga, we did our research before we arrived and marked a few “must visits” on our free city map. Up near the cathedral, we came across Nisha Craft Capital, a proper craft pub offering 20 taps plus fridges full of bottles from around the world. It was here that I had my first pint of what turned out to be my favourite Lithuanian beer, Apynys Brewery’s Yellow Camper, a 3% session IPA that packed plenty of flavour and body despite its low ABV. In the Old Town we found Prohibicija tucked away in a small courtyard, which offered plenty of To Øl on tap, plus bottled beers from all of Lithuania’s best microbreweries.
By now we only had one city left to visit before our three weeks in Lithuania came to an end. Kaunas was actually the country’s capital between 1920 and 1939, but nowadays is better known as a university town. It’s set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2022 and there was plenty of building work going on in preparation, but that didn’t spoil the vibe of this fascinating and lively city.
In terms of beer culture, the city was also home to two of our favourite breweries of the trip, Genys and Apynys. The former had recently opened a tap room on the main street (the longest pedestrian thoroughfare in Europe, no less), a BrewDog-esque bar with the full range of Genys beers on tap. Meanwhile, we found the best selection of Apynys just around the corner in Vingiu Dubingiu alongside the likes of Kuro Aparatūra and Bear and Boar.
It’s Poland next for us and having visited a few times before, we’re very excited for the beers in store. Remember, if you’d like to keep up to speed with our latest adventures (it’s not all beer!), you can find our blog at hoppingaround.co.uk.