When friend and fellow beer writer Lars Marius suggested an oval weekend in Vilnius, I did not need much encouragement to go along. In the end there were four of us traveling, a convenient crowd.
I have been to Vilnius before, but that was ages ago. I did a stint in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Mid Nineties and attended a meeting in Lithuania in 1997. I saw a country trying to get to it feet after many decades of oppression, and I did not envisage it as a tourist destination for a long time.
Fast forward to 2015. Two hours flight from Oslo to the capital of a NATO and European Union country. They even adopted the Euro on 1 January.
But we were not there for the politics, but for the beer. Lithuania has an unbroken tradition of farmhouse and other small-scale brewing. These beers used to be really hard to find, but now there is a fair number of dedicated beer bars across the city where you find a staggering number of beers.
And these beer bars come in a number of shapes and sizes. Some are industrial chic, some are really converted garages tucked inside courtyards. Some are just off the gleaming high street. Some serve rustic food, some serve seriously rustic snacks.
The most amazing bar must be Snekutis Uzupio. 20 minutes walk from the old town, this looks like a wooden shack somewhere in the countryside. Wooden interior with lots of dusty memorabilia, a dozen or so beers on tap and a fridge full of mysterious brews.
It is extremely convenient to travel with Lars Marius, who has even written a book on Lithuanian beer. He tells us what to order. We drink it.
The beer is far away from industrial lager, and it’s not a close relation to, say, Czech lagers, either. The beers tend to be full-bodied, with lots of grain and straw in the flavour. Some of them have notes of honey in the aroma, whether they are brewed with honey or not. We’re talking local yeast varieties here, which you won’t find anywhere on the planet.
I don’t take any serious notes, just enjoy the half liter jugs of beer and the good conversation.
To be continued….