No beer tour around the Baltics would be complete without a stop-off in Biržai in northern Lithuania. The town has a long and distinguished brewing history, and the traditional styles from the region are still popular today. They take their beer pretty seriously around here; apparently, after the Swedish destroyed Biržai in 1704, the locals rebuilt the brewery before the castle and the town hall!
As well as the town’s own Biržų alus, there are also smaller breweries in many of the surrounding villages. Most of these are a little too far away unless you have a car, but we decided to visit Rinkuškiai Brewery, just over half-an-hour’s walk from the centre of town. Founded in 1991, the brewery nowadays also has an attached bottle shop and a restaurant offering their full range of beers alongside perfectly matched meals.
We found a table indoors – not too difficult on a Wednesday afternoon – and had a look through the menu. There were too many beers to choose from, so we decided to go for the tasting flight. At €9 for 9 beers plus beer snacks and a leaflet describing each beer, it seemed like a bargain. It also came served on a rather snazzy round tasting board, so plenty of style points too.
Not feeling rebellious, we sampled the beers in the order they came recommended. First up was Miežinis (“Barley”, 5%). A German-style pale lager, malty and mildly bitter, this wasn’t the most exciting beer ever but decent enough to get us started. Number two, Proginis (“Occasional”, 5.2%) looked almost identical but showcased Czech hops rather than German. Poppy preferred this one to the first but I found it a bit bland unfortunately. I’m sure once we’ve explored the Czech Republic in a couple of months’ time I’ll be converted though…
Our third taster, Alaus Kelias (“Beer Road”, 5.5%), presented the first opportunity to try some traditional Biržai-style beer. The local beers have a golden hue, slightly hazy as they are unpasteurised, and a malty yet somewhat floral aroma. This version had plenty of body too, as well as a slightly sweet boozy finish. Next up we sampled Seno Rūsio (“Old Cellar”), a 5.4% altbier, so an ale rather than a lager. The caramel malt sweetness of this one really split opinion; I thought it was the nicest beer we’d tried so far, while Poppy wasn’t a fan at all.
For number five we had our first dark beer, Juodasis (“Black”, 4.2%). The beer was true to its name, a deep black colour with a foamy tan head. It tasted just as it looked too, with flavours of coffee and dark chocolate really coming to the fore. As a fan of darker beers in general, I found this one very enjoyable. While that beer had been exactly what it said on the tin, the next one, Porteris (5.6%), looked more like an amber lager than a porter. It didn’t taste much like a porter either – sweet and malty rather than the expected rich, roasted flavours.
As we moved on to the last three beers, the quality really started to climb. At number seven was Kartusis (“Bitter”, 5%), a hoppy American-style pale ale with plenty of hops and a refreshing bitterness. The penultimate beer was Sambarių, a slightly darker lager matured at a low temperature for 45 days. The result was a really pleasant beer, the extra alcohol bringing a notable but not overwhelming sweetness.
That had been my favourite of the lot so far, but the best was still to come. Naminis (“Homemade”, 7%) is Rinkuškiai’s flagship beer and in 2012 it was awarded a Certificate of National Heritage. The leaflet described it as “roily” (we had no clue what this meant), but this was a really tasty strong lager with plenty of malty flavour and hop bitterness.
Overall, I thought the tasting flight offered excellent value for money, even if many of the snacks were a bit cheesy for my liking! It was a great introduction to the brewery’s beers and with 9 beers to choose from, there’s certain to be something for everyone.