Panevėžys, Lithuania’s fifth largest city by population, is not a place you’ll find in most guide books. I don’t think they get many British tourists out this way; even the local tourist information office only offered maps of the city in Lithuanian, Latvian and Russian. Nevertheless, we booked a couple of nights in town and arrived with open minds.
There are two breweries in Panevėžys – Kalnapilis and Dundulis – so we headed into town to see what we could find. First stop was Špunka Old Barrel Pub, part of the Špunka chain of pubs that are dotted around Lithuania. This venue, however, acts as an unofficial brewery tap for Dundulis, with 7 of their beers available on tap plus more in bottles. We sampled most of the tap beers between us; Poppy, always a bitter lover, was a particular fan of the Rudasis Biteris (4.9% extra special bitter), while my highlight was Humulupu, a punchy 5% IPA packed with citrusy American hops.
Our next pub, Seklyčia Prie Uosio, was about 10 minutes’ walk away down a cobbled back street. This traditional wooden building is the brewery tap for Piniavos Alutis, a nano brewery based in the nearby village of Piniava. All 3 of their regular beers were available so we found a table in the beer garden and sampled each of them. The first, Seklyčios (5%), was a lightly-hopped, slightly sweet and yeasty golden ale. Next up was Laukinių Aviečių, a mild pale ale flavoured with wild raspberry stems. Finally we tried my pick of the bunch, Raudonųjų Dobilų (5.3%), a malty English bitter-style beer with added red clover.
All these beers were very reasonably priced (around €2 each), but the cheapest was yet to come. On our earlier walk into town from our accommodation we’d passed by the central market. Nestled away in one corner was Alaus Baras, which in English literally translates as “Beer Bar”. The bar doesn’t even appear on Google Maps; the only information we had was the bizarre opening times in the window (6 a.m – 6 p.m.). A peek through the door seemed like it could be the kind of place where the sight of us might cause a sudden silence to descend, and maybe it would have if the other customers had been sober enough to notice us entering.
We decided to brave it and headed to the bar. What we found were some of, if not the cheapest beers we’d ever seen. With prices starting from an unbelievable €0.60 for half a litre, it scarcely mattered that many of the taps didn’t even have labels. Those that did offered Kalnapilis and other big-name Lithuanian lager breweries such as Tauras. We sampled a couple of who knows what – they may not have been the best beers we’d ever tried, but at that price it would have been rude not to!
It turns out that once you know where to look, these kinds of bars can be found everywhere. We visited another later in the evening where not even the bar had a name, never mind the beers. The beers may not be craft, but they were certainly appreciated by the loyal clientele. And at that price, who can blame them?
I’m in Panevėžys for the day, where should I visit? In terms of craft beer, then really Špunka Old Barrel Pub was easily the best in town. However, simply for the unique experience I would recommend just having one in Alaus Baras or any of the other ultra-cheap bars you can find.
Brewery to look out for? Once again, Dundulis came out on top for me. Their range isn’t ground-breaking, but they produce classic styles very competently.