Yup, the winter is here and it won’t be leaving for another two to three months. Several months of gloom and cold. But alcohol makes a lot of things better, so we decided to compile a list (mind you, it’s not comprehensive, there are some brews we haven’t tasted yet, so no complaining!) of wintery Lithuanian brews. They’re all more or less seasonal, and with at least 5.8% ABV, they will surely warm you up after a romp in the snow (provided there is snow; we personally have seen it only briefly). Oh, and be warned: not all of these are good, much like 2016 was disappointing in many many aspects. But let’s not dwell on sad things — we promise to end this on a brighter (and tastier) note.
First and probably the worst on this list is Tamsusis ąžuolas (Dar Oak) from Volfas Engelmanas. Another year, another attempt to improve beer with bourbon barrels. Sounds promising? Well, this brewery went ahead and chopped those barrels up, so the beer only ever saw oak chips. The result? Disappointing.
Appearance: Dark brown body with reddish tints and a fluffy light brown head.
Aroma: Sweetish and sharp, with some hints of vanilla, bourbon, cocoa, alcohol and wood.
Taste: There’s cocoa, there’s wood, there’s caramel… but the more you drink of it, the more pronounced the wood becomes. In the end it feels like you’re either licking a wooden plank or eating a caramel candy without bothering to remove the wrapper. The resulting dryness gets old real fast.
Mouthfeel: High carbonation and, regrettably, long-lasting taste.
Notes: We won’t lie, it’s an improvement from last year’s rendition, but it still has a long way to go to become palatable. The woodiness is too much and the short flashes of cocoa and caramel couldn’t save this brew.
This year Vilkmergės alus has been very productive, offering up one new brew after another. They decided to end the year with a bang, or, to be more exact, with an imperial stout amped with spices. They aptly called it Žiemos imperinis stautas (Winter imperial stout; much imagination, such wow) and, contrary to their earlier limited releases, decided on simpler bottles and lower prices.
Style: Imperial stout (hur)
Appearance: Black as a December night, with a creamy brownish head.
Aroma: Bread crust, raisins, herbs, slight sourness.
Taste: The stout base is pleasant enough, the roastedness is firm, but mellow. However, when it came to the spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg), our opinions differed. Paulius didn’t mind them and enjoyed the beer. Ignė, on the other hand, couldn’t drink it, since the beer reminded her of a cough syrup. And she does not like cough syrups. The thing is, through some kind of miraculous transformation, the spices turned to herbs and from there it just went downhill.
Mouthfeel: Highly carbonated, with a medium long lasting taste.
Notes: The herby character makes it feel like a gruit, which isn’t a bad thing, especially if you like cough syrups.
Let’s move on to repeated
mistake edition of last year’s brew. It’s Glüh Märzen from Švyturys. It’s the same märzen Baltijos, only spiced with cinnamon, poured into fancy bottles and sold in pretty boxes. Last year the cinnamon was too much; this year, however, the brewers might’ve learned from that mistake…
Appearance: Clear brown body with reddish tints and a tall fluffy brownish head.
Aroma: Caramel and soft cinnamon. Smells better than last year’s version.
Taste: A touch of caramel and a barrage of cinnamon. It comes first and leaves last, just like that annoying guest who gets the message to scram only when hosts start washing up dishes and getting ready for bed.
Mouthfeel: Intense carbonation.
Notes: We have to admit, this version is better than the last. Only by a smidgen though — the intense cinnamon feels like an overkill, it barely allows any other notes to shine through.
Let’s move on to another brew from Švyturys (in a pretty box, too!) — Compass, an imperial stout aged for 12 months in whisky barrels. The barrels they chose came from Swedish distillery Mackmyra. As it turned out, we had a bottle of their whisky at home! It’s pretty nice, by the way. We heard it goes phenomenally well with a huge bowl of boiled shrimp.
Style: Imperial stout
Appearance: Dark as the night with an almost non-existent light brown head.
Aroma: A bit weak, although we managed to feel some dried fruit, alcohol and bread leaven. We have to admit, the aroma wasn’t promising at all.
Taste: But our spidey senses were wrong. The taste was much more pleasant, combining sweetness, bread crust and subtle whisky notes.
Mouthfeel: Too much carbonation made it difficult to discern all the taste notes. Plus, for an 8.8% ABV it is far too watery.
Notes: Buuut… it isn’t an imperial stout. It’s too light and watery. Sure, the taste profile isn’t bad, but for 8 Euros one would expect something more, especially since it was aged for that long. By the way, the brewery claims it only produced 9000 (no less, no more) bottles of this, however, there’s definitely more of it. So if you don’t feel like spending that much on a mediocre brew, wait for a few months, it might sell for less.
We saved the best for last. And the best this winter (so far) has been Syrne from Dundulis, a beer brewed with malted peas. It might not be the most wintery of all, but it is geared for colder weather. And since here in Lithuania we have colder weather 9 months a year, the beer might come in handy on any colder summer night.
Style: Lithuanian traditional ale (???)
Appearance: Dark copper-coloured body with a low white head.
Aroma: Light and sweetish, with malt and pea notes (holy cow, this sentence is one letter away from disaster!).
Taste: Very malty and rich, with slight bitterness at the end. There are some hints of mellow cocoa, which we came to associate with Dundulis’ brews.
Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation, medium long lasting taste. A bit sticky, although the body is rather light.
Notes: Very easy to drink and the cocoa reminded us of our love at first sip, Magistra. It’s light and rich at the same time, well-balanced. It quickly became one of our favourite brews this winter.