Beer: Baltas White Ale
Brewery: Svyturys Brewery, Klaipeda, Lithuania
|Tall, white, Lithuanian, and good: the Arvydas Sabonis of beers.|
When I read about an American craft brewery, I’m often impressed to find that it was founded in the 1980s or, even more rarely, the 1970s. For example, the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) was founded in 1984, and Sierra Nevada in 1980. The Svyturys Brewery, in Klaipeda, Lithuania was founded 1784, only 8 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Sure, lots of things in Europe are much older than their counterparts in America, but this is still pretty extraordinary. It’s by no means the oldest brewery in Europe—Stella Artois was first brewed in 1366 according to the bottle I had this weekend, even though drunken Brits might not give it the respect it deserves. But it’s still really, really old, and it’s been in almost continuous operation since then.
This is particularly impressive given the history of conquests that have swept over what is now Lithuania. When the brewery was founded, its home city of Klaipeda, on the Baltic Coast, was part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Its strategic location as an ice-free port, however, meant that it was destined to change hands often. Germany unified with Prussia in the late 1800s, then lost it in World War I, after which it was controlled by the post-war Entente states (which pretty much meant Russia at the time). The Lithuanian people rose up in 1923 and created an independent Lithuanian state, but Hitler took it back less than 20 years later. Then the Nazis got kicked out, but not before the brewery was destroyed, and the USSR took over. The brewery was rebuilt in 1946, and then in 1990 Lithuania declared its independence again as the Soviet Union crumbled. Then, in 1998, somebody finally figured out how the hell to pronounce the brewery’s name*.
|*I may have actually made that last one up. Svytruys just means "lighthouse" in Lithuanian. See? There it is on the fancypants bottle.|
You don’t stay in business without making good beer, and Baltas White Ale is pretty tasty. It’s a white ale, similar to Hoegaarden, but a bit thicker and more flavorful than its most popular Belgian cousin. Both times I’ve had it I haven’t given it justice, however. The first time I had it I drank it out of the bottle, and it foamed up every time I tipped it to my lips. More recently, I had stored a bottle of the stuff in my fridge for quite a while, but it was too tall to store upright on my stupid fridge shelves, so a lot of the yeast caked itself to one side of the bottle. I still enjoyed it immensely, despite my idiocy.
|Lithuania's other white export that's better than you'd expect it to be.|