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The widely praised Švyturys Baltas, for example, won gold in the white wheat beer category. Vilkmergės Vyšniu Kriek scooped gold in the cherry beer section. Tauras Bravoro Rinktinis got gold for the best Dortmunder lager.
Other winners included the strong porter Kauno Senasis Porteris, the pale lagers Tauras Ekstra and Utenos Classic and the German-style bock Kunigaikščių. Some of these names are as hard to find in the country’s bars, pubs and supermarkets as they are for non-locals to pronounce, drunk or sober, but you might be lucky.
Beer is produced all over the country, with most cities boasting at least one major brewery. But renowned for its centuries-long, almost ancient beer-making traditions with local ingredients is Biržai, in the north of the country. The beers of Biržai are best little filtered or unfiltered.
The tourist information centre there guides visitors to its popular beer routes, where you can discover some of the old ways of home brewing, taste traditional beer, cheese and bread, be entertained by a local folk group – and even get up and play the panpipes or horn, sing and dance.
However, like just about everywhere, Lithuania’s craft beer revolution is challenging the big names to the extent that the largest breweries have launched their own craftily marketed, ubiquitous brands with funny names in recent years. The massive Klaipėda-based brewery Švyturys has a fairly average range bottled or for the tap under the name Raudonų plytų, with names like Bėganti kopa (Running Dune), Ungurio kojos (Eel Legs) and Nežinomas krantas (Unknown Coast). They sound more like native American tribal names than those of beers.
Craft beers by smaller and more independent breweries are the ones to watch for, especially a number of excellent India pale ales. One of the first and the finest is Dundulis from Panevėžys, which produces the misty, grapefruity and dry Humulupu IPA, as well as the darker, copper-coloured and caramely Dubults. From Kaunas, Bravoras Apynys makes the amber-coloured, hoppy-scented and citrusy Green Monster, while in Vilnius there's Aline Leičiai, whose Leičių IPA has a big foamy head when poured from the keg and tastes sweetish, fruity, almost floral.
Dundulis also makes a range of other unique beers, such as a wonderfully creamy, smooth and smoky stout called Kovarnių Stautas and a very dry, tongue-numbing, bitter-herb brew called Kiečių. Traditional ale has also grown quickly in Lithuania, if you can find it, with Kupiškio, Jovaru and Krikšciuno being among the best.
For a memorable Vilnius beer tour there are innumerable possible stops for a refreshing and atmospheric drink, but we suggest the following nine bars and microbreweries. It's probably best not to name which brews can be sampled at which spots as they alternate with surprising rapidity. But our list is geographically ordered, to start at either the first or the last and work your way forward. Or backward.
- Alaus Namai, A Goštauto 8 (G-6) - A longstanding favourite, this cellar a kilometre outside the Old Town rolls out barrels as benches as well as beer containers. Food includes the essential kepta duona (fried black bread), lots of sausages, beer soup and crunchy pigs’ ears.
- Alynas, Jogailos 6 (H-8) - Part of a chain of smart and practical but friendly little establishments, this is a small bar with a big heart, and the owners are true beer connoisseurs.
- Prie Katedros, Gedimino 5 (I-8) - A restaurant and microbrewery a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral, this venue has been specialising in three types of beer (clear, dark and honey) for as long as anyone can remember.
- Būsi Trečias, Totorių 18 (I-8/I-9) - A rowdy, two-level, no-nonsense bar on weekend nights, 'You'll be the Third' has wooden benches and its own beer pumped up from the basement in shades of light and dark, though you may want to steer clear of any flavoured variants.
- Leičių Bravoras, Stiklių 5 (I-9) - Obscenely comfortable and a touch elitist, with sleek and tight leather-bound seating, this is a classy spot to sample local brews.
- Bambalynė, Stiklių 7 (I-9) - Another local favourite, this brick cellar is home to groups and solitary drinkers alike. With as many as a hundred beers, including unpasteurised and unfiltered, it has everything from crowd-pleasing lagers to farmhouse ales.
- Lokys, Stiklių 8 (I-9) - Drop into this restaurant, which serves everything from boar to beaver, for the traditional live dark beer Butautų dvaro from Biržai.
- Alaus Biblioteka, Trakų 4 (H-10/I-9) - Choose from a veritable library of beers, on tap or bottled, with optional advice from the knowledgeable bar folk.
- Šnekutis, Šv. Stepono 8 (I-11) - A massively popular place to wind up or wind down any beer tour in Vilnius, where you order at the bar and never at the table, and often to a merry handlebar-moustached barman. Šnekutis is (possibly) the place you'll remember most about any delirious Vilnius beer tour.