JUST like Britain’s recent waves of immigration, not every East-European beer is Polish. As well as the great many Polish beers sold in shops here in London, there’s a couple from the Czech Republic. And even an Estonian beer. Most of which have been distinctly average. Or worse. Will Švyturys Ekstra from Lithuania be a Baltic saviour for East-European beer?
I like the way this bottle looks. It stands out from the crowd. The stubby neck, foil wrapping light-gold colour scheme mean its hard to confuse with any other bottles on the shop shelves.
The foil around the top, and the bottle top itself have the Švyturys name and coat of arms. A coat of arms that seems to consist of an eagle, hops and some sort of tower. There’s also a date. A year to be exact; 1784. Is that the year this Švyturys brewery was established?
The big label on the front of the bottle is an unusual shape. It looks like an ordinary roundel from a distance. But look closer, and you see it’s actually made up of three bulges.
Around the top of the label, it say, interspersed by writing I can’t understand; “Brewed by Švyturys-Utenos Alus, Klaipėda, Lithuania”. Not knowing who, or what a “Klaipėda” was, I hit Wikipedia. Klaipėda it transpires is a Lithuania town, historic port and, presumably, home town of this brewery. The coat of arms of the town also offers some clues as to the origin of Švyturys coat of arms.
Around the bottom of the label, it says “Lithuania’s Most Popular”. A good sign if Lithuania is overflowing with choice. Not so good if this is Lithuania’s only beer.
Under the big Švyturys logo is the name of this particular brew; “Ekstra”. Which I think is supposed to be read as “Extra”. Underneath that, we get several indications of how much is in this bottle. 500 millilitres, 1 pint or 0.9 fluid ounces in case you were wandering. And the alcoholic volume; which is a slightly above average 5.2%. Not worth getting excited about, but more than the boring 5% that seems to be everywhere these day.
Under that is what looks like a selection of medal. Most are too small to read. But one that is readable says “World Beer Cup 2000″. It looks then, like this is an award winning beer. Albeit, of an award no one’s ever heard of.
The back label is a jumble of text in several different languages. Not an inviting block to try and read. The main English language paragraph describes Ekstra as a “golden beer”. A beer made from hops, barley malt, yeast and rice so pure, they could be used to cleanse even Cliff Richard. Rice is an interesting addition. Cobra Extra Smooth is the only other beer that I’ve seen to have it. And I found it much full-flavoured and interesting than other bland Asian beers. Maybe Ekstra’s unique blend will turn out to be more interesting than the bland East-European beers?
There’s also some more detail about the awards we barely saw on the front. Apparently, this was the “Gold Award Winner of the 2001 World Beer Championship and Silver Medal Winner at the 2000 World Beer Cup”. I might not have heard of them, but they’re recent enough for these them to mean something.
Under that is something that’s easy to miss. And hard to understand. What is looks like is a couple of descriptions. One is how to pronounce the name Švyturys, with the text “[shvee – to – rees]”. And the other is the word “Lighthouse”. It’s a leap, but I think that’s a reference to that mysterious tower on the coat of arms. And it makes sense because Klaipėda is a port on the Baltic coast.
There’s an ingredients list and… not much else worth describing. Which means that it’s time to answer some questions. Principally, is Švyturys Ekstra any good?
In the glass, Ekstra is a light-yellow colour. And, as promised, it has a head. But after a few moments, not much of a head.
There’s not as much to say about the smell as I had been hoping. A weak aroma of malted barley is all that awaits. It’s a tiny bit different to the smell of others beers I’ve tried recently, but not very much.
A few gulps down, and Ekstra isn’t bad. It tastes of a light blend of malted barley and hops that leave a light, lingering sour bitterness at the back of your mouth. The tastes and flavours are very light indeed. You’re far from overwhelmed by strong flavours.
Ekstra is clean and crisp. At least this bottle is after I stored it in the freezer compartment for 45 minutes. And the inoffensiveness of the flavours makes this a very easy-to-drink drinkable beer. And the quality of the blend is more than evident.
Sadly, it does have its downsides. Some people, myself included, won’t appreciate how subtle the flavours are. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Ekstra is dull and uninspired on the flavour front. The blend might be quality, but is certainly is boring. There are simply no big flavours to give it character. And it’s a little gassy, but that’s a minor gripe.
How can I try to sum up Švyturys Ekstra? Well, it reminds me of the Asian beers I sampled a few weeks ago. They were all trying to be ‘beers’. And in so doing, that’s what they became. Well made, yet indistinctively tasting generic beers. And that’s what this is. Ekstra is a quality blend of indistinctive beer.
By all means try this to say that you’ve had a Lithuanian beer. If I were visiting Lithuania, I’d happily drink Ekstra by the keg load. But on a shop shelf full of distinctive and full-flavoured beers and ales, that are also cheaper, it’s hard to find many good reasons for you to buy this.
Have you tried Švyturys Ekstra? What did you think?
Can you translate anything on the bottle? Do you know what reputation this has in Lithuania?
Corrections, comments, thoughts, opinions, ideas and suggestions in the comments please!