STRANGE East European beers keep arriving here in the East End. Days after I get through lots of Ukrainian beer, some from Lithuania turns up. So far, the only other Lithuanian beer I’ve tried was the adequate Švyturys Ekstra and its superior cousin, Švyturys Ekstra Draught. How then, will Švyturys rival compare? From a mini-supermarket on Cambridge Heath Road, for £1.49 pence, here is a bottle of Utenos Beer. Or Utenos Alus if you prefer the Lithuanian for “beer”.
What is there to say about the bottle? Not much. It’s made of glass. It has some swirly embossed lines on the shoulder and around the bottom. They make it look like someone whipped it in the factory. And this is one of those occasions when a transparent bottle is a bad idea. It’s great if your beer is dark and interesting. Not if it’s a pale yellow lager.
The neck label is a no-nonsense affair. It has nothing more than what you see. Good if all you want is beer. Not so good if you want to know what sort of beer you’re looking at.
What about the main front label? It’s a big, impressive, shield.
The “Utenos” logo has hope and barley, and, for some reason, an upside down horse shoe. It’s proudly “Brewed In Lithuania”. It calls itself a “Premium Lager”. There are what look like medals of various kinds, but, they’re too small to read. Nearly as hard to read at the top of the shield are the vital statistics. Utenos Beer is the ubiquitous, Euro-typical 500ml, 5% alcoholic volume.
Can the back label shed some light on what makes Utenos Beer/Alus special?
Yes it can. And, in a badly translated way that’s missing punctuation. To save their embarrassment, the gist is that they’re proud of the traditional, years old recipe that includes water from 615 feet down. They add that it’s a refreshing beer. “Obviuosly”.
The ingredients are much what you’d expect from a beer. But you won’t be able to read them because they’re in a big block of multilingual text that’s too small.
Under that, is a big list of importers for lots of different countries. Here in Britain, the importer is the appropriately named Lithuanian Beer Ltd from not the Docklands.
Under that, there’s something saying, I think, that it should be served between 2 and 20 degree Centigrade. And, right at the bottom, is a web site address of www.utenosalus.lt. If you can’t read Lithuanian, you might get along better with the English language version at http://www.utenosalus.lt/en. I wouldn’t bother clicking the link though. Utenos has fallen into the trap of making a slow, Flash-heavy website that’s more like a television advertisement than a useful website.
Something does shock, however. Right at the bottom of their website is this: © 2009 UAB “Švyturys-Utenos alus” I could be wrong, but does that mean this is from the same brewer that’s behind the two Švyturys I tried? It looks like I’ll have to try a few more bottles of Lithuanian beer to find any true variety. Oh dear.
So, what is Utenos Beer/Alus like? Will it be like nearly every other East European lager, or will it be good and interesting? I’m looking forward to finding out.
In the glass, it looks much as it did in the bottle. Only with a big, frothy head; which, to its credit, is how it looks in the photos on their website.
What does it smell of? If you’ve ever smelt a lager, any lager, from anywhere in the world, you’ll recognise the blend of malted barley. This one is particularly pungent. And not in a pleasant way. It’s causing memories of Polish “Mocne” and other strong lagers to pop into my head.
So it doesn’t look impressive. And I don’t like the strong smell. But none of those things matter if it tastes good. So, how does it taste? My two first gulps aren’t crisp and refreshing ones. Utenos Beer tastes as strong and as bad as it smells.
How can I describe it? Good lagers, like the Obolon Soborne I tried a few days ago were excellent because they were crisp, clean, refreshing and easy to drink because it tastes completely natural. Utenos Beer is not many of those things. With each gulp, you’re hit with a lump of bitter malted barley that lingers. Instead of a gentle, natural taste, what you get is an onslaught of flavouring and chemicals.
It can’t all be bad. What am I enjoying about Utenos Beer/Alus? Well, the basic raw ingredients are sound. That water and some of the other ingredients in a gentler beer could be outstanding. It has lots of taste. Arguably too much taste. At least it’s not lacking in that department. I also like how it’s proudly brewed in Lithuania. Not covered in Lithuanian imagery, only to find it was actually brewed in Bedfordshire like too many are. This is genuine, and I salute it for that.
What am I not like about Utenos Beer/Alus? That taste. No wander the smell reminded me of unpleasant strong lagers. It tastes like one. And it’s not a strong lager. All of the downsides without the benefits. If you’re going to make a middle-of the-road lager, make it clean, crisp, refreshing and easy to drink. This is not many of those things. But, there are others that manage it. So why choose Utenos over them?
How can I sum up Utenos Beer? Drinking it is as unpleasant as drinking the strong lagers, but without the benefit of the actually being strong. The smell and taste are strong and synthetic. If you want to pretend that you’re drinking a super-strong lager when you’re not, this is the beer for you. If you’d rather enjoy your drink, choose something better.
Have you tried Utenos Beer/Alus? What did you think of it?
Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations, requests and places to buy, here in the comments.