SOME people complain that my recent reviews have all been East European beers. So, to correct the balance, here is a bottle of Švyturys Baltijos. From Lithuania.
Truthfully, this is one of the most requested and recommended beers out there. Thanks to the brisk growth of East European shops here, I’ve ended up trying a few Švyturys bottles. And each time, the comments section has filled with recommendations for Baltas, and for Baltijos. Commentors; you were right about how good Baltas was. Now you’ve got a reputation to uphold with Baltijos.
For the curious, and those in East London, this bottle came from Russkij Bazaar. The excellent East European shop on Cambridge Heath Road, near Bethnal Green underground station. The price was £1.70 pence, which could have been worse.
Luckily, I didn’t have to ask for it by name. Which would have been a problem. I think it’s pronounced Bal-Tee-Oss. But I’m probably wrong. Much more fun is my botched Anglicisation, in the form of Balty-Joes. As usual, leave your corrections and interpretations in the comments section.
I make a point of doing zero research with these ‘reviews’, hopefully persuading brewers to design more useful labels. With only a tiny scrap of foil around the bottle neck however, much of it in Lithuanian, I broke with tradition. You can read the description and see a photo of it in a fancy glass on the official Švyturys website at http://www.svyturys.lt/produkcija. Then, you either need to ask a Lithuanian friend to translate it for you, or, use Google Translate, which spat out the following:
“Lighthouse in the Baltic (5.8%) – dark dreams / Oktoberfest camp,”Lighthouse “collection of traditional beer, brewed since 1965 Ethnographers believe that this “fighting ” style of beer its color and taste of the coming of the first “lighthouse” of beer in 1784 proposed brewery founder of German merchants Rainkės. Baltic beer category has its won the World Beer Cup Bronze Medal, and the international “Siberian Fair” at the time – the great gold medal. “Dark red, amber-colored beer is sweetish, rich, mouth, long lasting caramel taste. “Lighthouse Baltic aroma and flavor characteristics of the best demonstration of it in a special tasting glasses – large, bubble or tulip-shape with a strong leg. “Lighthouse” Baltic beer in perfect harmony with game, dark meat, oily fish dishes, a strong blue cheese flavor and hard, sweet desserts, predominantly caramel and chocolate combinations.
I don’t think I need to write any more. No one can possibly top that translation for entertainment value. To paraphrase the gist of it, Švyturys Baltijos based on the very first beer introduced to Lithuania by Germans. It’s won lots of awards and is yummy. Or is it? This is where I thrust my subjective opinions into the background noise of online beer reviews.
Starting with the bottle, it’s the same gorgeous bottle that Švyturys use across their Traditional Beer” range. The intricate embossing is exquisite. It looks great, but all the details is squeezed onto a flat of neck-foil.
In fairness, almost everything you want to know about it, i.e. whether you’d like it, is in English, on the front of the foil. As well as the usual logos and medals, it describes it as “Dark Red” and “Made with Caramel Malt”. For an East European beer, this is surprisingly helpful.
It goes downhill from there.
On the left is a multi-lingual block of text squeezed into a small, undulating foil flap. Some squinting reveals this to be a 500ml bottle with an above average alcoholic volume of 5.8%. The ingredients are water, barley malt, caramel malt and hops.
The other side is even more futile.
It has a barely visible web address of www.svytusys.lt. And the out of context detail that Švyturys Baltijoshas been pasteurised. Don’t think about those details. Concentrate instead on the fact that my last mention of “caramel malt” was way back on Ukrainian Obolon Velvet. And that was marvellous.
Will Švyturys Baltijos be as tasty as Obolon Velvet? Will it live up to the hype? And, if you’ve never tried it before, should you go through the hassle of buying this expensive bottle? To attempt to answer those questions, I cracked open the bottle and poured it into the wrong shape of Pint glass. Well it’s all I had available. Okay?
Pouring it, my first impressions are how different is looks to the photo on the official website. There’s almost no head, just a few thin cream coloured patches. The hue of the official photo is well off, too. Instead of the near-blackness of the official website photo, in reality, it’s red, dark red or copper.
Next, the fun and subjective opinions. How does Švyturys Baltijos? Rich, malty and slightly hoppy. I found it triggered memories of British ales. Not what you’d expect, but then I like the unexpected. Since you’re reading this blog, you probably will too.
What does Švyturys Baltijos taste like? The translation-mangled official description uses words like “sweetish”, “rich” and “long lasting”. I can’t disagree with any of them. The first couple of sips were very nice. I’m going to add “complex”, because you need much more than a couple of sips to figure out what you’re tasting.
On the flavour side of your gulp, Švyturys Baltijos is finely balanced between sweetness and sourness. When the aftertaste kicks in, you can’t miss it. A humungous hit of maltiness swooshes into your mouth and refuses to leave until long after your gulp. You can taste some caramel in the finish, but only if you pay attention. At one third of the way through, Baltijos has turned into a very rich, malty, drinkable beer.
What am I enjoying about Švyturys Baltijos? It’s not just different to other Lithuanian or East European beers, it is truly distinctive. You won’t easily confuse it with anything else. I love it when a brewer takes a risk or tries something new. Švyturys Baltijos with its heavy maltiness and hints of caramel does that, and it as ancient as flint arrowheads. I like how it manages to be a dark, heavy, full-on beer, and yet is still easy to drink. I like how accessible it is by not being bitter. The “sweetish” flavour could even help it pass the female test. And I like the exclusivity of having something hard to find.
What don’t l like about Švyturys Baltijos? That strong taste is going to put some people off. That’s the hazard of taking risks and being principled. Either the flavour-phobes who love lager, or ale fans that can’t stand rich sweetness could object to it. Then there’s the light flavours and massive onslaught of malty taste. Not smooth. And surprisingly burp-filled for a beer with little visible carbonation.
I tried to compare it to Ukrainian beer, Obolon Velvet. Sorry, but Švyturys Baltijos can’t quite match it for unqualified deliciousness. But that’s unfair. It’s the wrong product comparison. Švyturys Baltijos is more like British ale. And yes, I’m as shocked as you are.
How can I sum up Švyturys Baltijos? Not easily. It is special and well worth your effort to track down. It is even worth spending money on. For Lithuania and Eastern Europe, it is remarkable. I can see why so many of you recommended it. You can easily compare it to the great ales from Britain. And that’s the problem. Because that’s where I live, I can easily find good bottled ales for the same price, without the iffy availability of East European shops. That suddenly makes your location important. No wonder so many Americans are nuts about it. In summary: surprising and satisfying.
Have you tried Švyturys Baltijos? Think you can you correct my mistakes? Leave your comments, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section.