Posts Tagged ‘alus’

Beer Review: Švyturys Baltas

30 October, 2010

IT’S a good day on this blog when I can tick-off a ‘must-try’. Today is just such a day. That is because I have here a bottle of Švyturys Baltas, bought for £1.70 pence from nearby East-European supermarket, Russkija Bazaar. Why is Baltas a ‘must-try’ in the first place? Well, it’s an unfiltered wheat beer and it comes highly recommended by you. Few other beers have been recommended by so many people in the comments sections on my other ‘reviews’. Švyturys Baltas even got a mention in a recent edition of Fuller’s First Draught magazine. It is, apparently, Lithuania’s most popular beer, and has won lots of awards. It’s taken years to finally find a bottle, so let’s get straight down to business.

Švyturys Baltas bottle

This Švyturys goes for the neck-foil approach, showing off their excellent embossed bottle. It’s a good looking thing, with an embossed Švyturys logo with the 1784 established date, and predictable hops and barley imagery at the bottom.

Švyturys Baltas embossed front logo

If you know your beer, it won’t be that which catches your eye. What you will notice is that it’s not dark or transparent, but opaque and white. Very noticeably so, when next to other bottles on the shop shelf. Who can blame Švyturys for wanting to show it off with as little obscuring it as they can get away with.

All the way up on the bottle top is the name “Baltas” and the words “Kvietinis Alus”. “Kvietinis” sounds a little like “wheat” and “Alus” I know means beer. So by clever deduction, “Kvietinis Alus” must mean “Rhubarb Crumble”. Or “Wheat Beer”, which frankly, is much more probable.

Down on the front of the neck-foil, in English, is pretty much all you need to know about Švyturys Baltas. Under the Švyturys logo are “White” “Baltas” and “Unfiltered Wheat Beer”.

Švyturys Baltas front neck foil

If you couldn’t already tell by the opaque white hue of the bottle, those words confirm it. If you like your beer cloudy and wheaty-white, any lingering uncertainty about choosing Švyturys Baltas will have just vanished.

The neck-foil doesn’t end there. It wraps around on both sides with some very hard to read text on both sides. For the benefit of the detail junkies out there, here is a photo of the right-side of the neck-foil.

Švyturys Baltas right of neck foil

The only interesting things I can read on it are that it’s best stored, or served, I can’t tell for sure because of wrinkles in the foil, at between 2 and 20 degrees C. Also, that it is pasteurised. Now that is a surprise. Under my admittedly limited knowledge, I would have thought that an unfiltered wheat beer wouldn’t be pasteurised. Shows how much I know.

For completeness, here is a photo of the other side of the neck-foil.

Švyturys Baltas left neck foil

This side has the vital statistics. That Švyturys Baltas has an alcoholic volume of 5% and that the bottle is 500ml. Next, in a multitude of languages, comes the list of ingredients. For the incurably detail hungry, they are “water, wheat malt, barley malt, hops, yeast”. Credit where it’s due, these imported bottles do a better job of the ingredients list than most domestic ones. Lastly, that imported status is confirmed with “Product of Lithuania” and a web address of www.svyturys.lt. A spot of clicking through product pages featuring photos of other Švyturys that you want to try finally brings me to the Lithuanian language product page for Švyturys Baltas: http://www.svyturys.lt/index.php/produkcija/91.

At long last, I’ve reached the good bit. What does Švyturys Baltas taste like? How will it compare to the other wheat beers that I love so dearly? Will I like Baltas as much as all of my blog commentors do? I’ve no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out. So, from fridge-cold, here is Švyturys Baltas poured into what is probably the wrong glass, but will have to do because it’s all I’ve got.

Švyturys Baltas poured into a glass

After an easy, non-glugging pour into my pint glass, everything looks and smells delicious. Unlike some other wheat beers, you can’t see yeast floating around. Instead, you get a vivid straw colour with a thick white head. Helpfully, everything fits neatly into a pint glass, so I’m happy.

What does Švyturys Baltas smell like? Beer writer Richard Morrice described as smelling of vanilla. I’m not so sure. It is vanilla-like in how immensely rich, fresh and uplifting it smells. I think it smells wheaty and citrusy. Like bread baked with oranges and lemons somehow stuck in the dough.

What does Švyturys Baltas taste of? One gulp and a sip in, and first impressions of Švyturys Baltas are that it is another example of good wheat beer. On the flavour side of the gulp, everything is light and mild. Pay close attention, and you notice wheat and malty, leading to a taste of fruit. This then smoothly transitions into the aftertaste and finish which taste of… Almost nothing, strangely. Okay, there is a light, beery, maltiness, but the bitter finish of nearly every beer I’ve ever tried is nowhere to be seen.

What am I enjoying about Švyturys Baltas? A lot as there is much to enjoy. I’m loving how light, refreshing and easy to drink it is. This is compared to other wheat beers, to lagers and so much else. This has to be down to the distinctive and unusual way it tastes. Yes, it tastes somewhat like most other wheat beers at first, but it has almost no bitter aftertastes. This makes it supremely easy to drink and no wonder it is so popular. Švyturys Baltas can easily be drink of choice for the boys and the girls. And it manages it without being sugary sweet and syrupy. I also love how good it smells. That it’s not gassy at all, so no big burps to worry about in social settings. It is rich and thick enough to feel like you’re drinking a real beer. And, outside of Lithuania, you get a sense of superiority by drinking something exclusive.

What don’t I like about Švyturys Baltas? If I had to nit-pick, I’d start with parts of the taste. Is the absence of aftertaste deliberate or an accident? What would it be like if that gorgeous wheaty-fruitiness lasted longer? Then there’s availability. The exclusivity, outside of Lithuania is awesome, but even my persistence was tested with trying to find a bottle. At least the price at £1.70 pence isn’t bad.

To sum up, Švyturys Baltas is one of the more distinctive and easy to drink wheat beers I’ve tried. In fact, it’s one of the most easy to drink beers I’ve tried. It’s right up there with watery lagers for being easy to drink, yet it is a ‘proper beer’. No wonder it’s won awards and become as popular as it is. You can glug a bottle down in a minute or savour every sip. And with no bitter aftertaste there’s nothing holding non-beer drinkers back from trying it. Švyturys Baltas is practically a beer without drawbacks.

Rating: 4.45

Have you tried Švyturys Baltas? What did you think of it? Can you translate the Lithuanian? Do please share your comments, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Švyturys Švyturio

15 December, 2009

GOOD news! I’ve ‘discovered’ a new East European shop in London’s East-End. Called Russkiye or Russkija or something similar (I’ll have to check), they are on Bethnal Green’s Cambridge Heath Road. Expect some fun oddities to appear on these pages over the next few months.

As a start, I picked up a £1.45 pence bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. Why did I choose this, when the same Lithuanian brewers’ Ekstra and Ekstra Draught were so unmemorable? Curiosity. And I like the people from the Baltic states. So it would be useful if I could find something from there that I like, besides Estonia’s excellent Viru.

So here it is. A bottle of Švyturys Švyturio. It’s a brown bottle.

Is there anything worth mentioning on the neck-label?

No. It has the familiar (to anyone who has had a Švyturys before) crest, and the rather impressive date of 1784. The big, sort-of-roundel front-label is the real place to case your eyes.

The middle has the big “Švyturys” name and crest logo. Under it, the words “Alus” and “Beer” provide us with a useful translation for that all important word, should one ever be thirsty in Lithuania. There’s a picture of the barley and hops. And, under the Švyturio name, are words which must surely translate into the vital statistics. This must mean that this is your regular 0.5L bottle, and the beer is your Continental standard of 5.0% alcoholic volume.

There’s a red border. Which is important because in Lithuania, they know this beer simply as “Red”. The last little detail you notice is the very welcome “Lietuva”. Welcome because it must be the Lithuanian for ‘Lithuania’. And that’s good, because it means that it wasn’t produced here before being dressed up to look imported, like some big name brands.

So the front-label didn’t say much about what it will taste like. Will the back-label have much to say?

No. There’s almost nothing worth reading on this side of the bottle. We discover that it’s been “pasteurized”. There’s what looks like some sort of description in Lithuanian. In English, there’s the very briefest of ingredients lists. There’s what looks like the name and address of the brewer. A Švyturys-Utenos alus, from a city called Utena.

There’s an incomprehensible formulae to contend with. “Storage Conditions: +2 ÷ +20 °C” is the first time I’ve seen an equation on a beer bottle. Finally, there’s a web address of www.svyturys.lt. To save you time, the English language homepage for Švyturio is at http://www.svyturys.lt/en/main/info/production/svyturio. According to which, Švyturio will have a taste somewhere in between that of the rich Ekstra and of light and watery Gintarinis; which I haven’t yet tried.

What am I hoping for with Švyturys Švyturio. Not much. I’m keeping those expectations low, in the hope of being impressed. It is, I presume, Pilsner style lager beer, so the hopes are for some taste of hoppiness and a light, refreshing and drinkable beer that isn’t watery. Will it manage that? There’s only one way to find out.

In my pint glass, my fridge cooled Švyturys Švyturio looks much like any other lager. Carbonated and pale yellow, with a thin white head.

What does Švyturys Švyturio smell of? Not a lot. You’d be hard-pressed to notice the slight whiff of hops.

What does Švyturys Švyturio taste like? The first couple of gulps are easy enough. The website described it as having a “rich taste and bitter freshness of hops”. That seems as good a description as any. I think I can reduce it even more. It’s a lager, and one of the most lagery lagers I’ve tried.

With no flavour, it’s all in the taste. This one has a mild take on the familiar malted barley theme. Where it really delivers is in that familiar lagery “bite”, so beloved of lager heads. And it’s a bitterness that lasts, long after the gulp.

What am I like about Švyturys Švyturio? I admire its straightforward lagery-ness. Instead of taking the full-taste or light route of its cousins, it is instead hitting the lager mainstream right in the face. It is light and crisp. It tastes like they used good quality ingredients. All of which make it fairly drinkable.

What aren’t I enjoying about Švyturys Švyturio? The same thing I admire it for. That most lagery of lagery-ness. Just personal taste mind. Bear that in mind before you fire off an angry comment. I’ve never liked that lagery “bite” that this, and others have. Compared to the great lagers, it doesn’t have the hoppy character. And that “bite” makes it less drinkable, and less refreshing than other lagers.

I’m not a fan of Švyturys Švyturio. But I’m sure a lot of you lager heads will love it. As a lager, it’s good. But I’ll have to keep looking for that favourite Lithuanian beer.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Švyturys Švyturio? What did you think of it? Leave your translations, corrections, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here, in the comments.

Beer Review: Utenos Beer Premium Lager [Alus]

30 April, 2009

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”.

Utenos Beer/Alus bottle

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.

Utenos Beer/Alus neck label

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.

Utenos Beer/Alus front label

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?

Utenos Beer/Alus back label

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.

Utenos Beer/Alus poured into a glass

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.

Rating: 2

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.


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