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Oakes Weekly -- July 29, 2004

Oakes Weekly July 29, 2004      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

It’s not every day that I devote an entire column to a single establishment, but under the circumstances I have no choice. Per and I were in Panevezys, and shut out of ’tradicinis alus’, so we continued north some 30km to the small town of Pasvalys. We had a long list of beer places for Pasvalys, but our sources were as I said last time not particularly trustworthy. A quick stop at the tourist bureau and an explanation of our mission and we quickly received confirmation that at least one place on the list was the real deal. And it wasn’t the Pasvalys Brewery pub that we’d seen coming in.

It was on the edge of town, so 15 minutes walk and we were there. It was innocuous, located in the garage behind a house in a fairly modern subdivision. Only the giant barrel in the driveway tipped us off. "Alaus Baras Kielas". Alus means beer in Lithuanian, so the phrase ’alaus baras’ is pretty self-explanatory. We were even more encouraged by additional signage that read ’darykla’ - brewery. Well, it turns out that Snekusis, the brewery, stopped producing last year due to problems with the government. They hope to have those problems straightened out soon. But in the meantime, Kielas stands as one of the finest beer bars I’ve ever visited. Monks, Brickskeller, White Horse at Parson’s Green - I’d rather be at Kielas.

First off, proprietor Valentas Vaskevicius is a character of Kuaskan proportion. Strange garb, big smile, no English - it’s all good. Probably because he makes my interest in beer look like a mild eyebrow raise. He’s got in his garage 11 Lithuanian microbrews - tradicinis alus at last! These came from Pasvalys, Pakruojis, and yes, Panevezys.

He even had real kvass - my first. Kvass is called "gira" in Lithuanian, and is available everywhere, but in bottles, made by big breweries or soft drink companies. Don’t waste your time with that crap. Real kvass - real gira - is 100% different. It is light, with hints of rye and spice. It is one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever tasted, and I swear you can drink it by the litre.

But I didn’t, as I had other things to attend to. Tradicinis alus, to be specific. These beers can scarcely be thought of in established terms. No beer style gurus have included these beers in their thinking, so conventional categories are more or less useless. The brewers themselves appear as concerned with style as Dany Prignon. There are some similar traits to many of them, however. They use either a very honeyish malt, or honey itself, as those notes were prominent in many examples. Carbonation is low, like cask ale. Some of the beers are very soft, others hugely minerally. All are stronger than the bull that adorns the Pasvalys town emblem. My favourite was Pasvalio Dvaro, from the Pasvalys Brewery. This 8% lager is a sublime mix of luscious malts, soft sweetness and fruity hops. So idiosyncratic were the beers, though, that Per and I usually disagreed in each flight of two as to which one was the better.

The main entertainment at Kielas consists of arm-wrestling, conversation and table tennis. Having partaken of that, plus 11 strong traditional beers (which by the way cost about $0.30 USD per half litre), plus traditional beer snacks like deep-fried bread sticks and fresh peas from the garden...plus many, many rounds of "My name is Limas" - "My name is Josh", we headed back into town for some rather unauthentic Canadian-style pizza. Before I could critique the authenticity of the local pie, however, karma had its say. I was taking a photo of the lazy, lily-strewn river and Per & the guide didn’t wait for me. So I ran to catch up, hit upon a downslope, lost control and took a header into a tree.

And that is why, when we left the next morning for Birzai, my head hurt. I can think of no other reason :)


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start quote It was innocuous, located in the garage behind a house in a fairly modern subdivision. Only the giant barrel in the driveway tipped us off. end quote