When you think of beer, Lithuania might not be a place that springs to mind, but it should be, and especially the capital is a great place to go and discover the local craft beer selection.
This unique Baltic country has a rich tradition of beer brewing dating back to the 11th century.
Vilnius and the famous farmhouse brews are the perfect places to explore during a craft beer adventure. There are plenty of unique and wonderful tastes available.
Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania and the best place to start this Lithuanian beer guide.
It is, however, not the only place to find authentic beer, with most of the traditional farmhouse brews concentrated in the northern regions.
You will find a rich culture and an exciting history of beer-making throughout the country. In this post, you will discover the origins of beer drinking in Lithuania, as well as visit some of the best beer destinations in the country and where to find the best craft beer in Vilnius.
Travel Tip: When you’re not drinking beer, you can always try out some of the other exciting things to do in Vilnius.
Lithuania’s Beer History
Did you know that Lithuania is ranked as the 5th country in Europe for beer consumption per capita?
This type of tradition doesn’t appear overnight, and it should be no surprise that they have been brewing and drinking beer for almost 1,000 years.
What started out as a small industry boomed into one of the biggest craft beer circles in Europe and even the world. But how did this Baltic state become one of the beer capitals of Europe?
Origins of Brewing in Ancient Lithuania
Although the origins of beer brewing are a bit cloudy, the Sumerians are credited with the first beer in 4,000 BC. The Lithuanians may have only found out about it almost 5,000 years later, but they took craft beer to a whole new level.
The history of beer making in Lithuania actually starts with wine, well, honey wine (known coloqually as mead).
Farmers in the cold northern reaches of Lithuania found that they could create an alcoholic drink by combining wild picked honey and water.
The locals didn’t immediately take to beer, but over time they started using their own unique techniques to brew beer.
Since then, beer has slowly grown into the most popular drink in the country, and it’s a Lithuanian tradition that is still alive and well today.
German Beer Experts
By the 16th century, Lithuanians were actively making beer and selling it at their local markets. This wasn’t that easy, though, because all beer production was directly controlled by the Grand Duke, who thought it important to improve the industry.
Because the locals were mostly self-taught, the beer wasn’t as good as it is today. So to fix that, the ruler brought in German beer-making experts to spread their knowledge and experience.
This lead to the Lithuanians honing their craft and becoming one of the best beer makers in the world.
Lithuania has had a tumultuous history of invasion. Both the Swedes and later the Soviets played a part in their modernization.
During both of these periods, the tradition of beer brewing slowly declined and was almost destroyed during the Soviet occupation.
Lithuanians were limited to Russian imported ingredients and also sub-par Soviet beer. Luckily, things started to improve, and by the 1970s, special beer bars were opened throughout the country – especially in Vilnius.
Almost immediately after gaining independence, the local Lithuanians returned to their roots (or hops) and started brewing beer again.
In the first few years, almost 400 microbreweries sprung up around the country. However, due to a new sanitary regulation, almost 200 of these distilleries closed within a year.
Even that number proved to be unsustainable, with more than half-closing their doors within a few years. Nowadays, you will find anywhere between 50 – 80 active breweries throughout the country.
Although it has become more difficult for these smaller businesses to compete with larger multinational beer corporations, Lithuanians still value their locally made beer more than anything else.
Especially in Vilnius, you will find plenty of beer bars that only serve locally-made beer. Here, you will be able to taste many different Lithuanian flavors without needing to travel to some of the harder-to-reach parts of the country.
Style of Craft Beer in Lithuania
Lithuania is one of the best places to go if you are interested in trying unique and ancient beer styles. In most countries, the style of beers that are produced are quite similar.
Although this does mean the products are closer in quality and flavour profiles, there is a certain element of personality that is missing.
Luckily, the Lithuanian breweries have stuck to their roots. Of the approximately 80 breweries found throughout the country, up to 70 of them produce beers in styles unknown to the rest of the world.
The result is a collection of interesting flavours and some beer types that you may never have heard of.
While lagers, IPAs, stouts, pilsners, and vice beers are some of the most popular styles available worldwide, these are just a few of the many different beer creations possible.
Although we can’t list all the types available in Lithuania, here are some of the most popular styles of beer.
- Traditional farmhouse raw ale (kaimiskas)
- Pale lager
- Apple cider
- Sour Flemish ale
- Barley, wheat, or rye wine
- Smoked Rauchbier
- Sour, wild beer
- Zwickelbier, kellerbier, or landbier
- Mead (Lithuanian wine made from honey)
- Kvass (also known as Gira Lithuanian)
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of a few of these. By the time you’ve experienced the Lithuanian beer culture, you will be an expert.
Note: If you want to see the complete list of the top 50 best craft beers in Lithuania, you can visit this site.
What Makes Lithuanian Beer Unique?
The different styles of beer that this country produces should be enough to wet your appetite, but some beer enthusiasts might want to dive a bit deeper. The reason why Lithuanian beer is so unique is because of the special techniques that they use to craft it.
Where as most western beer is boiled and then filtered afterwards to remove the yeast, the local quirky homebrew is mostly left unboiled and unfiltered. The result is a living ingredient beer that produces a much thicker and silkier beer.
What’s even more interesting is the yeast used. Any homebrewer will know that the type of yeast used is one of the most impactful ingredients when making beer. Unlike in other parts of the world, the yeast used in Lithuania is completely unique – which has made it highly sought after (but still hard to obtain).
How Strong Is Lithuanian Beer?
Lithuanian beer can be quite strong (in terms of alcohol content), reaching up to 9.5% alcohol by law. Depending on who you ask, some locals will say a true beer doesn’t start until 8% alcohol – so expect to be feeling quite warm after a few tastings.
Not only that, but if you try some of the local mead, this percentage can range anywhere from 10 – 20%. Mead is, however, a unique case because it is more like honey wine than an actual beer. You should definitely try both when visiting the country.
Where to Get Lithuanian Beer
Beer brewing started in the traditional Lithuanian farmhouses but has since grown into a much larger industry. You will still be able to find plenty of these old school brews, and they are still the best place to find unique Lithuanian beer with flavours that you won’t find anywhere else.
However, with modernization, there are now many larger breweries found throughout the country. Most of these local breweries still adhere to their traditional brewing techniques; it’s just that they operate out of larger facilities to cater for the growing demand.
Lithuanian Farm Breweries
It wouldn’t be right to start this list without mentioning the original farm breweries. This is where Lithuanian beer-making started and is still a cornerstone in this unique culture. Interesting ingredients, secret yeasts, and timeless techniques are what make the farmhouse brews the perfect place to enjoy these delicious Lithuanian crafts.
Most of these traditional farmhouse brews are found in northern Lithuania (where the history of beer making begins). The farms are scattered throughout, but these are some of the best places to start your tour:
- Klaipeda (home to the famous Lithuanian beer svyturys ekstra)
Travel Tip: Klaipeda is not only famous for its breweries. Check out this Klaipeda, Lithuania travel guide for more fun things to do.
Vilnius’ Beer Bars & Breweries
While going to a farmhouse brew is a great experience, you cannot leave Lithuania without exploring Vilnius’ beer scene. The most noteworthy are the beer bars found throughout the city.
These have become increasingly popular in recent years and offer all the local flavors you will be looking for.
These bars sell beers found throughout Lithuania and are a much easier way to taste a wide range of beers without needing to travel from farm to farm (although this can be quite fun too).
But that’s not all Vilnius has to offer. There are also some very popular local breweries (like the famous Tauras Brewery) and some great beer tasting tours to enjoy.
This beer tasting is guided by a professional beer librarian who will help you understand everything there is to know about Lithuanian beer – much better than blindly tasting your way through all these unique flavors.
Other beer tours available include:
- A 5-hour private beer tour stopping at between 3 – 5 of the local Vilnius’ beer bars.
- A 3-hour beer tour where you will mix with the locals at the various popular pubs.
Sometime’s exploring by yourself is all you want. If you’re looking for some of the best bars in Vilnius, make sure to check out these popular options:
Top Bars To Go For Craft Beer in Vilnius
There´s no shortage of craft beer bars in Vilnius, and even local restaurants have at least a couple of local Lithuanian craft beers for sale on either bottle or tap.
DOCK Craft Beer and Burgers
Not really a full craft beer bar, but more like a restaurant with the best hamburgers in Vilnius, but it also has a good selection of local Vilnius craft beers.
Located in the middle of the most tourist street in all of Vilnius, the Vilniaus g.
A good place to meet up with your friends for a bite to eat before heading to another Vilnius craft beer bar later on. Since it´s not the cheapest place to drink in Vilnius.
DOCK craft beer and burgers also have another location in Klaipeda.
Nisha craft capital
A small bar with one of the best craft beers selection in all of Vilnius, on both tap and bottle/cans. Also, have a wide selection of craft beers from neighbouring Latvia, Estonia and Poland and various other European countries.
Located not far away from the Vilnius Cathedral, so Nisha Craft capital is a good place to stop for a beer after a long day of sightseeing around Vilnius.
One of the smallest bars with mainly craft beer in Vilnius, a small friendly place located in the touristy part of the old town.
Another small bar with a small outdoor backyard where you can relax and enjoy a craft beer in Vilnius. It also serves many craft beers from neighbouring Estonia. A good place to go if you want to sit outdoor and enjoy a cold beer.
The only real craft beer bar In the small bohemian neighbourhood and the self-proclaimed Republic of Užupis
A small pub which will be crowded if there´s more than 6people inside, worth a visit.
A popular place for young students and tourists in Vilnius, a friendly place with 10 different local Lithuanian craft beers on Tap, which is one of the better collections in Vilnius. located in the old part of town and in the middle of the touristy part of town, making it a great place to relax with a beer or two.
Not really a craft beer bar, but probably the most unique bar in Vilnius, located inside the old Lukiškės Prison, one of the most notorious prisons in all of the Soviet Union. which was only closed down in 2019. These days it´s becoming the cultural hub of Vilnius with concert, art studios and gallerys.
While the place only has a few local craft beers, so is it still the coolest place to enjoy a cold craft beer in Vilnius.
Alaus biblioteka | Beer Library
Probably the most knowledgeable places for craft beer in Vilnius, and the bar which arranges the craft beer tasting trips around Vilnius.
Alaus biblioteka is the place to go for beer nerds in Vilnius if you want to talk and discuss craft beer and what to know what´s going on and what´s new when it comes to craft beer in Vilnius and Lithuania.
Lithuanian Beer in USA
Although Lithuanian beer is best sampled at the source, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beer locally. Finding this beer might not be as easy as getting a popular US brand like Guinness, Heineken, or Budweiser, but it’s well worth the effort.
Try your local craft beer bars or if you can’t get lucky, speak to your local bottle store, and they might be able to point you in the right direction. But who knows, Lithuanian beer might be closer to reaching the USA than you might think.
Since 2018, a famous Lithuanian beer yeast has been imported into the USA. It is considered the oldest farmhouse ale yeast and was obtained from the famed queen of Lithuanian farmhouse beer Aldona Udriene. Her Jovaru yeast has been trademarked and can be obtained through the Omega Yeast Factory.
Lithuanian Beer Festivals in Vilnius
If you’re looking for a more interesting beer experience, you should try one of the local beer festivals.
They might not be as popular as the world-famous Oktoberfest but are a great way to sample local beers and have some fun at the same time. Both of these festivals are located in Vilnius.
Vilnius Beer Festival
The Vilnius Beer Festival is the more popular of the two options – mainly because it takes place during summer.
It is the largest beer festival in Lithuania and offers the best opportunity for your to taste some of the best beers in the country.
The festival takes place in November and houses over 150 beers from 35 participating breweries across 17 different countries.
This is a great way to sample Lithuanian beers as well as compare them to products from around the world.
Zmogsala Winter Beer Festival in Vilnius
Just because this festival takes place in winter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience it. The Zmogsala Winter Beer Festival in Vilnius is mainly focused on local beers (as well as a few from Lithuania’s neighbours), with over 26 breweries participating.
Interact with the locals, taste the different breweries’ products, and finally cast your vote for the winner.
The best beer is decided based on your reviews, so make sure to try them all.
Experience the Lithuanian Beer Culture
The past 10 years has seen a massive increase in beer tourists to Lithuania. This unique Balt state is home to one of the most incredible craft beer industries in the world – a must-see for any budding beer enthusiast.
Once you’ve experienced all the history, culture, and popular locations mentioned in this guide, you will surely agree that this is one of the best beer countries in the world.
Now it’s time to go and drink with the locals. Cheers! (or į sveikatą in Lithuanian).