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Kaimiškas: Get Raw & Rustic with Lithuania’s Unique Farmhouse Beers

Whether “raw” and unboiled, bittered with hop tea, or made from a mash baked into crusty loaves, Lithuanian farmhouse ales represent a distinct tradition of comforting beers that can’t be found anywhere else.

Jeff Alworth Nov 5, 2021 - 12 min read

Kaimiškas: Get Raw & Rustic with Lithuania’s Unique Farmhouse Beers Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves

During a hard October rain two years ago, I finished a three-day stay in the remarkable beer city of Vilnius, Lithuania, by picking up a couple of bottles of locally made pale lager at a bottle shop. It’s far from the most interesting beer to be found in that city, yet in some ways, it illustrates why Lithuania is such an amazing beer country.

Vilniaus Light Unfiltered is a lager made on modern equipment—ostensibly a member of the largest family of beers in the world. Nothing about it was typical, though. The malts tasted prominently of dry cracker, yet they were as soft as any I’ve tasted. The beer had a dollop of light diacetyl sweetness that tended toward honey, adding mouthfeel and texture rather than an overt buttery flavor. It was lightly fruity and under-carbonated. In a blind tasting, I would have mistaken it for an ale.

Had it been my first beer, I might have chalked it up to a quirky producer who probably needed a bit more process control. Instead, I smiled with recognition—all those elements are typical of the rustic local ales, too. Lithuania’s native brewing tradition, which stretches back centuries to the farms of the countryside, never was fully severed and in recent years has begun to blossom again. While local farmhouse ales—known as kaimiškas (pronounced kai-mish-kus)—are uncommon, drinkers can still find them on draft in Vilnius. Their influence is strong enough to create a distinctive local palate so pervasive that it seems to influence craft brewers and even large-scale lager breweries such as Vilniaus.

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