All posts by Mike Hampshire

Tetley’s Brewing Returns to Leeds

Mention Tetley’s to people in Leeds, and for some it’s quite an emotional topic to raise. I’ve seen a look of sadness and betrayal on some faces, anger and defiance on others. All this still felt, 7 years after the brewery closed it’s Leeds operation. But, something new and exciting is happening, which may help to put away those ghosts of the past.

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My Lithuania Beer Adventure Part II – Avilys

After an incredible start to my visit to Lithuania at Apynys Brewery (click HERE to read my blog about Apynys), Tomas and Modestas accompanied me to the second brewery of the tour. Next up Avilys, which is Kaunas’ only brew pub, and a real attraction for people visiting Kaunas’ Old Town.

Kaunas Old Town

Set at one end of Laisves aleja (Liberty Boulevard – also known as Freedom Avenue) is Kaunas Old Town. Like many ‘old town’ areas across European cities, this area of Kaunas is filled with character, history, bars, restaurants and some shops. Also, nearby is Kaunas castle and Kaunas City Museum; a tourist hot spot and a beautiful one at that.

Kaunas Old Town

Just on the main street in Old Town, in amongst various other bars and restaurants, is a gastro pub with its own microbrewery on site – Avilys.

Avilys is Kaunas’ only brewpub and used to have a sister site in capitol city Vilnius. The one in Vilnius is still a brewpub under different ownership. More on that in a later blog.

The brewpub is famed for producing honey beer, all brewed on-site, with natural ingredients, unfiltered and unpasteurised. Accompanying it is also a lager-style beer and phenomenal food menu that’s been built with pride, passion and care.

A Cavern

Although you can sit outside Avilys (particularly enjoyable on a warm, sunny day), you don’t truly capture the atmosphere of the place until you enter the building.

Avilys

With Tomas and ‘Big M’ in tow, I entered Avilys via some stairs that lead you down to the main bar area. And, welcoming me was a wonderfully atmospheric room. I think the only word that kind of explains it is a cavern. Exposed brick and stone walls, stone floor and wooden tables. Low lighting (not too low!) added to the atmosphere and I noticed a staff meeting (we arrived just before opening) where it looked like they were testing one of the deserts from the menu.

The venue is split into different ‘rooms’, and walls decorated with various carvings, statues and pictures, and an interesting case stacked with beer memorabilia which I’ll come to later.

We made our way through the seating area to the bar, where Tomas introduced me to Dainius, the brewer at Avilys.

Avilys Microbrewery

Although Dainius didn’t speak English, Tomas acted as a very good interpreter! Dainius told us that he has been brewing at Avilys for around two years. The brewing schedule sees him brew 1-2 times per week, however like Augis at Apynys, this can increase depending on the season.

Brewer Dainius

Dainius showed us around the brewery, first showing us the 5 HL brew kit that sits in full view of the restaurant. All copper coloured (inspired by traditional English copper vessels), it’s certainly eye catching. I bet it smells wonderful on brew day!

He then went on to show us around the fermentation and conditioning tanks, and went on to talk a bit more about the beers brewed here.

Uniquely, Avilys often use Lithuanian malt. Caramalt, Munich and Pilsner malts are all used for either the honey beer or the pilsner style beer that they brew here. For hops, it’s Hallertau that’s used.

Avilys brew kit

The honey used in the honey beer is as handcrafted as the beer itself too. The husband of the owner of Avilys is a beekeeper, and so supplies the honey that’s used in the beer. It doesn’t get much more homemade than that!

Once brewed and fermented, the beers are left in the conditioning tanks for up to two months, although again this is reduced dependant on the season and demand.

Memora-beer-lia

After showing us around the brewery, Dainius then provided us with a taste of both the honey beer and lager. Served at 2-3°C, it’s really not surprising that this is a popular summer time venue.

The honey beer was nicely balanced, with the sweetness of the honey coming through, but not overwhelming the rest of the character of the beer. And, the pilsner was as fresh and crisp as you’d expect for something that’s brewed and served on-site.

Tomas and Dainius admiring the fermenting vessels

Dainius then went on to talk to us a little bit about the food menu. Carefully selected, the menu focuses on some Lithuanian classic dishes, that of course work well with the beer. I had a look through and was particularly interested in the beer soup with hop butter bread, but didn’t get to try this – next time!

Whilst we enjoyed our beers, it was great to pause a moment and take in the wonderful venue. To the left of the bar, is a showcase of rare and expensive beers that have been collected over the years by the owners.

Rare beer showcase

Including beers from the likes of Carlsberg-owned breweries, English brewing was also represented. Two beers in fact, Worthington-brewed Queen’s and Duke’s Ale from 2002. Also, in the cabinet was an absolutely tiny beer tankard, that needed a magnifying glass. I’m a big fan of small measures, but I think this tankard wouldn’t be so practical!

On the bar were also some beer towers. These go up to five litres in size and are used for parties who want to share the same beer. Apparently, the owner saw the concept in Germany and brought it back with them to Lituania.

Tiny tankard

Takeaway Beers

Like Apynys, Avilys were very generous and filled two plastic bottles of both their beers for me to enjoy later (which I did!).

My takeaway from this visit was similar to how I felt after Apynys. Avilys feels more like a tourist attraction and gastropub, but there’s still the same passion behind the brewing. Dainius may not have spoken English, but his body language and Tomas’ interpreting skills left me with the impression that this as man who loves is craft and is meticulously into the detail when brewing. The output is tasty beer!

I started this trip with two very different types of breweries, so what could the third offer? Next on the itinerary was Genys, with influence and inspiration taken from one of the UK’s biggest craft brewers. But, you’ll have to wait until part three for that!

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My Lithuania Beer Adventure Part I – Apynys

The craft beer scene in Lithuania is booming. Following the global trend, over the last five years I’ve seen Lithuania evolve from predominantly Baltic lagers and porters, to a vast arrange of styles, from IPAs to sour beers. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a series of articles on the amazing places I visited recently, in capital city Vilnius, and my home away from home, Kaunas.

A Long Winter

As I awoke on my first day in Kaunas, I looked out of the window to see snow falling. Like the UK, Lithuania has experienced a long and intense winter. Suffering temperatures down to -20 degrees Celsius. I was thankful it wasn’t that cold whilst I was there.

What I was also thankful for, was that my host for the duration of the trip, Tomas Savickis, owns a bar just a few minutes’ walk away from the hotel – Vingiu Dubingiu Alude. An ideal meeting space, and a bar I would be hosting a talk and tutored tasting on the last day of my visit. I’m going to talk a lot more about Vingiu Dubingiu in another article. Tomas welcomed me with a smile and a warm welcome. We were then promptly joined by Modestas, a Lithuanian beer blogger and quite possibly the tallest Lithuanian I’ve ever seen! Unsurprisingly, the affectionate nickname Tomas suggested I call him is ‘Big M’. With the band for the day assembled, we headed on to our first brewery trip of the visit – Apynys.

Augis, ‘Big M’ and Tomas

Apynys

Based South-East of Kaunas centre, Apnys brewery can be found in the same building as a restaurant called Baublys. And, although it must be exciting for diners to be able to see the brewing equipment whilst eating, the restaurant and brewery are two completely separate entities. Apynys, translated to English, means Hops.

We entered the brewery and Tomas introduced me to Augis, one of the brewers at Apynys, who has been with them since 2013. We were in luck too, he was brewing today and on the brewing schedule was Green Monster IPA. This is actually the first ‘craft’ beer I had in Lithuania on only my second or third trip to the country. Tomas told me that this is Lithuania’s highest rated beer in Untappd. Quite the accolade!

Featuring Finnish malt, Cascade hops from Germany, Eldorado and Cascade, this is quite the international IPA. It’s also unfiltered and unpasteurised when bottled.

Augis mashing in

After mashing in, Augis took us on a tour of this small, unique brewery. The first thing I was proudly told was that a lot of the equipment in the brewery was hand built. This would become a theme for the whole of my trip. Particularly impressive was the built-from-scratch bottling machine.

At peak season, Apynys brew around 6 times a week on kit that’s capable of producing around 500 litres of beer. Downstairs, they have five fermenting vessels to use. They are fortunate to have a nearby spring to supply the water, and treat it accordingly to what they are brewing.

The Beers

With the tour pretty much complete, and having been joined by Viktorija, the company director, Augis cracked open some bottles for us to try. It didn’t go unnoticed by me that this was at about 8:30am UK time! First up was the popular Green Monster IPA. You can see why it’s popular too, capturing the essence of modern IPA with citrus fruit the prominent flavour.

Green Monster IPA

Next up was Kosmosas, a Baltic porter aged with French wood chips, a cracking dark and full-bodied beer. Then, I was pleased to be able to try a beer direct from the tank, Milkshake. Milkshake has the haze and fruit characteristics of a NEIPA style beer, but it’s inspired by the US milkshake style with lactose and fruit added. In this case, mango juice.

A Challenging but Bright Future Ahead

As we enjoyed the beers, I had a great opportunity to talk more to Augis. Augis started out as a home brewer, and Green Monster IPA is his own recipe that he evolved from home brew to professional brewing when he joined Apynys. We talked a lot about how Government legislation in Lithuania is making things difficult for the breweries. For example, they’ve doubled tax and put restrictions in place on bottling sizes dependant on beer ABV. Of particular concern, and this was something Tomas shared with me before my trip, is that social media can no longer be used by bars and breweries to advertise alcohol. This was something I discussed with a lot of people throughout my trip.

Home made bottling equipment

Restrictions aside, Augis is passionate for his craft, and I was shown a wooden cask in the corner that they have been using to experiment with barrel aging and souring. Although there wasn’t anything to sample today, Tomas said he had a rare bottle of a previous Apynys barrel-aged beer back at his bar. More on that in a future episode!

Generously as we were about to leave, I was given some more bottles of Green Monster IPA and Kosmosas to take away, as well as a litre plastic bottle filled with the Milkshake NEIPA.

Milkshake IPA from the tank

I left Apynys even more excited than before my trip to Lithuania. What I’d seen on my first stop was what I would call real craft brewing. A manual labour of love from the manufacture of some of the brewing equipment, to the process being done by hand from start to finish. And, to talk to someone as passionate as Augis, it gave me a sense of how far Lithuania has come in a few short years on the craft beer journey, and the great potential the country has to put itself on the global craft beer map, regardless of what the Lithuanian Government has in mind.

Our next brewery tour took us back into Kaunas centre, and Kaunas’ only brew pub, Avilys. But, you’ll have to wait to read more about their beers and the fantastic bar until the next article of my Lithuanian Beer Adventure.

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Event Announcement – Festival of Brewers

I’m delighted to announce my new event, that debuts in 2018, called ‘Festival of Brewers’! Borne out of a desire to see a festival that doesn’t feature the same craft breweries as all the others, this festival is designed to focus on the small and independent. Those who don’t get opportunities at events like these, brewing on small kit, and producing great tasting, quality beers.

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Call Lane Crawl

Call Lane in Leeds is one of the City’s most well-known nightlife hot spots. And, whilst you might assume this means loud music and cheap mass-produced drinks, you don’t have to try too hard to find some great bars, serving great beers. A few weeks ago, with my Leeds CAMRA friends in tow, we visited four of Call Lane’s craft beer bars. This is the Call Lane Crawl for the beer lover!

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Indie Beer Feast 2018

Last weekend, I welcomed the arrival of Sheffield Beer Week, by visiting Indie Beer Feast. Hosted in the very special Abbeydale Picture House building, this debut event offered a unique environment to enjoy good beer, good food and good company. So, how did it do?

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Craft Beer Rising 2018

My first visit to London of 2018 took me to Brick Lane, more specifically The Old Truman Brewery. Here, they were proudly hosting Craft Beer Rising. Although now an established event on the London (and UK) beer scene, this was my debut at CBR. Here’s what I thought of my experience!

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North Bar & Half Acre Beer Company

Celebrating 20 years, North Bar has been, and still is, one of Leeds’ pioneering craft beer bars. Surviving two decades of continuous change in the beer world, North Bar has come through it all. In keeping with its reputation, throughout February, North has been celebrating beers from across the Atlantic, the USA. I found myself in North Bar in late February, as they welcomed Half Acre Beer Company from Chicago.

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Grog in Guiseley

When you have a metropolitan area as large as Leeds’, it means there’s plenty of places to enjoy great beer. Joining my friends from Leeds CAMRA, I recently took a trip around Guiseley. It’s not an area of Leeds I’m overly familiar with, so it was a great opportunity to visit some new pubs and taste some new beer.

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Beer, GRUB and the Piccadilly Beer Mile

Ok, so maybe my article last week wasn’t my last Tryanuary related blog post. I promise this one is though! Earlier in January, I was kindly invited by Nomadic Beers to a beer festival hosted by GRUB Manchester. It was their inaugural beer festival and, as it turned out, an opportunity for me to also visit some of the Piccadilly Beer Mile venues.

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