Traditional Lithuanian beverages are gira (non-alcoholic drink made from rye bread), kisielius (fruity cranberry drink), beer, various spirit drinks with fruit or herbal infusions and, of course, mead. In olden times Lithuanians made a large variety of gira drinks. Gira was made not only from bread, as is the most common now, but also from various berries, fruits, blossoms, buds, saps, juices, decoctions, grains, malts, cakes and even honey cake. Gira connoisseurs will tell you that ‘bread gira’ is not a very good generalisation, because different kinds of gira were made from rye, wheat, barley or oat bread. Another non-alcoholic Lithuanian drink is kisielius, usually made from cranberries (but sometimes also raspberries or gooseberries), starch and sugar.
Lithuania is known as a beer-loving country. At present there are 84 breweries, large and small, operating in Lithuania, producing beer that may be light or dark, weak or strong (by law the strongest beer allowed is 9.5% alcohol by volume). Each brewery produces several varieties. The region of Biržai has long been known for its dark, strong beer, while light barley beer is produced in every region. A few years ago some breweries began producing wheat beer.
In olden times Lithuanians made good, strong alcoholic drinks and they knew how to use them suitably. Gira, beer and mead were produced, and a spirit liquor was distilled from a mash of grain. One type of Lithuanian spirit or whisky is starka. In the Middle Ages, Lithuanian merchants who were going on a long journey would pour whisky into oak casks, and during the long trip by land or waterways the whisky would acquire the amber colour that is characteristic of starka. The name of this whisky comes from an old Lithuanian word, ‘starkus’, which meant ‘stork’. This ‘stork’ whisky was typically brought out to celebrate the birth of a first son.
The infused liquor “Trejos devynerios” (“Three Nines”) goes back a long way. It does indeed have an infusion of 26 herbs. (The 27th flavour comes from the hornbeam kegs that are used to store it). This infusion was distilled in the old days on the Eve of Saint John, after sunset. “Three Nines” was used not just as a liqueur, but as a universal medicine for colds and joint pains and for healing wounds and as a general tonic. Other infusions were made from berries, fruit and various herbs. Another old liqueur that is still produced is krupnikas, made from grain spirit, honey and herbs. It is the only Lithuanian liqueur that one consumes hot.
The mead produced in Lithuania varies in strength from 10% to 20%. Mead is in effect the northern countries’ equivalent of wine, being produced from a honey and water solution, with herbs added according to the recipe. The little town of Stakliškės is the only place in the world that still produces mead according to the ancient recipes.
Publication about Lithuanian Cuisine: Lithuania. Taste it! Love it!