Have you ever heard of beer soup? Perhaps you’ve even tasted it? If so, you probably know that beer soup is not a dish at all: it’s medicine. Yes, the medicine of beer. “Of course, it was a big laugh for the entire town that the brewer even cures himself with beer,” says a smiling Ramūnas Čižas, the representative of the fourth generation of his family’s brewery. “When, after returning home, my grandfather would say to my grandmother in the Aukštaitian dialect, “‘Mother, soup!’ She would not heat up beetroot soup but would instead rush to heat a litre of beer with nine herbs and honey. This warm drink was the perfect cure for the common cold.” The secrets of the beer soup recipe, and especially the combination of nine herbs, have been passed down in Čižas family from generation to generation.
Čižas brewers’ dynasty in northern Lithuania counts more than one hundred and fifty years already, at least since 1865. Such is the information from the oldest archival documents about Čižas, the brewer and great-grandfather of Ramūnas, who used to brew beer in the environs of the town Dusetos. “I grew up constantly seeing how beer is brewed, and when I turned fifteen, my father started to teach me seriously. We locked ourselves in the brewery, and then I learned to make everything from A to Z with my own hands,” remembers the brewer. “My eldest daughter has also been incorporated into the dynasty – she started learning how to brew beer at seventeen”.
Čižas’ homemade beer is dark, with honey from the apiary located near his brewery. The dark beer colour and specific flavour of caramel are gained by baking malt, which is why this type of beer is called “baked” (Lith. – “keptinis”). Such beer, and especially Čižas’ beer soup, are appreciated by homemade beer lovers all over the country and serve as a gateway to various events of authentic crafts popular in Lithuania.
“I enjoy the luxury of being able to take my beer only to the places where I feel well,” says Ramūnas Čižas. And one such event for him is the great Vilnius Fair – Kaziukas. With his authentic beer, Čižas is always welcome to the largest and most diverse craft fair in Lithuania. Moreover, it is particularly popular for fair-goers to give throats a rinse with his already mentioned warming and healthy beer soup.
Kaziukas is the name of this trade fair. It is affectionately named after St. Casimir, the patron saint of Lithuania. For five hundred years already, since the 17th century, every year in spring Vilnius opens a festival and a gigantic trade fair dedicated in honour of the Saint Prince. The first weekend of March, when Saint Casimir’s Day is celebrated, is dedicated to this, and traditionally transforms the city centre into a great razzle-dazzle of townspeople and craftspeople. And here we can find highly authentic and quite unexpected crafts, works of art and delicacies of culinary heritage.
Sharing his impression of the fair, Ramūnas Čižas say, “Kaziukas is such a simple and enjoyable way to verify whether or not people like your product. You pour a glass and clearly see how it affects emotions, and how it changes a person’s face. At Kaziukas, I always have few benches and tables near the stall so people could stay with me for some time. Because beer, after all, is intended for communication, rather than something else… Beer is a means of communication. And I like communication much more than selling. Kaziukas is a great opportunity for that.”
He adds, “A new trend emerged about six years ago. More and more young people come to talk and discuss beer, asking about its production and various technical details. I see that they are interested in real handmade beer; more and more people are trying to brew beer themselves. Young people begin to realise that beer is not only a factory product. And this is amazing.”
In the meantime, the activity in the brewery is being monitored by the watchful eye of the sixth generation of brewers – the little grandchildren of Ramūnas Čižas. They are waiting for their chance to learn the tricks of the trade from A to Z, and to find out the secret of nine herbs and – who knows – maybe to continue the brewers traditions of the family for several hundred years into the future.