At Wiper and True we really enjoy creating beers with interesting ingredients that create new flavours, aromas, textures, and generally better our brewing. It’s a real bonus if these beers have a story behind them. Our most recent release, Meadow Land, does just that, and the story takes us back to 2013, near to the very beginning of Wiper and True.
Heading back in time to 2013, I was lucky enough to be commissioned by Norwegian Airways to write an article about the resurgent Lithuanian “live ale” scene, with the whole trip to be documented by my photographer brother. We invited my sister along to make it a family adventure, and an adventure it was. We met wonderful people, tasted incredible local food, and tasted beer that was nothing like any beer I’d ever tried before: wild, silky, fresh, full-flavoured and utterly delicious. The beer was completely unique, with its own distinct history and culture.
Two of the wonderful people we met were Martynas Savickis and Saulius Prašmantas, a pair of beer enthusiasts behind the Tikras Alus association of beer lovers and its essential blog: tikrasalus.lt (fineale.com). They had been leading the charge on bringing Lithuanian beer brewing and culture back to life after it had been suppressed by communist Russia for many generations. They were so keen to get the word out about their passion that they’d taken time off work to drive us around the country, acting as translators and educators for me and my siblings. They were not only warm, humble, charming hosts, but they were doing more than anyone else at the time to promote a vital part of Lithuania’s heritage.
Martynas and Saulius took us to see one of their heroes, Julius Simonaitis, an old brewmaster from Pasvalys in Northern Lithuania. Julius was one of the few brewers who continued to brew traditional lithuanian farmhouse beers even once it had been driven underground by Soviet occupation, when traditional breweries were crushed and all beer production was centralised to Russian lager producers.
Julius Simonaitis in his home in Pasvalys
When liberation came in the early 90s, young enthusiastic beer lovers like Martynas and Saulius managed to persuade Julius to teach them the old ways. The pair are clearly great friends with this human fountain of knowledge, and have invited him to countless meetings to talk about his brewing secrets. Together they’ve created quite a following and have inspired a new generation of Lithuanian brewers.
Simonaitis only shares his incredible beer with friends and relatives - not in any pub or restaurant - so we were lucky to get to meet him at his home in the countryside. Painted in rustic technicolor, it could be a living museum of traditional brewing. He has his own well of pure water, fields of homegrown malt and plantations of hops growing six metres tall, which he dries in his bedroom.
Julius' beautiful, technicolour home
One man and his water well
The real magic happens in Julius' rickety wooden outhouse, where he brews his beer in ancient barrels and has his own sauna. “The sauna is a key part of the brewing process, not just because it sterilises the room,” Simonaitis told me back in 2013. “I invite all my neighbours around, and we sit and chat and drink beer. Once we have been through this ritual, then we can brew.”
The Brewhouse in action
The results were spectacular; I distinctly remember a malty farmhouse ale with surprising fresh tropical fruit notes of passion fruit, orange, and guava, followed up by hints of lemon and spice.
As we sat in his brewing sauna Julius Simonaitis pulled out a jar of yeast. This is the yeast he’d been keeping alive for all these years. The yeast that was driving so many incredible flavours in his beer. His quality control measures? Tasting a spoonful! If it was good, it was good! He very generously offered me a taste, and as I handed the spoon back he dropped it into the yeast jar and sealed it straight back up. I had to resist all my brewers instincts to thoroughly clean and sterilise that spoon, and let go and trust in the old farmhouse ways.
Julius and his faithful jar of yeast
Julius continued the tour and showed us his 30 beehives and the honey he makes, joking about how the bees were suspicious of foreigners just as my sister and I were getting stung. (See photo of him below, picking bees out of my sister’s hair.) From there we went onto a home-cooked lunch and home-brewed beers; what could be better? He was a kind, funny and welcoming host with incredible stories to match the beer. It was a memorable day nestled in the middle of a great trip, and Julius was a real inspiration.
Fast forward to 2020 with Wiper and True in full production, when we saw that one of our yeast suppliers, Escarpment Labs, are selling a Lithiuanian yeast strain from a farmhouse brewer. Reader, guess what? It turns out to be none other than the man himself, Julius Simonaitis. We couldn’t wait to try this yeast and ordered a pitch in, excited about brewing a beer with yeast from a brewer I have such fond memories and great respect for.
Meadow Land is our attempt to do Julius proud. We have brewed a couple of iterations of this beer now, and every time it gives us something new and wonderful to enjoy. It’s a full bodied, juicy 6.2% IPA brewed using his farmhouse yeast strain, packed with some of our favourite modern hops: Citra, Cascade, Motueka and Sabro. These bold, juicy hops really play on the tropical, spicy notes of the Lithuanian yeast, combining for vibrant notes of guava, passionfruit and orange, balanced by a refined layer of spicy, earthy undertones.
This year, we refined our recipe further with an additional process: mash hopping. Traditionally used to add a layered hop flavour to continental lagers, where hop cones are added into the mash alongside the malts (in Meadow Land, we use barley, wheat and oats). This increases the amount of hop derived flavour compounds, called thiols, thereby adding additional, wonderful flavours and aromas to a beer.
Meadow Land is available to order on our website now, and as with every batch we brew, we’ll be sending some cans out to Lithuania, so we’ll find out what Julius thinks.
You can read more about the trip in the original article I wrote for Norwegian Airways here, and I would wholeheartedly recommend visiting Lithuania as a beer destination if you want to try completely distinct, incredible beer.