Sometimes you just hit the jackpot. You hit one of those moments when all your stars are aligned and everything seems just perfect. You’re in a cosy bar, in good company. The barman is handsome and chatty (even if he is half your age!) And you are sipping on the most sublime drink you’ve ever tasted.
I don’t get to Vilnius too often, so when I do, I like to treat myself to fish ‘n’ chips and a pint of Guinness. They’re never as good as they are back home, but I relish every mouthful, nonetheless. I had met up with my good buddy, Brendan, and we were enjoying a good catch-up over a beer, but as the night went on the bar we were in got a little rowdy, so we decided to move on. Brendan knew of a new bar, Baras Tava Merga, which would quieter and more conducive to chatting.
We sat at the bar, ordered drinks and got straight back to chatting. The conversation wound its way to food, as it always does with me, and I mentioned that lašiniai (Lithuanian-style smoked bacon) is one of my favourite foods. The barman, who had been chatting with us, reached up and picked a bottle off the shelf – a lašiniai-flavoured schnapps! I ordered a glass and from the first sip, I was smitten. It was sublime. It was everything I wanted in a drink at that particular moment. I was full from eating and the Guinness was not going down right. This firey, smoky concoction was the perfect digestif.
Irish people have this great way of “knowing a man who knows a man” and it turned out that Brendan knew the guy who owned the distillery that made the schnapps. “Would you like to visit the distillery?” he says casually. Of course, I would! A few days later it was all arranged, and I headed north to Pakruojis Manor Distillery.
Šarūnas Karalius and his partner bought the distillery at Pakruojis Manor in 2018 and set about restoring this historic distillery to its former glory. The distillery had been founded in the mid-1600s by an apothecary named Knut to produce botanicals for the wealthy residents of Pakruojis Manor. Knut used local herbs, flowers, wood and roots to produce delicious tinctures with medical benefits. The new owners have gone to great lengths to preserve this legacy, insisting that most of the botanicals used in their spirits come from the area surrounding the manor.
The array of awards displayed on the distillery wall are enough to tell you that they have been successful. Just recently, their Kenyan Coffee Liqueur picked up a gold medal at the prestigious IWSC awards. Their Horseradish Schnapps, Cherry Brandy, Artemisia Vulgaris (a herb also known as mugwort) Schnapps, Thyme Liqueur and Bacon Schnapps all have similar accolades. Their Maple in Bloom Liqueur is a very special limited edition that made use of the blossoms of a maple tree that was brought down in a storm. This kind of upcycling and not letting anything go to waste makes my heart warm long before the elixir hits my tummy!
After a thoroughly interesting tour of the distillery and bar, Šarūnas presented me with a selection of their drinks to bring home. (As I was driving, I wasn‘t able to sample anything onsite, which was hugely frustrating!) The drinks come in the most beautiful apothecary-style bottles that I will be saving once the contents have been demolished. Even the labels are printed like old-style medicine labels, preserving the long heritage of the establishment. All the drinks I tried were complex and thought-provoking. I have quite a good nose for food and made an effort to sniff each drink carefully before trying, to see if I could guess the ingredients. In almost all cases, the taste was completely different from the smell, which I found delightful – I like foods that make you think and make you go back for another sip as you try to figure it out!
The distillery also makes beers and soft drinks. I tried three of the soft drinks – the kvass with caraway, quince & basil lemonade, and cherry & Carolina Reaper lemonade. All three were delicious. I love the fragrance of quince and this tart lemonade was a perfect mixer with vodka. The hint of Caroline Reaper (which is an extremely hot chilli) in the cherry lemonade took the edge off the sweetness and left a lingering tingle on the tongue. The caraway in the kvass (a fermented drink made from rye bread) was prominent, the aniseed notes blending well with the dark, treacle notes of the rye bread.
While everything I tasted was delicious, I must admit that my favourite is still the Bacon Schnapps. I will be investing in a bottle to warm my tummy during the coming winter months!
Pakruojis Manor Distillery drinks are available via their website and a network of shops across Europe. While their online store currently doesn’t offer the option to ship internationally, Šarūnas has told me that they can ship internationally on request – just contact them via email.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. While I did receive some samples free of charge, I visited the distillery at my own request and all opinions are my own.
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