Gastro Obscura – Michael Jackson
Green peas make a great soup. But according to some brewers in northern Lithuania, they also make a great beer. Širvenos, named after the region’s Lake Širvėna, is one such legume-based brew.
As some tell it, Lithuanian brewers substituted green peas for some of the malt in their recipes when ingredients couldn’t be sourced under Soviet rule. But according to Biržų Alus, which makes Širvenos, people in the area actually began brewing with peas from nearby farms back in the 18th century. On a visit to Lithuania in the 1990s, one brewery representative told beer writer Michael Jackson that the peas added body and a “richer flavor” to the beer. According to Lars Marius Garshol, author of a guide to Lithuanian beer styles, Biržų Alus is the only brewery in the country that still makes pea beer today. The resulting beverage is golden—not green—and peas constitute a small percentage of the grist.
So does Širvenos actually taste like peas? Though some reviews mention a slight aroma of peas, most describe a mild, pea-less flavor that ranges from “rich and creamy” to “sweet pilsner malt.” It also comes in an unfiltered version (nefiltruotas), which is said to have a yeastier flavor.