Lithuanian brewers exploit Baltic heat wave to post fantastic results

  • 2002-11-14
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas

Last week the Lithuanian Brewers Association reported that Lithuanian beer producers exported an astounding 9.75 million liters of beer in the first 10 months of 2002, compared with only 670,000 liters in the same period last year.

Kalnapilis and Vilniaus Tauras led the list, with combined exports of 5.78 million liters for the first 10 months, up by 25 times over the previous year.

Brewer Ragutis sent 1.9 million liters of beer abroad during the same period while Gubernija saw its exports increase by 3 times over the year, amounting to 1.14 million liters this year.

Lithuania's largest brewery, Svyturys-Utenos Alus, sold 930,000 liters of beer abroad, a spectacular increase by 31 times over last year's figures.

One of the leading factors for the fantastic increase, according to association members, was the record heat wave that hit the Baltic region last summer.

The association reported the main market for Lithuanian beer abroad was Latvia, which consumed 90 percent of all Lithuanian beer exports.

At home Svyturys-Utenos remained on top, accounting for 49.8 percent of domestic sales, with Kalnapilis and Vilniaus Tauras far behind at 25.5 percent.

Gubernija came in with just 9.3 percent of the domestic market share, while Ragutis was putting the best face on its 7.8 percent, according to Brewers Association statistics.

The association also said the total Lithuanian beer market expanded by 16.8 percent during the 10-month period as compared with last year. The association's 12 member brewers sold a total of 222.93 liters of beer during the period, compared with 190.84 over the first 10 months of 2001.

Whether the Lithuanian beer industry's production results amount to a foam-bubble or whether the industry will continue to outperform will be a question on the minds of international investors in the coming months.

Lithuanian beers have won accolades and international acclaim at amateur and industry events in Europe and the U.S.A. recently, according to company press releases and their Web pages.

Part of the industry's success is due to its Scandinavian owners and investors. Finnish brewer Olvi controls Ragutis, while Danish Brewery Group owns 98 percent of Vilniaus Tauras and another 96.84 percent of Kalnapilis. Sweden's Baltic Beverages Holding has a 76.95 stake in Svyturys-Utenos.

Local ownership of larger, technologically advanced breweries has quickly turned into a thing of the past. However, although Lithuania doesn't have Bavaria's dense population of independent microbreweries, it does boast a long-standing tradition of home brewing, and a large number of relatively unknown small brewers scattered across the countryside continue to operate independently and produce exclusively for local tastes and sensibilities.

Almost none of this micro-brewery production is sampled abroad due to strict laws and high tariffs on alcohol exports.

When The Baltic Times asked international shipper DHL about the feasibility of sending a bottle of Lithuanian beer to Sweden, the customer service representative said they theoretically could send the bottle, but customs and paperwork would probably make it more expensive than hiring an independent courier to board a flight for Stockholm with the bottle in hand.

Most restaurants and bars in the Lithuanian capital offer the major name brands in Lithuanian beer, but some of the more stylish and upscale establishments now have a selection of "village beer" on hand for the lover of hops, malt and yeast.