Beer: Enjoying a Kwak in Vilnius, Lithuania

Originally designed for drinking and driving a couple centuries ago, the unique glass for a Kwak beer enhances the flavor.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

A rip through Lithuania this weekend took me to the 2015 International MINI Meet in the country’s green, quiet lake district (or quiet until the MINIs started tearing through the dirt roads).

I’ll have plenty of additional coverage on 2015 IMM this week, but — before driving my loaned 2015 MINI Countryman out into the countryside – I grabbed some dinner in Old Town Vilnius. Before the dust cleared from that wholesome, comfort food-packed meal, I learned the finer points of drinking a Kwak.

A Pauwel Kwak is an amber ale brewed by Bosteels in Belgium. For an American palette reference, its flavor and body is not unlike a Fat Tire. With its name and exotic labeling, you might think it’s centuries old, but it came into existence in its current form in the 1980s. The brewery bottling it qualifies for some history, though — starting business in 1791.

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A Kwak can be served like any pale or amber ale, but it’s supposed to come in its very distinct hourglass  and wooden handle contraption. In fact, the ale takes its name from that glass design — named for the Napoleonic tavern owner who invented it

The story has it that the tavern owner sold beer to passing coachmen riding high on their cabs. The special glass and handle allowed the horse-drawn customers to snag and safely hold the ale while riding along. Essentially, the Kwak glass encouraged drunk driving (or riding, in this case). These days, the carriage rig stays in the bars, taverns and inns.

Kwak enthusiasts say the unusual glass shape employed a little serendipity to enhance the drinking experience. The slim stem opens to a wide mouth, supposedly allowing more aroma to waft from the head. The oxygenation also looks to sweeten and lighten the fruitiness of the ale.

The round bell at the bottom warms slightly as the beer drinker works, focusing and distilling a bit more of the ale’s settled ingredients. Those last few sips offer a fuller taste with a more bitter aftertaste.

The serving history and subsequent tasting notes might be PR spin, but there is no doubt the beer finishes heavier than it starts. If you can find a bar serving Kwak in its original “glass,” you can decide for yourself.