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Ukraine Blues: A Test Drive of Mama’s Little Yella Pils



If you've ever been to Ukraine, specifically the city of Kharkov, about 20 miles from the Russian border, you realize that the fact that they'd elect a comedian and star of such rom-coms as Office Romance 1, 2, and 3 as president is entirely plausible. Even advisable.

It's not an easy place to get to either: an eight-hour flight to Amsterdam, another four hours to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, and then a final hour leg on a hulking Soviet-era Anatov that moves through the clouds like a barely sky-worthy sofa.

When I was there, the Russians hadn't pulled their little cross-border stunt yet, and while everyone knew that they were cooking something up, no one knew what form said stunt was going to take. So the Ukrainians did what most of us do when an ill-advised ex shows up musing about getting back together. They started drinking heavily.


Of course, given the over-abundance of history in these parts, they never really stopped drinking. And they've gotten very good at it. They aren't ale folk over there; they mostly go in for Bohemian pilsners to wash down a local spirit called pertsivka, which is just horilla made with hot peppers. (Horilla, it was explained to me, was what Americans who don't know the difference call vodka). All of which is soaked up with black bread and sausage. What is an intrepid writer to do when he finds himself in a place like Kharkov? He goes native.

Contrary to popular belief, Bohemia is not the home of the University of Colorado, nor is it a neighborhood in San Francisco; it is the westernmost region of the Czechs. Since the last reshuffling of Europe, it's been located in the Czech Republic. It is also the place where sneers about pilsners being boring go to die.

Admittedly, this was an odd line of thought to be having in that great whacking beer isle of the Midtown Cash Saver, but it's also pretty bent to get paid to drink at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday. So, there we are. I was staring at a six-pack of Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils — and perhaps it was the inescapably Ukraine flavored impeachment theatrics — when I found myself reaching for this Bohemian pilsner and wondering where I could find some black bread. Mama's Little Yella Pils is a clear golden, medium-bodied lager with a flavor that doesn't faint away like the more watered-down American version. Using a lot of German malts and yeast, it's cool-fermented and has a light touch of the Bavarian hops. It will pair well with the usual, just a little better: hot dogs, burgers, and in the rainy back-end of winter, a massive bowl of chili. And given the winter we've been having, it doesn't cancel itself when the weather goes off-script. It's a brew that you can enjoy, whether you want to give it much thought or not. This is beer as best supporting actor, not the lead — a role the current president of Ukraine wishes he had.

I can't say that it took me back to those long, strange days in Kharkov. Which is probably a good thing: I recall being packed into one of the city's buses and seeing a boy, maybe 12, walking down the street with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, holding a 16-ounce beer. I wasn't the only one who saw him, just the only one who thought the whole thing was a little bent. He stopped to say something to a policeman. I don't know if the kid was speaking Ukrainian or Russian, but the cop gave him a light.

In sum, Oskar Blues is a good beer for a picnic, after work, or to look across a surreal political climate and say, in that English-as-a-second-language accent, "We're screwed. We are so totally screwed."

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