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Making the Case

The best pilsners aren't the biggest.



Evidence suggests that the paleness of this beer was an accident, in part related to the low protein content of Bohemian barley. As serendipity would have it, it was around this time that mass-produced glassware began to replace metal and stone tankards as the beer container of choice, so the golden splendor distinctive of pilsners encouraged their popularity.

The American megabrews, while technically pilsners, lack taste, body and bouquet, making them flabby imitations of the true form. This is due to U.S. breweries' practice of adding rice and other grains to the mash in order to produce beer that is clearer, weaker and cheaper to make.

For those of you who like pilsner but prefer rice with your sushi rather than in your beer, the true expressions of the style from the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria are, thankfully, available at area beer shops. If you're accustomed to drinking the U.S. versions, the real deal might seem a little heavy, but trust me, it's a taste well worth acquiring. Drink them in a tulip-shaped glass to get the best effect; ideally, they should be poured to produce a thick, creamy head on top.

A terrific place to find pilsners, lagers and just about anything else your hoppy, malty heart desires is Once Upon a Vine, at 4009 MacArthur Ave., just off Laburnum in North Side. The Vine is beervana, and Bob Kocher and Pat Cox are its gurus.

"See, most stores, you walk in and it's Bud, Corona, Miller, Bud, Corona ... but check this out," Kocher says, pointing out the minuscule amount of shelf space that constitutes his entire stock of the megabrews. The remainder of the cold case takes up one whole side of the store, encompassing an extraordinary kaleidoscope of brews from around the planet, and there's another 15 full shelves of warm sixes, singles and half-cases. Forget shopping here — I want to set up a cot and move in.

Then Kocher has to go and get all dark on me: "You'd be surprised how many women go straight for the Smutty and Arrogant Bastard." Would I, Bob, would I really? Have I mentioned that this particular Vine o' plenty bears pony kegs of Saint Gootz dunkel weizen (dark wheat) — from Magic Hat brewery out of Vermont — for less than you would expect? Folks, if you're going to buy a keg, why not fill it with tasty Eastern mountain microbrew? The good people of Golden, Colo., will forgive you this once, I'm sure.

For those of you serious about your brews, a local BeerGirl sends the following suggestion: "So, you've had Rogue Hazelnut Brown (or if you haven't, start here). Look for Cottonwood Almond Stout (N.C.), available at Harris Teeter south of the borderline, or at Capital Ale House by the bottle. It's the only beer I've ever drunk in a bar by myself." S

Contact Sascha Auerbach at

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