Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

July 6, 2010

Beer Diary:

You Call It Shandy, I Call It Radler

There’s nothing more refreshing on a hot Midwest summer day than one of these beer and lemonade concoctions.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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Summer is really upon us, it being past the Fourth of July and all. And for those unfamiliar with a typical Midwest summer day, let me describe one: hot, humid, and mosquito-y. Sure, there are stretches of a few days here and there that are not too hot, nice and dry, and breezy enough to keep the flying bloodsuckers away. But it seems that the majority of days are so damn muggy that even the lightest of craft beers don’t seem to be enough to slake the unholy thirst caused by the constant sweating underneath a sweltering sun, not to mention the severe loss of blood to the insects. Now some folks might say, “Eddie, this is the perfect time for some tasteless industrial yellow water, also known as ‘light beer!’”

To which I would reply: “Why don’t you just shove your thumb up your ass and pretend it’s a lollipop?”

In other words, no need to stain your soul by drinking Coors Light (the coldest tasting beer in the world with perhaps the dumbest sounding ad campaign in the world). I suggest grabbing some lemonade and some craft beer and creating a refreshing beer drink called a shandy.

Well, most people call it a shandy. I call it a radler, because that’s what the locals called it the first time I encountered such a concoction in a tavern in Munich. Radler, the story goes, was invented in 1922 when the owner of a tavern in Bavaria realized he didn’t have enough beer to get through the day. So he offered a blend of beer and lemon-lime soda. He named this refreshing potion radler, after the bicyclists that frequented his establishment.1

(Interesting note: in a lot of countries other than the U.S., lemon-lime soda is what they call lemonade. A can of Sprite bought in Germany or Australia actually says “lemonade” right on the can.)

Outside of Germany—and my parents’ basement—this drink is usually called a shandy, short for shandygaff, a Caribbean drink from the late 19th century that was originally made with equal parts beer and ginger ale.2 But nowadays you usually see a shandy advertised as beer and lemonade.

No matter what you call it, radler or shandy, these things can be super refreshing drinks on a muggy Midwest summer day. But in order to make a truly memorable radler, you’ve got to keep a couple things in mind: use real lemonade and good craft beer.

What’s real lemonade? A hint: it doesn’t come in powder form with the label “Country Time” on it, and it isn’t a carbonated Coca-Cola product. You can probably buy some lemonade made from real lemons and actual sugar (not high fructose corn syrup), but it’s pretty damn easy to make your own, and it’ll taste better:

Old-Fashioned Lemonade
(makes 8 cups, enough for roughly 10 radlers)
8 cups water
1 ¼ cup locally sourced honey (or 1 ½ cups granulated sugar)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from around 8-10 lemons)

Next up (and the most important part): the beer. The radler I had in Germany was made with a helles, basically the lightest Reinheitsgebot-compliant beer you’re going to ever encounter. Although a few Midwest craft brewers create a brew that they call a helles—Atwater Block Hell and Three Floyds Gorch Fock are a couple—any pilsner-style lager or golden ale will fit the bill for a standard radler. Like South Shore Honey Pils, New Glarus Bohemian Lager, Short’s Pontius Road Pilsner, Barley Island Sheet Metal Blonde, or New Holland Full Circle. Chances are your local brew pub has a golden ale or something very like one on tap year-round.

I, however, like my radlers with the fruity, spicy notes you get with a Bavarian-style wheat beer: Two Brothers Ebel’s Weiss, New Glarus Dancing Man Wheat, or Sprecher Hefe Weiss.

But feel free to get crazy. Try a saison like Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bière or Lake Louie Prairie Moon to see how that barnyard funk goes with the lemonade. Get pseudo-religious and try a tripel along the lines of Dragonmead Final Absolution or Upland Infinite Wisdom. Play with some bitterness by going for an American wheat. There’s plenty to choose from, none more ubiquitous than Bell’s Oberon. Or try an Amarillo-spiked version with Three Floyds Gumballhead.

Or just go downright nuts by choosing a light (light being the key word here) IPA. I whipped up a Founders Centennial IPA radler that, because of those citrusy namesake hops, came off tasting like a super tart—and super refreshing—glass of orange juice.

OK, so you’ve got your real lemonade mixed up and your craft beer picked out. How the Hell to you make a radler?

Radler (some folks call it a shandy)
6 ounces old-fashioned lemonade
6 ounces beer

Sounds simple enough, but you might want to play around with the ratio to hit radler perfection. I’ve found that equal parts of the two ends up a little sweet, so I go with a tad more beer than lemonade—especially if I’m using a Bavarian wheat beer. But if you have a sweet tooth, feel free to go heavy on the lemonade. Whatever it takes to keep the hot and sticky Midwest summers at bay, and shitty ass light beer out of your fridge.

1 Radlermass,

2 Sharon Tyler Herbst, Food Lover’s Companion (New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 2001), 560.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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