The warm weather is finally here, and if you’re like me you’re starting to look for summertime thirst-quenching brews. But while you’re trying to slake that thirst under the hot summer sun you’ve got to keep an eye on the alcohol percentage, so you don’t “fall down go boom.”
The good news is that there’s a category of blended beers that was developed for just this reason: the shandy.
In England in the 1800s, a low-alcohol cocktail trended with the upper class called the “Rich Man’s Shandy Gaff,” according to beer historian Ron Pattinson. A blend of Champagne and ale, not everyone could afford such a fancy tipple, so the regular folk started to substitute ginger beer or lemonade for the expensive bubbles. (Todd Coleman, a writer for Saveur, says that the “gaff” part of the name was likely a shortening of “ginger half-and-half.”)
Nowadays, most Shandys lean toward the lemonade version, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see ginger beer versions hit the market as the alcoholic ginger beer trend takes off.
The Shandy has a German counterpart which was invented in 1922: the radler. The legend goes that Franz Kugler had carved a bicycle trail through the woods from Munich to his pub just outside of town. One day, thousands of thirsty cyclists turned up and Kugler was raking in the cash. The only problem was he risked running out of beer and having a riot on his hands. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention, thus Kugler blended his remaining beer 50/50 with lemon soda and called the drink the “Radlermass” (“cyclist’s liter”). He pitched it as a way to have a few liters of beer without risking a tumble while cycling home.
Today, craft brewers have embraced the tradition of low alcohol, fruity refreshers and are putting their own spin on both the shandy and radler. Here are a few that will be in my cooler this summer.
Narragansett “Del’s Shandy” (Rhode Island) – A celebration of two iconic Rhode Island companies, “Del’s Shandy” is a collaboration between Narragansett Brewery and Del’s Lemonade. Brewmaster Sean Larkin blended Narragansett lager with Del’s lemon concentrate to make this bright, lightly tart summer refresher. Served ice-cold, it will slake even the most powerful summer thirst.
Great Divide “Roadie” (Colorado) – Paying homage to the origin of the radler, “Roadie” celebrates Great Divide’s dedication to the cycling community. This hazy summer ale is brewed with grapefruit puree resulting in a crisp, tart, lightly bitter drinking experience. And in keeping with the Radlermass theme, it clocks in at 4.2 percent alcohol.
Schöfferhofer “Grapefruit” (Germany) – A 50/50 blend of Schöfferhofer’s unfiltered Hefeweizen and carbonated grapefruit juice, this beer has weekend brunch written all over it. Juicy and refreshing, it’s no wonder that Men’s Journal named this one of the 10 best shandy or radlers on the market. At 2.5 percent alcohol, it’s a true session beer. (You can up the brunch ante a little by spiking it with some gin or vodka, just sayin’.)
Owl’s Brew radler “Wicked Watermelon” (New York) – Putting a modern twist of the entire radler category, Owl’s Brew radlers are made by blending beer with freshly brewed teas and real fruit juices. “Wicked Watermelon” is brand new for the warm months and is a blend of wheat beer, organic white tea, watermelon juice, pomegranate seeds and agave nectar.
Stowe Cider “Summer Shandy” (Stowe) – If beer isn’t your thing, don’t fret – Stowe Cider has got you covered. This gluten-free blend of semi-dry hard cider and homemade lemonade is a touch stronger than other shandys on the market, but is still a sessionable 5.5 percent. “Summer Shandy” tastes like an adult version of sparkling lemonade and is sure to please.
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf. Jeff co-hosts the “It’s the Beer Talking” podcast found on iTunes and Soundcloud. More info at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/news/podcasts