As I’m fond of pointing out to my readers and people who attend our brewery tours, there are more than 120 recognized beer styles in the world, and those are only the ones that have been formally classified and categorized. The fact is, creative brewers, both professional and amateur, are reinventing beer styles all the time. The lines quickly blur, and you end up with myriad adaptations on classic styles and, in some cases, new styles altogether. I think this is good for beer. It demonstrates the diversity and inventive spirit that has made the world of small batch, artisan beer — commonly known as craft beer — a fascinating and rewarding journey.
A trend that has seen a lot of growth, particularly in recent years, is the mixing of beer with other beers, spirits, liqueurs, juices and sodas to create various “beer cocktails.” As I wrote in an article titled “Adulterated Beer” on my blog back in June of 2009:
“The idea of mixing beers with other beers or flavor additives isn’t novel, by any stretch. The famous French-speaking brewers of Wallonia have been doing this sort of thing for centuries to produce their immensely complex, dry and funky lambic blends called gueuze, for example. In this case, the blending of young and old lambic beer, along with years of aging in oak, yields a pleasingly dry, tart champagne-like beer that is like none other in the world. Across the border in Berlin, a low-alcohol, sour wheat beer is produced; it is known, fittingly enough, as Berliner Weisse. This top-fermented wheat beer has a lactobacillus culture added during fermentation that lends the characteristic sour bite to the beer. Since the German brewers held tightly to the old beer purity law, called the Reinheitsgebot, nothing would have been added to this beer style during the brewing process to temper the startling sharpness of this unique style. So, Berliners would often add sweet flavored syrups, like woodruff or raspberry, to the beer when served.”
Perhaps one of the most well-known beer blends is the shandy. The term itself can generically refer to any alcoholic beverage in its native Britain, but the shandy has come to specifically describe a beer — typically a pale lager or wheat ale — blended in about equal proportions with a carbonated lemonade-like drink or ginger ale. In 2007, the Wisconsin-based Leinenkugel brand (owned by beer giant SABMiller), introduced the ubiquitous Summer Shandy, a 4.2% ABV summer thirst-quencher that has been exceedingly successful in the specialty beer niche market. Just recently, Anheuser-Busch InBev followed suit with the release of its own Shock Top Lemon Shandy, also at a moderate 4.2% ABV.
Traditionally, the shandy is mixed at the time of serving, and the beer is diluted to about half its original strength, making it a very drinkable 2-2.5% ABV, on average. In Germany, a very similar beer-meets-lemon drink, known as a radler (Bavarian for “cyclist”), became popular during the early 20th century and remains so today throughout the region. Although traditionally-made shandies and radlers are, of course, hard to come by in the U.S., and de facto in Southern Illinois, the thirsty beer mixologist is not without recourse. I’d suggest making your own shandy at home by mixing a good quality lager or wheat beer in a 50/50 ratio with a carbonated lemon soda, like Fanta, or perhaps a bottle of San Pellegrino Limonata — a flavored sparkling water from Italy. This is going to be the closest you’ll come to experiencing the popular drink of Britain and Germany.
In addition to the aforementioned Leinenkugel and Shock Top brands of shandy, which are widely distributed throughout the U.S., you can occasionally find imported versions of this refreshing beverage at your local craft beer retailer, as well. Look for Stiegl Gaudi Radler Shandy (lemon), Stiegl Radler (grapefruit), both from Austria, or the occasional American craft brewers take on the drink, like Ohio’s Hoppin’ Frog Brewery Turbo Shandy.
So, while you may not be able to enjoy a shandy in a British pub or a radler on a Bavarian bike trail, you can still bring something of this flavor to your own table or backyard. The shandy just might be the ultimate lawn-mowing beer — or, poolside beer, if the lawn can wait.
SHAWN CONNELLY writes for Beer Connoisseur magazine and is a craft and specialty beer retail consultant and an award-winning home brewer. Read his blog at beerphilosopher.com.