Happy July 4th. This is a day to spend outdoors enjoying a picnic with your family and friends or slapping some goodies on the grill. Midsummer heat makes liquid libations a must, preferably something low-alcohol and light. For all-day drinking in the summer sun, you can't beat shandy and radler for refreshment.
Think of shandy and radler as beer cocktails, blends of beer and carbonated fruit drinks. They are really two sides of the same coin that originated in different countries. Shandy, the English version, is a traditionally blond lager or light ale mixed with ginger beer or lemonade. Radler, from Germany, is a mix of lager beer and lemon soda.
To many, the idea of mixing beer with soda would be unthinkable, an affront to good beer. But the beer-loving Germans have been doing it for nearly a century. Radler was purportedly invented at a Bavarian beer garden in 1920 to wet the whistles of thirsty bicyclists without getting them drunk. Radler means cyclist in German. The Brits have been drinking shandy or shandygaff for much longer.
Versions of the drink exist all over the world. The French call it panaché. In Chile it's fan-schop. The Mexicans serve michelada, a mix of beer, lemonade, and chili powder. Wherever you drink it, this low-alcohol, refreshing concoction is the perfect mixer for summer fun.
Make your own
You can mix up a batch of shandy or radler quite easily at home. Start with your favorite blond lager beer. It could be one of the major brands or you can step up in flavor with a microbrewed pilsner or helles such as Schell's Pils or Surly Hell. An American-style wheat beer would work, too. Try the locally brewed Lucid Air or Indeed Shenanigans. Blend that 50/50 with carbonated lemon soda. The trick is finding good lemon soda. White soda such as 7-Up or Sprite will do in a pinch, but their sweetness makes for a less refreshing drink. San Pellegrino Limonata is available locally and will deliver a better tart/sweet profile.
If you aren't a do-it-yourselfer or you just want to make the holiday easy, there are plenty of good commercial examples to choose from.
At the top of my list is Stiegl Grapefruit Radler. Although it strays from the traditional lemon, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more refreshing summer drink. The sweet and sour flavor of white grapefruit provides the dominant note with some pithy bitterness thrown in for balance. The subtlest hint of bready malt and spicy hops is detectible beneath. At less than 3 percent alcohol, it won't leave you feeling woozy in the summer sun.
The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. has a summer lineup of shandys in three flavors; lemon, orange and lemon berry. The best of these is the original, lemon-flavored Summer Shandy. The smell of fresh-cut lemons greets your nose as you raise the glass. The taste follows suit, presenting fresh-squeezed lemon juice with a touch of woody bitterness as though you bit into a seed. The crisp, wheat-beer base brings a bit of sharp-edged sweetness.
New to the Leinie lineup this year is Orange Shandy. This one is a bit flabby next to the lemon. A mix of bitter and baby-aspirin orange is joined by powdered-sugar sweetness that detracts from the brisk character I look for in a shandy. Nevertheless, it's worth a try for those who like things on the sweeter side.
Vermont's Traveler Beer Co. makes only shandy. Its newest offering, Time Traveler, puts a strawberry twist on the traditional lemony mix. Time Traveler brings a bounty of lavish fruit. Strawberries are definitely there, but I also pick up peaches, oranges and something akin to tropical-fruit Lifesavers. It's a bit sweet with less pithy bitterness than other examples, but it will still make a terrific quencher on a steamy afternoon.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.