THERE ARE plenty of summer beer offerings out there — wit beers, lagers, and cream ales — but one section of the summer beer aisle that is often ignored is the shandy. Shandies are an odd lot: fruity, sweet and only half beer.
Half a beer! What is this sacrilege? your craft beer purist might ask. Mixology and beer are, like shandies, not a topic you hear discussed by craft beer nerds.
Mixing two beers or worse yet a beer and some other beverage is crazy talk, but that is exactly what a shandy is - a mix of a beer and, usually, a non–alcoholic soda of some sort.
The concept of a shandy is probably very old and its origins are long lost to history. The word shandy comes from the British word shandygaff, which is a mixture of beer and ginger beer.
The earliest written reference of a shandygaff comes from H.G. Wells, who wrote in his novel The History of Mr. Polly, the shandygaff is a mixture of “two bottles of beer mixed with ginger beer in a round-bellied jug.” The shandy gaff was popular in England, Ireland, Canada and the US during the late 19th century and early 20th century.
At the same time the German version of the shandy was becoming popular. The radler, a name that has become almost synonymous with shandy, was “invented” in a small town called Deisenhofen, just outside of Munich.
Deisenhofen was on a bicycling trail and just off the trail was an inn run by Franz Kugler. On a lovely June day, as the story goes, 13,000 bikers came through Kugler’s inn all thirsty and wanting beer.
In an attempt to extend his dwindling beer reserves he started mixing beer and sparkling lemonade 50/50, and the Radlermass was born.
Radlermass, German for “cyclist liter” was later shortened to radler.
These days radler and shandy are almost interchangeable and have grown to encompass all sorts of beer and soda mixtures. Many of those mixtures have a history as long as the original radler.
Cola mixed with beer has many names but the umbrella name is a Diesel. Diesels come in many forms. Kolsh and cola — that’s a Drecksack (dirtbag).
Mix a stout or a porter mixed with cola and you have a Brummbär (grouch). In Britain a Fir Tree is lager and cola, and the Belgian version is call Mazout.
The Dutch version substitutes 7-Up for the cola and is called a Sneeuwwitje, which you might be able to determine is Dutch for Snow White.
These days, particularly in the summer, you can find just about any shandy mixture of fruit soda and beer you can think of, though grapefruit, lemon, cider and ginger are all regulars. Bottle and canned versions abound on the store shelves and are a great option if you are running off to the beach.
However, the fun thing about shandys is that you can make them at home. Typically you see a 50/50 mix of beer and soda, but at home you can mix and match your beers, sodas and proportions until you find that perfect mix.
Just pick your favorite soda and favorite light beer; kolsches, wits, lagers and pilsners (don’t forget to buy locals), are all easy shandy go-tos. And start mixing.
While shandys may have a reputation for being too sweet, or not real beer, or just being odd, there is nothing embarrassing about enjoying a nice light mixed beer on occasion. There’s a time and place for everything, right?
So the next time you’re in the store looking for something refreshing, have a look at the shandys, or even pick up your own mixing ingredients and have a go at making your own. You might find you like it. Cheers!