A Reintroduction to Shandies & Radlers for National Radler Day

Photo credit bartendingthebiblebelt.com

Photo credit bartendingthebiblebelt.com

What is the difference between a Radler and a Shandy? And is Radler even really a beer? Well, technically yes to the latter, and it’s rather unclear on the former. Today is the first National Radler Day, Monday June 22nd, 2015, and we thought it would be a good time to explore Radlers and Shandies that are quickly growing in popularity in the U.S.

A Brief History

Similar to the Gose and Berliner-Weisse we covered last week, these strange beers of European heritage are growing in popularity in the U.S. with our own twists. Shandy and Radler are essentially the same thing, a mix of beer and lemon soda that makes a low alcohol and refreshing summer sipper. The main difference between Radler and Shandy is their heritage, with the Radler coming from Germany and popularized in 1922 by an innkeeper who created a 50/50 blend of lager and lemon soda to satiate cyclists that nearly ran him out of beer. Radler literally means “cyclist” in German. The Shandy, on the other hand, is of British origin and its creation is attributed to either Henry VIII as a tonic during his marriage difficulties or to the 18th-century novel Tristram Shandy. Shandy was called a “Shandygaff” and was historically a blend of lager and ginger beer. Over the years Shandy has become synonymous with Radler, and both are now usually a blend of lager and lemon soda or lemonade.

American Reintroduction

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In recent history, Leinenkugel’s Brewery re-introduced the Shandy in 1997 to much success. It has since become a huge summer hit and the brewerys #1 brand, and has spawned multiple flavors from Lemon Berry to Cranberry Ginger to the pumpkin/fall themed Harvest Patch Shandy.

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Meanwhile, Austrian brewery Stiegl has made its Grapefruit Radler available in America in 16oz cans where parched summer drinkers began to take notice in 2013. By 2014 the Radler and Shandy were catching on with brewers, though The Street noted that craft brewers were reluctant to sign-on for them. As summer of 2015 begins, the Shandy and Radler are new full on hits of the craft beer world, with the release of 10 Barrel Brewing’s reformulated Swill and both Gilgamesh and Hopworks introducing new Radlers in cans, along with Widmer’s new Hefe Shandy.

Oregon’s new wave of Shandies and Radlers

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10 Barrel Brewing introduced its own take on a Radler or Shandy with Swill a couple years back. The recipe, developed by lead innovation brewer Tonya Cornett, was done with the brewery’s own housemade grapefruit soda in 2013 and 2014, but the 2015 seasonal has made the switch to lemon soda. The brewery makes the soda with distilled lemon and then blends it at about 45% soda to 55% of a special Imperial Berliner-Weisse. That’s the least traditional part; by using an already tart, lactic-fermented wheat beer, it amps up the acidity/juiciness of the final blend. It is purposefully brewed very strong to 8% ABV, so after the soda cuts down the alcohol percentage the final product is still at 4.5% ABV.

Who could forget the great Swill recall of 2014, though. It was Swill’s second summer season in release and the beer was primed to be the biggest hit of the year. Suddenly, people started experiencing foamy bottles, even gushers with the beer exploding out of the bottle. These were the results of complications of adding a sweet sugary juice to beer that possibly still has live yeast or even lactobacillus that awakens hungry for the sugar and begins actively eating and causing refermentation in the bottle. 10 Barrel had believed it had killed off any yeast to prevent this from happening, but it wasn’t enough and thousands of cases of Swill were recalled and the misstep chronicled in many publications and even all over the television news. With a new lemon Swill back in 2015, 10 Barrel thinks it has solved the problem by adding low amounts of a preservative to the final product.

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Hopworks Totally Radler is a very traditional take on a Radler and fits perfectly with Hopworks’ passion for biking that stretches into its beers and branding. Head of Production Tom Bleigh has been developing a recipe for the Radler for years, with most of the time spent on making the brewery’s own traditonal sprüdel (sparkling lemon soda with juice) for a 50/50 mix with the beer. HUB uses the standard house Lager in the mix, which may be the only untraditional part, as it has a slightly noticeable more malt and hop then a German Pils or Helles would have. Also, in the wake of 10 Barrel Brewing’s Swill bottle bombs, Hopworks pays extra close attention to lightly pasteurize the cans to prevent the sugars from refermenting in the package. No preservatives used in this beer.

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Another late but welcome entry into the ever more crowded field of Radlers strangely goes by the name of Shandy. Widmer Brothers Brewing’s Hefe Shandy is out now in 12oz bottles and 6-packs and is a refreshing take on the breweries flagship hefeweizen. Adding lemonade to Hefeweizen may not be as strange as it seems, as the Widmers have always encouraged the adding of a lemon to a glass or bottle. But why–with German heritage that comes through in the entire line of beers–would the brewery name it after the British Shandy than the Radler of the brothers’ own German ancestry? Rob Widmer told me this was a big discussion in the marketing meetings; he naturally wanted to go with Radler, but somehow the thought that Shandy would stand out more in the crowded market was decided upon. From my own tasting notes, Widmer’s Hefe Shandy is the easiest one for me to put down more than one bottle of. It’s by far the least sweet and cloying of the bunch, which is often the #1 complaint about these types of beers. The Hefeweizen gives it a pleasing creamier body while still being light, and the lemonade provides sweet-tart flavor up front with a pinch of hoppiness on the finish.

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Apparently the craft world really has embraced Radlers and Shandies despite any concerns of it being near-beer. Now even cideries are getting in on the act. Atlas Cider Co. in Bend has just released “The Radler,” a grapefruit cider that is in no way an actual Radler. Dan at Atlas Cider says, “Yes, this is our version of a cider Radler, with a blend of grapefruit juice and apple. So yes, it is our own cider twist on the traditional German wheat beer/ grapefruit and thought hey… why not blend the grapefruit with cider instead of beer and see what happens.” Clearly someone thinks just the name “Radler” is selling product these days, even though without any beer in Atlas Cider’s product it is in no way a Radler or a Shandy. Dan at Atlas even said, “what a better name than just “grapefruit cider.” I dont know, what’s wrong with Grapefruit Cider, that is exactly what it is.

We may be seeing just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Radlers and Shandies. Hopworks made a special lime-centric version aged on tequila-soaked oak chips for the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, and there are versions using the previously-mentioned ginger beer or OJ; even cola and spirits have a history of being blended with beer. What flavors will they come up with next?

Celebrate #NationalRadlerDay with Hopworks today on a bike ride.

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Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

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