The story of the Radler (German for cyclist) originating when a bar owner was faced with a dwindling supply of beer because of an unexpected onslaught of customers arriving on their bikes has become pretty well known recently. He solved the problem by blending beer and lemonade and telling the cyclists that it would help them be able to enjoy their beer and still operate their bikes on the ride home. At the same time, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy has gained a huge level of popularity the last few years.
So what is the difference between a Shandy and a Radler? It depends who you ask, but basically, they’re English and German versions of the same idea. Shandy is often beer mixed with ginger beer or other sodas, but the popular commercial versions right now are mostly with lemonade and other fruit drinks.
The big difference may be the base beer. If it is an English style, you can call it a Shandy, if it’s a German one, call it a Radler. There are other names. Russ being a German term for a Radler with wheat beer as the base, is one that I have actually made.
Another thing to consider, and the factor I used in my own drinks, is that lemonade means different things in different regions. Germans call lemon lime soda, like Sprite and Sierra Mist, lemonade. When I mix lemonade (the American version) with beer, I call it a Shandy. When I mix lemon lime soda with beer, I call it a Radler.
This may not be the technical or historically accurate way to look at it, but it keeps things simple. One of my favorite versions is a Kölsch Radler. This Summer, I’ve been making Shandy with Elkland Golden Lager. Amy enjoys using Hefeweizens for the base for either, but I haven’t been a big fan of that mix for some reason. You can use any base beer you like, but beers that are light in color and neutral in flavor, maybe leaning more on malts than hops are the obvious choice.
One of the big draws for these concoctions are the extremely low alcohol content. They are perfect for hot Summer days when you want to enjoy beer all day long. Have one with lunch, another while you do some yard work and then relax with a couple more while you get dinner ready. After all that, you’ve really only had two beers. This is why I’m not crazy about most of the commercial versions.
Most of them claim to be a mix of beer and real lemonade, but if that is the case, it must be a very strong beer because they’re usually between four and five percent ABV. You can still have a nice session in that range, but it’s not what I’m looking for with these drinks.
I haven’t, as I said, experimented too much with different juice or soda additions. Is there anything you like to mix with your beer for a refreshing Summer drink? Let me know. Maybe I need to try some beer/ginger beer cocktails.