The Washington Post: This beer/soda combo you’re seeing everywhere is the perfect summer refresher
“The radler is designed for summertime imbibing: Half beer, half fruit soda and all refreshment, with a bright fruit taste and less alcohol.
The creation of the radler is usually ascribed to a Bavarian innkeeper in 1922, who found himself confronted by hordes of thirsty cyclists looking for some mid-ride refreshment. He mixed his dwindling supplies of lager with lemon soda, and a new drink called the “radlermass” was born. (“Radler” is German for “cyclist,” while “mass” is the Bavarian term for a liter of beer.)
The idea of cutting beer with nonalcoholic drinks predates the early 20th century: The English were mixing ale and ginger beer to make “Shandygaff” in the mid-19th century, though the term “shandy” has devolved to stand for any mix of beer and soda. And in 21st-century America, beer drinkers are rediscovering shandies and radlers, two terms often used interchangeably, thanks to craft breweries and European imports.
This year, Colorado’s Great Divide and Maryland’s Flying Dog released radlers as their summer seasonals, joining offerings from Boulevard, Victory, Narragansett and Leinenkugel, among others, and a growing number of canned German and Austrian radlers found on beer store shelves….
When Great Divide was developing Roadie Grapefruit Radler, which hit shelves in April, owner Brian Dunn says brewers experimented with a blend of beer and grapefruit soda. “We didn’t like the way it tasted,” he explains. “The problem with grapefruit soda is that the extracts they use tend not to have that pithiness,” a flavor that really comes through in the finish of Roadie. Instead, brewers hit on a recipe using “lots and lots” of grapefruit puree, which provides bright citrus aromas. “It’s something really different for us,” says Dunn, a fan of radlers who has been racing bicycles since college.
The question, then, is when a radler is no longer a radler. If you had handed me a glass of Roadie and told me it was Great Divide’s new grapefruit pale ale, I would have believed it. And that’s a pretty important difference. During a tasting of nine shandys and radlers at The Post, colleagues and I unanimously gave top ratings to Bitburger Lemon and to Stiegl Grapefruit, an Austrian radler that’s 40 percent lager, 60 percent grapefruit soda, and 2 percent ABV. Fizzy and effervescent as fountain drinks, their carbonation made them more refreshing, almost like a San Pellegrino soda, and underlined the bright fruit flavors.
The American craft beers, on the other hand, had noticeably less carbonation, like a “normal” beer, and their fruit flavors seemed soft and tentative, especially given the humidity the day we were tasting. Boulevard Ginger-Lemon and Great Divide’s “bitter grapefruit soda” did much better than Flying Dog or Victory’s light Cage Radler; the best we could say about Narragansett’s Del’s Shandy, which smelled vaguely of lemon Pledge, was that it would be easy to crush after a round of golf or mowing the lawn. In the middle of the pack: South Street’s Lemon Shandy, which lacked the oomph and verve of the Bitburger.
Ultimately, an old-school radler — an invigorating beer to consume after a bike ride — was what we really wanted, even though we were just sitting still.”
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