Ranking the 2014 Shandy Beers

Beer trends don’t just come and go like other foods. They take time to pick up momentum before reaching critical mass. Look at the IPA movement of the 1990s and 2000s. Finding an IPA was once a tough thing to do. Now, every brewery makes one and the challenge has shifted to finding a good IPA.

Or Belgian-style white ales, for instance. A lot of breweries made witbiers, but it was not until MolsonCoors-owned Blue Moon came into the market that it became wildly popular. Blue Moon isn’t the best witbier you can buy (Brewery Ommegang’s version might be the best I’ve ever had), but it’s smooth, tastes good and is wildly popular. Popular enough that Anheuser-Busch InBev jumped in and formed Shock Top.

The bottled Shandy is this new hotness. Leinenkugel began brewing its Summer Shandy in 2007, and it has become synonymous with its brand. Their version is a hefeweizen mixed with lemonade. I have friends who detest the stuff, comparing its lemon flavor to the smell of Mr. Clean. Up until the past couple of years, the SABMiller-owned Leinenkugel held the market on this rather niche style.

Utica-based Saranac came along in 2010 and introduced their lemonade-infused lager as their summer varietal. It became so popular that they spun it off into a standalone seasonal available each summer along with its summer varietal. Shock Top jumped in the game back in 2012 with its Lemon Shandy. And now? Everyone has a shandy.

So, what is a shandy actually?

It’s apparently Bavarian and dates to the early 1900s. The British, God love ’em, used shandies as a means of getting children to warm up to the flavor of beer. It’s great, really, as this is how I’ve warmed The Wife up to beers. Anyhow, shandy is a British word. Radler is the German word for the blend of beer and German lemonade, which is more like a soda than the still citrus drink we know. So, why radler:

Radler dates back at least as far as the “roaring 20s” when a German innkeeper named Franz Xaver Kugler is said to have stumbled onto the mixture. According to the German Beer Institute, Kugler built a bicycle path through the forest, from Munich right to his establishment, called Kugleram. The path worked – probably too well – and Kugler suddenly found himself inundated with some 13,000 bicycle riders on a warm day in June of 1922. Fearing that he was going to run out of suds and maybe have a riot on his hands, Kugler stretched his beer supply by mixing beer with a prodigious quantity of clear lemon soda he had left over from an earlier failed attempt to sell the thirst-quencher. Cutting the beer with the soda in a 50/50 ratio to create Radlermass (literally “cyclist liter of beer”), Kugler saved the day and avoided running out of beer. He even claimed credit for brainstorming the drink as a clever way to keep the riders sober for the ride home.

TL;DR?: Now that the big brewers have entered the market, it’s sure to get screwed up. Until then, it’s time to try them all out.

THE GOOD

  • Leinenkugel Summer Shandy: It’s a lemonade-flavored hefeweizen-style beer that I’ve been drinking the longest. It tips in at 4.2% ABV. It’s pleasant, smooth and enjoyable.
  • Traveler Brewing Company Curious Traveler: The Wife enjoyed this one, which surprises me because it was more like a beer with lemon juice rather than a balanced blend. The lemon tasted real and the beer was nice. Strange story. Traveler is made by Alchemy & Science, a project run by the founders of Magic Hat as an independently-operating subsidiary of The Boston Beer Company (owners of Samuel Adams). 4.4% ABV
  • Traveler Brewing Company Time Traveler: The same beer flavor as the Curious Traveler, but with sweet strawberries. It’s good, but if I’m going to drink a strawberry beer, I would rather go with the Abita Strawberry Harvest. Speaking of which, why is this a shandy and Abita a “fruit beer”? Enjoyable overall. 4.4% ABV.
  • Amstel Radler: The Heineken-owned flag released a radler-style this summer. It’s modeled after the German-style radler with a lot of carbonation and a very clean lemon taste. It’s pretty good, but really weak at 2.0% ABV.
  • Leinenkugel Orange Shandy: The orange tastes more like the oil from the rind then orange juice. I think they go back easily, but I know others who have been put off by the flavor. Eh. They can make their own list. 4.2% ABV.
  • Harpoon UFO Big Squeeze Shandy: This is one you cannot drink more than one or two of during a sitting. It has a big, sweet grapefruit flavor. The Wife, who doesn’t like grapefruit, scowled. I enjoyed it. It left me pining for this year’s Shiner Ruby Redbird release. 4.5% ABV.
  • Shock Top Lemon Shandy: The lemon tastes more authentic than any other entry in the category, but the beer is really weak. It sits on the line between good and bad.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

  • Samuel Adams Porch Rocker: It’s a Helles lager blended with lemon. At 4.5% ABV, it tastes rather syrupy. I was immediately put off after the first taste.
  • Leinenkugel Lemon Berry Shandy: This is disappointing given the label. The brewer uses blackberry juice to flavor the lemonade, which turns the flavor more towards cough syrup than, say, Lindemann’s Cassis or Kriek. It’s also 4.2%.
  • Dundee’s Shandy: I’m immediately biased because I don’t like Dundee’s beer. It’s dressed up Genny. Yes, I got through my junior year of college with the help of Dundee’s Honey Brown, but this shandy sits squarely on the line between bad and ugly. Also 4.2% ABV.

THE WRETCHED

  • Saranac Shandy: The lager-lemonade combo is even more syrupy than Sam Adams. The lemon tastes very fake, like they poured packets of Wyler’s into a vat of Karo syrup, mixed it, and then dumped it into the brewing tank. It’s 4.2%
  • Labatt Shandy: I thought that this would be tough to choke down. It wasn’t. It was worse.
  • Coors Light Summer Beer: It had all of the faint beer flavor of a Coors Light with all the phony nondescript citrus you might expect.

THE MISSING: Narragansett Del’s Shandy, Traveler Beer Illusive Traveler

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