On a hot summer day, the time is right for drinking ice-cold beer from the afternoon until after sunrise. While we adore some of the newer session IPAs which are coming out, they’re not the only option for daytime boozing.
Shandy is a refreshing and tasty drink that combines beer with lemonade, ginger ale, or another carbonated beverage. This tasty tipple is perfect for hot summer days or after a long workout, and it is enjoyed by many people worldwide.
A picnic in the park, a long afternoon in a beer garden, or even a day on the beach is ideal for a shandy.
When it comes to making the perfect shandy, the type of beer you choose is essential. The right beer can enhance the taste of lemonade or ginger ale, creating a refreshing and flavorful drink that is perfect for any occasion.
However, with so many different types of beer available, it can be challenging to choose the best one for your shandy.
In this post, we will explore the different types of beer that are ideal for a shandy.
Is It a Shandy or a Radler?
It’s a debate heard in bars across the nation, is lemonade and beer a shandy or a radler? When does a shandy become a radler? What exactly is the difference between a shandy and a radler?
What Is a Shandy?
The term shandy originates from 18th century England (surprise, surprise!) where a shandygaff referred to a beer that had been mixed with champagne. Although it was considered a rich man’s drink, those who couldn’t afford to use champagne would often turn to lemonade or ginger beer.
Some historians credit the invention of a shandy to an even earlier date when King Henry VIII (the one with lots of wives!) created this concoction as a tonic in the 16th century.
Nowadays, a shandy just means any drink which has a citrus soda or other fizzy beverage added to it, although it is still traditionally a lemonade that is used, ginger beer at a push.
What Is a Radler?
The radler is a much more recent innovation and one which was born out of necessity in early 1920s Germany. Translated from German, “radler” means cyclist, and it was when a large group of cyclists was embarking on a journey to a popular small brewery just outside Munich that the radler was born.
Legend has it that over 13,000 cyclists descended on Franz Kugler’s brewery one day in 1921 and Franz was running low on beer. To avoid angering his patrons, Kugler hit on the crafty idea of adding sparkling lemon juice to the beer to make it last longer and called it the radlermass (translating as cyclist liter), hence the radler was born.
Not only did this new drink taste great, but at just 2.5% ABV it enabled the cyclists to enjoy a pint or two and still carry on their way.
What makes the term so confusing is the way many modern brewers use them interchangeably.
Many would argue a modern shandy uses lemonade as its juice, and just lemonade if we are being strict about it. Whereas with radlers, brewers have tended to get more inventive and use any type of citrus or other fruits, with some of the latest radlers even using iced tea.
The radler is German and will often be a premixed beer cocktail, while a shandy hails from the UK and uses draft or bottled beer which can be mixed with the lemonade when serving.
Try asking for a radler in your average British pub and you will be met with a look of bewilderment and may need to explain “it’s like a shandy!” simply to be asked, “well why didn’t you order one of them?”.
Personally, as somebody of English origin, I would argue a shandy is always something that is mixed by the beer drinker or barman themselves, while a radler is normally either brewed specifically as a radler or mixed at the brewery.
What Beers Are Used to Craft a Shandy or a Radler?
Both shandies and radlers can use any type of beer depending on your personal preference. Normally the summer cocktails known as radlers which hail from Germany would use a pilsner, hefeweizen, blonde ale, or a light lager.
The Brits, on the other hand, would normally use whichever beer was available to them on draft. Typically this would be an English-style bitter with the sweetness of the lemonade taking away some of that bitterness and not just making the beer more drinkable but also giving it a much lower ABV for those hot summer afternoons of drinking.
Below we look at the six most commonly used beer styles for a shandy or a radler, it’s worth pointing out that you can try experimenting with other styles to see which you prefer, although darker beers and porters don’t tend to work too well (unless, of course, you use the original English recipe for a shandy with champagne, and then a Guinness and Champagne mix makes the traditional British “cocktail” of a Black Velvet!).
Lager is a popular beer style that is light, crisp, and refreshing. It is brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast at cooler temperatures, resulting in a clean taste that is perfect for mixing with lemonade or ginger ale.
When choosing a lager for a shandy, go for the lighter varieties like pilsner or helles. These beers have a subtle flavor that blends well with the sweetness of lemonade or ginger ale.
Wheat beer, also known as Weissbier or Witbier, is another great option for a shandy. This beer is brewed using a high percentage of wheat and is characterized by its light and fruity flavor.
Wheat beer has a cloudy appearance due to the suspended yeast, giving it a unique texture that is perfect for mixing with lemonade or ginger ale.
Blonde ale is a light and easy-to-drink beer that is perfect for a shandy. It is brewed using pale malt and has a low bitterness, making it an ideal option for those who prefer a milder taste.
Blonde ale also has a subtle sweetness that complements the lemonade or ginger ale perfectly, creating a refreshing and delicious drink.
Session IPA is a type of beer that is brewed with a lower alcohol content, making it perfect for drinking throughout the day. This beer has a hoppy flavor that adds bitterness to the shandy, creating a balanced and refreshing taste.
Session IPA is an excellent choice for those who prefer a slightly more complex taste in their shandy.
Fruit beer is a type of beer that is brewed with fruit flavors like raspberry, cherry, or grapefruit. This beer adds a fruity and refreshing taste to the shandy, making it a great option for those who love a sweeter taste.
When choosing a fruit beer for a shandy, go for the lighter varieties that are not overly sweet, as this can overpower the lemonade or ginger ale.
English Bitter or ESB
A British pub classic, there’s nothing better that those Brit beer lovers enjoy on a hot summer afternoon than a traditional (i.e brown) bitter mixed with lemonade to make a pint of shandy.
The sweetness of the lemonade can take away much of the bitterness, although try not to choose an ESB which is too malty as those malt flavors can clash with the citrus of the mixer. Think Tetley bitter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, and Morland’s Speckled Hen, all of which can be sourced from a good beer merchant in the US.
In England, pouring a shandy using one of the handpulls when an ale’s on cask can almost be an art form, with plenty of practice required to avoid a glass of just lemonade and beer foam!
The 10 Best Craft Shandies and Radlers
A more recent innovation in the world of shandy is that many craft brewers have decided to brew or mix their own shandy beer or radlers using various citrus juices, including the time-honored lemon soda or even using fresh fruit.
These pre-packaged beers are ideal for the summer, or for packing on your next picnic or fishing trip.
Great Divide Roadie by Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver
- ABV 4.2%
A grapefruit radler, this refreshing beer was inspired by Great Divide’s roots in the Colorado cycling community and the founder and owner Brian Dunn’s passion for cycling.
Brewed with natural grapefruit puree, it pours a somewhat hazy golden hue with just a mildly bitter finish that leaves you wanting more.
And best of all, at only 4.2% ABV, you can enjoy a couple of pints before you start to fall off your bicycle.
Jack’s Abby Blood Orange Wheat by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers, Framingham, MA
- ABV 4.0%
First produced for Jack’s Abby’s beer hall, this wheat lager proved so popular that it’s now brewed all-year round and tinned for shipping.
Blood orange oils spark bright fruity flavors which are complemented by the sweet taste of wheat, giving the beer a refreshing taste with a somewhat tangy finish.
Goose Island 312 Lemonade Shandy by Goose Island Beer Co, Chicago, IL
- ABV 4.2%
Released as a seasonal beer every summer, 312 Lemonade Shandy takes Goose Island’s popular 312 Urban Wheat Ale and boosts it with a citrus backbone.
Pouring a dark yellow with a slight haze, the wheat ale has been flavored with Italian lemon ice for a beer that is lemony, crisp, and refreshing with every sip. The blend of hops in the beer (Millenium, Cascade, and Hallertau) gives this shandy a more complex profile than many just lager shandies.
Saugatuck Blueberry Lemonade Shandy by Saugatuck Brewing Co, Douglas, MI
- ABV 5.0%
Although citrus is the flavor that usually dominates a shandy, occasionally brewers like to mix it up a little and throw in an unexpected extra flavor. This Blueberry Lemonade Shandy is the perfect example of that, with the lemonade helping to quench your thirst while the blueberry twist finishes off the beer with a refreshing sweeter taste.
With a low IBU of 10, it’s an easy-to-drink beer but be warned that at 5% ABV it’s starting to step out of that shandy low alcohol range.
Paulaner Grapefruit Radler by Paulaner Brauerei, Munich, Germany
- ABV 4.2%
Why not try a radler/shandy from the country that invented the radler?
This radler begins with a base of real beer, Paulaner’s Muchner lager, with the addition of a hazy grapefruit taste, creating a German lager drink that is crisp and more refreshing for those warmer days.
House Beer Grapefruit Radler by House Beer, Les Olivos, CA
- ABV 4.0%
A few years back, House Beer entered the craft beer Market by brewing just one beer, a simple pale lager with the moniker and simple packaging of House Beer – reminiscent of the generic BEER craze of the late 70s/80s.
Now, this California-based brewer has introduced the 4% ABV Grapefruit Radler as a variant of the basic theme. Still under the House Beer branding, it’s a simple no-fuss easy-to-drink beer that gets delicate but tangy citrus notes from the addition of fresh grapefruit juice.
Tangie Shandy by Rheingeist Brewery, Cincinnati
- ABV 4.2%
With a name like Rheingeist, you would be forgiven for thinking this is another German-brewed radler producer, but it actually hails from Cincinnati and is one of the most exciting new microbreweries of the last 20 years in the midwest.
In contrast to most shandies which start with a lager, Tangie Shandy uses a golden ale to which tangerine and lemon add a juicy blast of citrus goodness. A seasonal brew, it’s only available on draft throughout the spring and summer months, but Rheingeist’s distribution network is growing all the time.
Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy by Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Chippewa Falls, WI
- ABV 4.2%
Sticking to time-honored German brewing traditions, this shandy is based on a recipe from the original Munich shandy served up by Franz Kugel all those years ago.
They take a traditional Weiss beer and mix it with a natural lemonade flavor for that refreshing taste of a summer beer. An award-winning brew, you can taste sweet wheat and acidic notes along with a vibrant lemon flavor.
Widmer Brothers Hefe Shandy by Widmer Brothers, Portland, Oregon
This brewery reduced the ABV slightly of their classic Hefeweizen beer and added lemon drops hops, a recently develop hop varietal, plus a small amount of “natural lemonade flavor”.
The result is a murky brew with a slight haze that has a bold citrus aroma and a flavor that tastes authentically natural rather than artificially chemical.
Poolside Peach Tea Radler by Old Yale Brewing Co, Chilliwack, BC
- 4.0% ABV
Never afraid of trying something new, the guys at Old Yale Brewing now produce one of the first iced tea radlers/shandies on the market.
They take an easy-drinking Golden Ale and simply steep it with a Stonefruit Tea blend which gives the full flavors of an iced tea with just a hint of sweetness to this beer cocktail.
They even produce a winter “shandy” which uses a Spiced Orange Chai blend perfect for those cooler fall and winter evenings sat around a campfire.
And watch out, as this summer they will be releasing a Backyard Lemon Tea radler using a lemon herbal tea blend, perfect for those backyard grill sessions of the summer.
In conclusion, the best beer for shandy depends on personal preference, but lager, wheat beer, blonde ale, session IPA, and fruit beer are all excellent choices.
When making a shandy, it is essential to use a beer that complements the lemonade or ginger ale, creating a refreshing and delicious drink that is perfect for any occasion.
Failing that, you could always try one of the many different pre-mixed shandies or radlers which are released every summer. They certainly make a change from the hard seltzers!