- Ron Bechtol
The shandygaff sprang forth in mid-19th century Germany as perhaps the first beer cocktail — a one-to-one mix of beer and ginger beer or ale. There’s evidence that a similar mix also evolved in the UK around the same time, and later versions were made with lemonade.
Whatever its origins, the name of this summery cooler was eventually shortened to the shandy, the name by which it’s known today.
Seasonal beers have long been a part of brewing evolution, and European brewers, sensing an opportunity, began bottling brews with the flavorings built in. These augmented beers were typically lower in alcohol and made for easy summertime drinking — a coupling that eventual production in cans only served to reinforce.
In one of those believe-it-or-not origin stories, Germany also gave birth to yet another summery beer concoction: the radlermass. Originally conceived as a cyclist’s quaff, this one was invented in 1922 by an innkeeper south of Munich whose establishment was on a bike trail he helped create.
One day, overwhelmed by the demands of thirsty cyclists, he added lemon soda to his beer to stretch the supply, and the rest is history. This term, too, was eventually shortened. It became the radler, and the line between it and the shandy eventually began to blur.
And now, here we are: in the grip of a serious summer. Never one to take the easy route when a complication can be had, I decided to return to the radlers and shandies of yore and mix my own from largely local ingredients.
- Ron Bechtol
During the course of my investigation, I mixed up a radler — with actual cycling associations — made with strictly San Antonio ingredients: Highwheel Betty, a German-style kolsch ale made by Dorcol Distilling & Brewing, and Limoncito, a lemon and lime soda produced by Southside Bottling Works. Tradition suggests six ounces of each in a tall glass, but I preferred seven ounces beer to the soda’s five. To play against Limoncito’s honey component, a squeeze of non-traditional lime doesn’t hurt either. It slips down at a peloton’s pace.
Grapefruit shandy-radler are also easy to knock back in the summer heat, and I found there are a couple of ways you can go here.
One is to dose your beer of choice with an equal part grapefruit soda. Fancy options include the bitter San Pellegrino version. Mexico’s Jarritos is fine, too. But to go totally local, make your own grapefruitade from Texas ruby reds and simple syrup.
Here’s how: Add one and a half ounces of fresh grapefruit juice to an ice-filled shaker, followed by an ounce of simple syrup and three ounces of water. Shake, strain into a pilsner glass and top off with beer. I asked Jason Davis of Freetail Brewing Co. and TJ Miller of Ranger Creek Brewing which local beers would make a good foil. Based on their suggestions, I selected the Freetail Bat Outta Helles Lager, but I would be equally happy with Ranger Creek’s San Antonio Lager. Yup, another squeeze of lime perked up the proceedings.
Ginger and Wheat
Inspired by the original shandygaff recipe, I looked for a different style of beer to go with a ginger brew I had on hand, the actually alcoholic — many aren’t — Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer, a Scottish product. Your results, as they say, may vary, depending on which ginger beer or ale you use. And they may also vary if you choose Alamo Beer Co.’s Luna Blanca White, a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange peel, over Ranger Creek’s Love-Struck Hefe, a German-style wheat beer. Either works well, and the recipe can be scaled up to work with a pitcher.
Add four ounces of ginger beer or ale to a tall, ice-filled rocks glass. Drop in a few lemon slices and mint sprigs and top with as much of a 12-ounce can of beer as fits. Finish the cocktail with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, and remember, like a michelada, you can add more beer as you drink.
Speaking of micheladas, I also played around with a shandy in the style of our neighbor to the south. That one took the form of the more rudimentary chelada — no tomato or other additions to get in the way. Simply add mix two ounces of lemon juice and a couple pinches of salt into a 12-ounce beer. I used Freetail’s Puro Pils for a puckery, San Anto vibe, but any of the above ales and lagers can be played with for a cross-cultural experience. For an even more puro product, add a little Tajin to the salted rim.
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