Want a shandy? Try mixing one up yourself
June 28, 2012
Some people think that a shandy is the perfect summer drink. I am not one of those people. The argument in favor almost always stresses the thirst quenching properties, which is fine; I'll grant that these concoctions can quench a thirst. My only argument against is the dire taste. A shandy is, most often, lemonade mixed with a beer. Lemonade and beer are not anything like peanut butter and chocolate. These two great tastes do not really belong together in my mind. But, perhaps I've just never had a decent one? Well, I've just spent a hot month of moving and mowing and painting — and tasting shandies to find out.
My first impression was that they aren't all that easy to find ready-made on beer shelves. There are a few, but it takes some looking, and many favorite craft brewers aren't bothering with these. Why? Well, they obviously don't want to ruin one of their finely-crafted, perfectly good beers by dumping a load of lemonade in it. There are some, though. Not surprisingly, they're generally from brewers some might accuse of having loads of rubbish beer already on hand. There's no need to even mention these.
Looking at a few that I expect a little more from, then, I grabbed a Saranac Shandy. Dire. For me, everything that's wrong with this horrible invention — I absolutely refuse to call shandy a style of beer. Entirely too sweet and lemony — it tastes like a bad beer, which it may well not have been originally, mixed with too much bad lemonade. This was almost enough to halt the experiment at day one. Sam Adams has the Porch Rocker. You can generally count on these guys to supply a very decent attempt at any kind of beer. Well, it is slightly less over the top with the lemonade, but we're not there yet. Leinenkugel must be the biggest Shandy producer around, and is the easiest to find. And, it's not horrid. A bit more of the beer comes through in the flavor, anyway. These aren't the only brewers, and there will be more out there this summer, but these all can easily be improved upon with little or no effort from a thirsty drinker.
The problem — well, among the problems — with shandy for me is the overwhelming lemonade flavor. You, or any bartender, can rectify that just by foregoing the pre-made bottles and mixing them by hand. The standard US shandy recipe tends toward a 50/50 mixture of beer to lemonade. That's a ridiculously high proportion. Just cutting it back to 25-30% lemon and using a decent wheat beer — you don't need the best beer since you're just ruining it anyway — makes a huge difference. You still want some beer flavor, right? Otherwise, just have the lemonade. Another big improvement is using a carbonated lemon/lime soda instead of lemonade. 7-up or Sprite is fine, but some of those less sweet, imported bottles would work much better. Maybe the best option is to get away from the lemon altogether. I've heard Germans like to mix cola in one of their versions, but I can't get my head around that one at all. Brits use a bit of ginger beer, which actually isn't too bad. I much prefer that version to a lemon based, and ginger beer is easy enough to find these days. They also sometimes use cider, calling it a snakebite. Some rappers have made beer with orange juice a minor sensation, but I would severely limit the amount of juice — or, even better, eliminate it entirely.
Another idea that is gaining popularity is making cocktails with beer. This obviously adds more alcohol to the drink, which may remove the attraction for some drinkers, but the result is generally more palatable and still refreshing. A simple one that is most like a shandy, but levels upon levels better, is just mixing in champagne. Bartenders are getting creative with these cocktails since they are becoming the new rage, but they are usually based on a simple drink you're already familiar with, such as a G&T or a Vodka 7.
I prefer my beer to be pure, unadulterated and tasting like beer. I'd prefer even a poor beer over a great shandy. But, if your palate likes the flavor combination and you want the lower alcohol and refreshing qualities of a shandy, I would advise steering clear of any pre-made and making the drink by hand. Even the best of the bottled remind me of some evil concoction meant as a small child's 'training' beer. These are obviously not good for children, and why an adult would want one is beyond me.