The American big beer brands are fighting for market share in a world of less demand for bland light lagers. The mass explosion of regional craft brewers has cut into the national brands like they couldn’t have predicted. Just take a look at the craft brewers who have entered the scene in Greater Cincinnati – Rhinegheist, Mad Tree, 50 West, Rivertown, Bad Tom, Moerlein, Wiedemann, Listermann, and several more. In order to gain market share with these new competitors, the American big beer brands have introduced beer-like products to bring more non-traditional beer drinkers, like women, for example, into their fold. Last year, 2013, seemed to be the year of the cider, with introductions from Stella, and Anheuser-Busch’s Johnny Appleseed. This year seems to be the year of the Shandy, a type of beer mixed drink that has been around as long almost as beer has in the Western World, but seems to have just arrived in the U.S.
The Shandy, which usually means a 50/50 mix of beer with a fruit juice, like lemonade, originated in England as the shandygaff, in the 1850s. Back in the times when people drank beer because of fear of water quality, a shandy, with its diluted alcohol content gave workers a safe, yet refreshing drink that would not get them too blitzed to continue their work day after a lunch break. In the UK today a shandy can be a mixture of beer with lemonade or with ginger beer or gingerale.
Nowadays, the shandy has lost it’s ‘girly beer’ moniker thanks to the mass marketing the larger American beer firms have created over the last year. Cool commercials have made it ok for American men to indulge in the shandy craze, without having their masculinity questioned. We are even led to believe a cooler full of shandy can be a chic magnet.
The idea of shandys spread to the continent and ‘Biermischgetranke’, or beer mixed drinks, became popular in Germany and Austria. Every region of Germany has its specialty beer mixed with a juice, syrup, or cola. Whizz Peach, for example, is a mix of a Darmstadt brewery’s beer and a peach flavored lemonade – a peach shandy of sorts. A typical ‘Summer Shandy’ in Germany is called a Radler, but it is made with sparkling lemonade, rather than the flat American lemonade. A Greifswalder is a mix of a dark lager brewed in Meckleburg-Vorpommern and Coca-cola. It seems weird that a country who developed a beer purity law, Rhineheitsgebot, centuries ago, is so apt to mix so many different drinks with their beer.
And in Belgium, with its hundreds of different beers, they will mix anything in a beer. As a college student, backpacking across the continent, my friend Steve and I came in contact in a Brussels bar, with a mix of Belgian ale, and a peach sherbet like apertif called Avacadar. The end result tasted like an orange flavored Pepto Bismol – not one of my favorites!
And the Latin Americans have their own version of a shandy, but they’re less about lemonade, and more about tomato juice. While travelling in Guatemala last year, I came across a drink the Guatemalans love, called a Michelada. It is a 50/50 mix of light lager with clamata juice, spices, and tobasco sauce. It might sound like a disgusting marriage of flavors, but in the heat of Central America, the Michelada is actually a very refreshing and satisfying drink. It’s a bit like a Bloody Mary, but with the refreshing fizz and tang of a lager.
I remain a steadfast beer purist and somewhat an anti-shandyist. I enjoy the taste of a nice lager and find a really hoppy pale ale to be refreshing in the heat of summer. It remains to be seen if Anheuser-Bush can turn us into a Shandy Nation.