While it wasn't as hot in Washington, D.C. this past weekend as it was in Houston, I was still completely invigorated by my first tart, bubbly sip of Stiegl Radler inside the DGS Delicatessen in Dupont Circle. "Radler" is the German term for what English-speakers call a shandy: beer mixed with an equal part of sparkling fruit juice—typically lemon soda or carbonated lemonade. Stiegl Radler blends sparkling grapefruit juice with a light wheat beer, making for an effervescent and refreshing beverage with an ABV of barely 3 percent.
Shandies aren't just sessionable, meaning you can drink a few in one sitting (or session) without impairing yourself too badly—they're barely beer at all. But that makes them all the more attractive in the summer months, when heat and dehydration can easily exacerbate the effects of alcohol. And as more drinkers discover the pleasures of a sweet, sparkling shandy, the beverage continues to climb in popularity.
D&T Drive Inn, which crafts its own $4 shandies with lemonade made in-house, goes through an estimated 125 to 150 a day during the heat of the summer. For a couple bucks more, you can add fresh fruit syrup to sweeten it up even further; the current flavor is blueberry.
"It's one of the most popular things we have," says general manager Jason Moore, who says the shandy's appeal has even begun to transcend seasons. "We actually tried to 86 it for a while when it got cold, and enough people wanted it that we had to put it back on the menu."
Research firm Datamonitor called 2013 the "summer of the shandy," noting that the number of new shandy products more than tripled between 2008 and 2012. "Furthermore, through the first four and a half months of 2013," Datamonitor continued, "the global new product launch numbers for shandy or radler beverages were nearly equal to the full-year launch count for 2011."
During the so-called "summer of the shandy," one of those American-brewed beers stormed the market: Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy, which SABMiller—the beer conglomerate which owns Leinenkugel—noted Wednesday in a conference call with shareholders had become "the largest USA summer seasonal, delivering double-digit growth." In response, Leinenkugel has begun experimenting with other flavors of shandies, ranging from orange with cardamom to lemon-berry—each well-received. SABMiller CEO Alan Clark calls the phenomenon "Shandymonium."
Aside from Leinenkugel—which you can try at bars such as Little Woodrow's and Buffalo Wild Wings, which have the shandy on draft—other American breweries are getting into the game. Sam Adams's lemon-laced Porch Rocker is a popular radler-style offering, as are Hoppin' Frog's Turbo Shandy and Narragansett's new Del's Lemonade Shandy.
Sadly, neither the Hoppin' Frog nor the Narragansett are available in Houston, and Texas craft breweries have been slow to jump on the shandy bandwagon. In the meantime, you can always make your own shandy at home (Draft Magazine has four excellent recipes to try), or swing by Spec's and pick up some Stiegl Radler for yourself. A four-pack of cans is $9.
Then again, perhaps Texans are simply intent on making their own version of a shandy. Jason Moore reports that his patrons at D&T Drive Inn were doing just that by ordering shandies and sangrias, then mixing the two together. The bar's response? "We added it to the menu," Moore said. "It's called a half-and-half."