In Defense Of The Shandy

My grandmother isn't the fun-loving type of grandma you come across so often nowadays — the one who raps and knocks back daily drams of whiskey. She is quiet and stern, a churchgoing granny, who doesn't drink much at all. Save for the occasion shandy. Half a bottle of beer topped with Sprite does her just fine, especially on a hot and sunny afternoon.

Shandies are often associated with octogenarians and other lightweights. But why should they get such a bad rap when their spicier cousins, Micheladas, have been stamped with cool-kid approval? Shandies are refreshing thirst quenchers, low in alcohol and, thus, perfect for all-day sipping. The drink is said to date back, at least, to the mid-19th century.

In its native England, it's traditionally a 50/50, more or less, mixture of beer and lemonade. Of course, lemonade there refers not to the citrus drink sold at kid-manned sidewalk stands, but to a lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7UP. The drink spread to the British colonies, where it might be made with ginger beer instead of citrus-flavored soda. The Germans have their version, called the radler or "cyclist," which is attributed to a Bavarian innkeeper who served it to a crowd of bike riders. Italy, France and other countries each have their own incarnations of beer and soda drinks made to drink on a warm summer's day.

Here in the U.S., several companies have released bottled or canned shandies. The latest comes from big-small brewer, Sam Adams, which has just launched Porch Rocker, a limited edition lemon-added beer available from May through July. It's just 4.5% alcohol, so you can definitely gulp down more than one without feeling wobbly.

But I like to think the best shandies are assembled by hand. This way you can make it as weak (say, half-and-half beer and lemonade) or as strong (something closer to Britain's "lager top," a beer with a lemonade float) as you like.

And, seeing as we're doing things by hand these days, why not omit the Sprite and instead opt for something less synthetic? If you have a SodaStream – and if you don't, what on God's green earth are you waiting for? – you can build your shandy from scratch. Squeeze the juice of one lemon and one lime into a mixing glass and add a drizzle of simple syrup, to taste (say, half a cup for 1 liter of soda). Top it with your own soda water, and gently stir. Tada: you've just made your own version of English-style lemonade. Then, fill a highball or pint glass with your favorite pilsner or pale ale, either half or three-quarters of the way. Top it with your homemade Sprite and garnish with a lemon wedge or lime wheel.

Wait: you're not done yet. Get on the phone, dial up your grandma and invite her over. Set up a couple of deck chairs outside – in the shade. You know how hot she gets! Now, you're ready to enjoy a shandy the way it was intended.