Strange Brew

Let me say upfront that during my lifetime I have introduced my family members to addictive substances of one kind or another.  Son&Heir is addicted to Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Daughter cannot resist Fry’s Turkish Delight, and so on.

But probably no other addictive substance has been so fully embraced by the entire family as the beer shandy.  It’s never been an American thing, but all over the British Empire it is consumed by the gallon, especially in hot countries like in Africa, India or Australia — and in summertime Britishland, it’s a staple.

Okay, Kim, my Murkin Readers ask, what is this strangely-named beverage?

Literally, it’s quite sample:  lager mixed half and half with “lemonade” (actually, Sprite or 7-Up).

Now before everyone heads to the john for some upchuck, let me give you a little case history.

I was walking though Covent Garden with Connie lo those many years ago, and it was quite a warm day.  So we stopped at a corner store (7-11 equivalent) and were browsing through the drinks fridge when I saw this:

“You have to try this,” I said.
“What is it?” asked my American wife.
“Beer and… 7-Up.”
“Tell you what.  I’m getting one for myself.  Have a sip, and if you like it, I’ll get you one for yourself.”
[tentative sip], then “Oh my God!  Why have you never made one of these for me before?
And we ended up having two with our sausage rolls, and getting a six-pack for the hotel room.

When we introduced our kids to the shandy back home, there was much joy and praise-singing of how wonderful we parents were, and it became a staple drink whenever we went over to Britishland, as well as at home.  (Every time I went to out Brit food store, I had to bring back a six-pack or two — until that got too expensive and I started mixing our own.)

If 7-Up/Sprite is too sweet for your taste, then use ginger beer or even ginger ale instead.

The beauty of the shandy is a many-splendored thing, so to speak.  It has low alcohol content, and if you mix it yourself, you can alter its strength simply by changing the formula to suit your taste.  (I myself prefer a 30-40% beer mix, simply so I can drink more of it.)  And it is an excellent thirst-quencher on a hot day.

Anyway, I told you all that so I can tell you this.

Of course, in this age of recipe tinkering, to the extent where we now get strawberry-flavored beer and chocolate-flavored vodka (okay, now you can go and throw up), it would only be a matter of time before some assholes decided to screw with the venerable beer shandy.  And indeed they have:

Shandy is currently undergoing an unlikely revival: part of a boom in ‘nolo’ (ie no or low-alcohol) beers, wines and spirits that has seen sales rise 50 per cent on this time last year.
It didn’t take long for canny manufacturers to realise they had a lucrative market on their hands.

And you can read the results for yourself.  (My favorite:  “It reminds me of the inside of a grandmother’s handbag — a distillation of scented tissues, Parma violet sweets and talcum powder.”)

You’re better off sticking with the classic mix:  ordinary lager (or a darker beer like a red ale, if your taste runs that way), and 7-Up (Sprite is too sweet, even for me) or Canada Dry ginger ale.  And stay away from the so-called “light” beers, because they don’t need to be watered down any more.  Ditto any craft beers, because as with any premium drink, diluting it takes away most of its character.

Amazingly, the beer I’ve found that mixes best with 7-Up is an old favorite of many people, Pabst Blue Ribbon.  (I wouldn’t drink PBR by itself for a bet, but it makes a better-than-average shandy, and it’s cheap too.)  So go ahead:  have some fun.

And don’t come running to me if, like my family, you end up semi-addicted.


  1. Very similar to the German Radler (Bicycle Rider), a concoction of wheat beer and light white lemonade (or 7-Up, Sprite, etc.)

    We were introduced to Radlers by SWMBO’s relatives during a summer visit to Bavaria. I soon found there’s no better way to restore the will to live after mowing the Florida Rancho.

    And they are indeed addictive.

  2. Similarly, but different, about 25 years ago I met a client at the pool in a very upscale golf community and he asked if I wanted a “Half n Half”? I said yeah, not knowing what it was. It was a tall glass of ice cubes with half ice tea and half lemonade. I took a sip and was smitten. Now, I rarely drink iced tea any other way. I’ve tried some of the other flavored teas in the past couple years and don’t care for them, but the lemonade tea gets me every time. Try it and see.

    1. Those are called Arnold Palmers in my area. They’re delightful. The wife loves them, too.

    1. As a Scot-Murican: Oh, please, Gawd, no.

      Haggis is only suitable as a reason for extraordinary quantities of Highland Scotch.

      1. As an American descendant of Clan Gunn, I have to defend haggis. It’s delicious served with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips), and accompanied with a fine scots ale. (Save the Highland Park single malt for desert.)
        And Kim, I’ll add to your Strange Brew song reference with Johnny Russell’s Red Necks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer. (First thing I thought of when I saw your favorite mix.)

  3. That’s part of what got me drinking the German wheat beers – the important part is a slice of lemon, smashed into the bottom of the tall glass before pouring. Lovely drink for Florida in the summer.

    For that matter, fruit-with-beer has a lot of nice variations. The classic is Hoegaarden white ale + Framboise lambic (intensely raspberry-flavored to the point where you can smell it across the bar when opened), also known as a “Dirty Ho.”

    1. Oh gawd, a Lambic.

      Just one of the many reasons Belgians should be expunged from the face of the Earth.


  4. A friend mixed me one of those after a hot range day. It was quite refreshing. I hadn’t heard the name, shandy, before, though. I’ll let him know what he’s onto.

  5. A couple of my cousins love shandys. Unfortunately, I don’t care for citrus or sweet in my beer. I have been mocked (and mocked myself) because the beers that taste “right” to me are the IPAs, much beloved by pretentious hipsters talking about refined palates and such. To me, beer no longer tastes “right” unless it’s bitter and full of hopps flavor.
    Yes, I own and enjoy a 6.5 Creedmore as well. At least I won’t ever grow a man bun, and I hate skinny jeans….

  6. Unaware of what exactly a shandy is — albeit aware it exists — I’ve been making something the like myself. Not being a fan of hops-y taste myself, I’ve been mixing dry red wine — specifically box merlot — with (because I’m diabetic) Diet Vernor’s Ginger Ale for about twenty years.

  7. Way back in the early 70’s, I spent a couple of weeks on my grandfather’s survey team (rod man, as it were). As a 15-year old working with a crew of older, mostly black, laborers, I sort of stood out. That is, until I introduced them to the wonderful libation known as a Lemon Malty Pop (Schlitz Malt Liquor and Lemonade) as the end-of-shift drink. We’d go into a convenience store and get a six pack of SML and a 16 oz fountain cups, add a little ice and a few ounces of the fountain lemonade first so the beer wouldn’t foam up, top off all the cups with the SML and head on back to the yard. Refreshing with a decent buzz.

    Haven’t had one in 30+ years, but i might go looking for one today after I mow the lawn.

  8. Is this at all similar to Flying Fish? Coz I grab a couple of those together with a kilo of biltong about once a week from my local South African butcher.

  9. Leinenkugel makes a pretty good one. My personal favorites are Harpoon’s UFO, which is make with grapefruit juice, and Shiner’s made with prickly pear. The Harpoon is hard to find around here, and annoyingly, Shiner no longer packages the prickly pear on its own, you have to buy it in a mixed 6 pack.

  10. I’ve been very skeptical about fruity fru-fru “malt beverages” …
    As I have Amstel Light & sugar free Canada Dry ginger ale (prefer less sweet) in the fridge right now … I just may have to try this.

    @Mark Alger … like you, I too am not a fan of overly hopped brews. I just finished a 6pack of Smithwick’s Irish red ale. Hmmm. I prefer Murphy’s over Guinness. IPAs to my taste buds are shit. If a brew’s IBU rating gets much above 35, maybe 40 … that’s not for me. There’s a chain of package stores in my neck of the woods called Binny’s … they sell this vile swill called Hop Stupid. I has a taste, once. Almost made me retch.

    Now … gimme a Mogen David & Seltzer spritz any hot summer day and I’m a Happy Camper.

  11. I keep cans of cheap carbonated, unflavored, unsweetened water in the fridge to mix with my scotch every evening or so. On real hot days we always have a box of Bota Box Cabernet Sauvignon, three liters of decent table white wine and I mix that with no ice half and half soda water and wine, it’s kind of pleasant for a post lawn mowing drink.

    As for the beers, I used to like some of the non lite American beers but something happened to them over the years and now to my ability to taste they seem to have a cat piss smell and flavor and as for the lite I prefer water. Every month or so I pick up a six pack of German beer and of course it is near as good as I had my three years with the Krauts in the late 1960’s.

  12. Grew up in a Brit centric community down in S. America. There were zero restrictions on the purchase of alcohol by children and I distinctly remember getting Shandy from about age 12 after rugby games at the school (nothing like it for a hot sweaty and dirty bunch of hooligans).

    Was common for dad to hand over some cash and tell me to go to the corner store (there was one just about every corner within 4 blocks of any house or apartment), and I would hustle down and bring back a nice chilled litre of beer ( or wine or whisky as the master of the house so disposed).

    Funny thing is that none of us kids were particularly obsessive about alcohol, all of us grew up getting a taste of pretty much any drink at home, so there was no mystique when turning 18 (technically the legal drinking age in that country). Only in Puritan centric U.S.A. is there such a silly stricture on alcohol. If all were familiar with it as children, there would be little attraction or need for such laws at all.

    1. More Southern Baptist than Puritan, TP.

      I was raised Catholic and as far back as I can remember, my dad would give me a swig of his beer – or sometimes whiskey – whenever I asked. Within reason, of course.

      When I turned adult, alcohol held no mystery for me except trying new brands that were not available where I lived as a child.

      Coors beer was one of the biggest disappointments of my young life.

  13. Ginger beer and whiskey, about 80:20. Excellent.
    A friend of mine introduced me to the budget-priced Potter’s Special Blend and Lauder’s Scotch. Potter’s is a sipping whiskey. Lauder’s, which is a little more expensive than Potter’s, not so much, so that’s what goes into the ginger beer.

  14. “Black and tan” . About equal measures of stout and beer
    “Portagaff” About equal measures of stout and lemonade

    Avoid the sickly sweet USA lemonades

  15. “It’s never been an American thing…”

    It is now. Shandys take up a significant part of the beer section at my supermarket. I can’t get Leinenkugel beer because the shelf space is taken up with Leinenkugel shandy.

  16. When I was 17 I spent the summer in Salzburg, Austria and often whiled away the afternoon drinking wheat beer and lemonade Radlers at a cafe on Mirabellplatz, these days I often enjoy Paulaner Hefeweisen mixed with lemonade or Squirt. Once in a while my friend who owns a beer distributorship will manage to get me a case of Stiegl Goldbrau which when mixed takes me right back to those days in Salzburg.

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