A friend sent me a text recently. It was short, it was sharp and it accused me of betraying my (proudly) northern roots. Why? Because, on a recent trip to the pub, I’d had the audacity — and sheer southern-ness — to order a pint of lager shandy.
This, I was told, was simply unacceptable. But I won’t hear it. Whether you’re from Stockton-on-Tees or Staines-upon-Thames, there is never, ever anything wrong with ordering a shandy — especially come summertime. It’s more laid-back than a lager, more refreshing than an Aperol Spritz and it’s tastier than almost any beer served on its own (there, we said it).
And we’ll say it again. Because shandy is a wonderful, bubbly thing. It’s a carbonated collision of your youth and adulthood; lemonade and lager joining forces in a celebration of all things boozy and sweet. It’s your softer-strength friend for the morning after the night before. It’s a pint — but one associated with brunch-ups rather than punch-ups. It’s day drinking at its fizziest.
We’re also nearing the drink’s centenary. The first true lemonade-lager shandy was mixed in 1922, when Bavarian tavern owner Franz Xaver Kugler quenched a pubful of thirsty cyclists by diluting down his beer. He called this invention a ‘Radler’ — the German word for the bicycle. ‘Shandy’ itself derives from ‘Shandy gaff’, a Victorian blend of beer and ginger ale.
But I’ll stick with lemonade, thank you very much. And I’ve sampled my fair share. Because, over the years, I’ve poured lager, lemonade and time into perfecting this sparkling drink (away from judgemental northern eyes, of course). And there’s a certain alchemy to the supreme shandy. Fundamentally, you need a base of blonde lager — either a Pilsner or Helles — mixed with lemonade or lemon-lime soda. But there are some choice tweaks to be made.
First up, your beer. As a rule of thumb, you should be looking for an ABV of between 4% and 5%. And, if you’re sticking to the simple, traditional recipe, you can’t do better than Camden Hells. It’s easy to get a hold of and, despite the name, it’s actually a lovechild of both the Helles and Pilsner styles. It ticks all the bubbly boxes.
"It’s a carbonated collision of your youth and adulthood..."
Other acceptable alternatives — each with their own fruity, malty merits — include BrewDog’s almost-herbal Lost Lager, Five Points Pils and Lost & Grounded Helles.
But it doesn’t have to be lager. Pale ales can also make magnificent shandies. They’re slightly more flavourful and are packed with hops — which can kickstart those all-important citrus flavours before you even add your lemonade. Ask for the hoppiest ale your local taproom or microbrewery has to offer — and you’ll reap the rewards. Or, if you’re not lucky enough to live in a craft brewing capital, buy in some bottles of Meantime’s London Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada American Pale Ale or Kernel’s ‘Foeder Beer’ — a spin on a Belgian Pale Ale that’s equal parts cloudy and citrusy.
Which brings us to the lemonade. Tart and tangy, it’s the stuff that makes up half of your shandy (always go 50/50) — so it pays to pick out the best. I’d always advise people to steer clear of anything too cheap, or lemonades with artificial colourings or sugar substitutes. It also needs to be carbonated, although that should go without saying. You want a lemonade with a lot of clout and a bit of cloud — that means there’s actual zest swirling around in there, which will give your pint an extra pulpy punch.
There are several stellar options on this front. Fentiman’s Victorian Lemonade, Fever-Tree’s Sicilian Lemonade and Belvoir’s Freshly Squeezed Lemonade all do a handsome job. San Pellegrino’s foil-capped cans of ‘Limonata’ may look suitably summery, but they’re actually chock full of sugar and sweeteners that’ll overpower the beer. Instead of cans or plastic, always go for glass bottles — and that goes for your beer, too.
Follow these rules and you’ll pour the perfect shandy every time. Now go forth and experiment for yourself — because the summer of shandy is upon us. (Yes, even if you’re northern).