How to Make a Radler (Shandy), a Great Citrus-Beer Drink to Beat the Heat

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Where I live, we pretty much wear jeans and t-shirts year-round. Sure, there's the odd hot day, and sometimes evening calls for choosing between my basic hoodie and my dress hoodie, but essentially, there's a five-degree variation in average temperature, which doesn't make for a lot of variety when it comes to wardrobe.

I recently headed back east for a bit, and was caught by surprise by a 95-degree day. Turns out there's a reason strappy sandals exist; there's a purpose for breezy sundresses. That wall of heat that hits you mid-morning and keeps pressing on, the one that doesn't back off come afternoon and even sticks around after dusk: it requires a completely different set of clothes and an artillery of extra-cooling summer drinks.

Enter the radler. Named in Munich for the cyclists who needed an especially thirst-quenching beverage on a hot day (and eventually shortened in common parlance from radlermass, or cyclist's liter), it's basically the same idea as the British shandy: a beer mixed with a soft drink such as carbonated lemonade. While many of the beers you'll find at bottle shops and bars pack a heavy alcohol punch—6 or 7 or 8 percent ABV—radlers often clock in under 3% alcohol. They're the strappy sandals of beers. So you need a pair this summer.

You can buy premixed radlers at many grocery stores, and those will sometimes do the trick, but I've been playing around with a formula for the Ultimate Radler; a radler that captures the fresh flavors of citrus that you just don't get from anything shelf-stable.

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For the lemon version, I started with Stella's standout lemonade recipe, which gets a flavor boost from the lemon rinds. Instead of the standard water dilution, it gets fizzy water instead. (Feel free to serve the soda as-is for those who don't drink beer.)

An extra-tart version of the lemonade works best when mixed with beer; you really need a pop of acidity in this drink, especially if you're using beers that are grainy or softly sweet, such as hefeweizen or dunkelweizen, or some pale ales. While the combo does work with wheat beers, I think crispness is key for this drink when the humidity is high; my favorite versions were either mild adjunct lagers, like Pacifico Clara, or refreshing pilsners. I didn't expect a hoppier beer to taste good here, but found myself loving a version made with Firestone Walker's Luponic Distortion. Part of the fun is playing around; with a pitcher of fizzy lemonade and a mixed six-pack or two, you can throw a radler-tasting party to figure out your favorites.

While many bars make their radlers half-and-half beer and mixer, my preference is a three-to-two ratio of beer to soda, which keeps the drink on the beery side and prevents it from getting too sweet.

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Which brings us to the grapefruit radler. I don't mind the canned versions I can buy at the grocery store, but they tend to be a little perfumey, with mostly grapefruit-peel flavor, not the blast of fresh juice I was looking for. It turns out that you can't just sub grapefruits in our lemon-based recipe; the result is plenty tasty as soda goes, but just too sweet to work well with beer. Melted hard candy isn't what we're going for.

Instead, the right move is to use quite a bit less sugar, plus a good splash of lemon juice, to wind up with a truly tart soda that has enough backbone to hold its own against whatever beer you throw at it. To my taste, pilsner is the winner, but that just might be the hot weather talking.