I first discovered the joy of the shandy in Oxford, England. I was studying Shakespearean tragedies at Hertford College, and between marathon sessions in the Bodleian Library, the other students and I played ultimate Frisbee in the park near the River Cherwell.
After an early afternoon Frisbee match, an American student who’d studied in Oxford the previous summer said, “Let’s get a British Gatorade.”
Curious, we followed him into the King’s Arms, a classic British pub first opened in 1607, just one year after the first performance of Macbeth.
The American student asked for a round of shandies, and I watched dubiously as the gap-toothed bartender filled a nonic pint glass half full of cask beer, then topped it off with sparkling lemonade.
We raised our glasses and I took my first sip of a proper British shandy. It was so delightful I had three before we left the King’s Arms that afternoon. The bready malts and mellow English hops of the ale mixed wonderfully with the saccharine tartness of the sparkling lemonade.
While my head told me the combination of beer and lemonade shouldn’t work, my mouth told me otherwise.
As we head into Labor Day weekend, summer’s final hurrah, let’s turn to the shandy to squeeze the last sweet drops out of another great Maine summer.
The term shandy, also known as a radler in Germany, is used to refer to any drink where beer is mixed with a sparkling beverage, classically lemonade or ginger beer, and now, according to many message boards on the internet, the current popular choice in Western Europe is Fresca.
Maine brewers offer a number of great beer choices to use in a shandy. Generally, a light beer such as a lager works well in a shandy, but in my research, I found that to kick up the beer flavor in this drink, a clean American ale is also a good option.
One afternoon this summer, I gathered some friends at Fort Williams Park to test out different combinations of shandies made with Maine beer.
For beer, I picked up Dirigo Lager from Dirigo Brewing Co. This Helles lager is a remarkably clean German-style lager that I knew would be refreshing in a beer cocktail. I also grabbed a four-pack of Daymark from Rising Tide Brewing Co. This American ale is near perfect for its light malt backbone and crisp, drinkable American hops.
For mixers, I picked up sparkling lemonade, ginger beer and some Fresca.
Here’s what I discovered from our tasting of these two Maine beers mixed with the three different soft drinks: Everyone found something they loved along the way.
The descriptors “refreshing,” “delicious,” and “oh, that’s nice” were bandied about all afternoon as sailboats glided past Portland Head Light.
The crisp Dirigo Lager mixed with equal parts Lemmy Sparkling Lemonade was absolutely thirst quenching in the summer heat. The tart lemon flavors and cane sugar shone bright over the cracker notes from the lager.
The combination of Rising Tide’s Daymark ale and Bedford’s Ginger Beer was hands down my favorite. The flavor was an effervescent summertime dream. Daymark provided a backbone of spicy grain notes from the use of local rye, along with bright citrus notes from the Columbus and Centennial hops, while the ginger beer packed a wallop of spicy ginger tang.
Here’s the deal with the Fresca shandies: If the tippler liked Fresca, he or she liked the resulting shandy. I do not enjoy Fresca; ipso facto, I didn’t enjoy any combination that involved this aspartame-forward soft drink.
My overall takeaway from the tasting is that it takes a couple tries before you find the perfect beer-to-mixer combination to fit your individual palate, but if you keep trying, shandy elation awaits.
TRY THESE MAINE LAGERS: Dirigo Lager, Dirigo Brewing; Wicked Bueno, Banded Horn Brewing; Wooly Bugger Pils, Marsh Island Brewing; Machine Czech Pilz, Bunker Brewing
TRY THESE MAINE ALES: Daymark, Rising Tide Brewing; Peeper, Maine Beer Co.; Tributary Pale Ale, Tributary Brewing; Portland Pale Ale, Lone Pine Brewing
TRY THESE SPARKLING DRINKS: Lemmy Sparkling Lemonade, Jones Lemon Lime Cane Sugar Soda, Maine Root Ginger Brew, Bedford’s Ginger Beer, Fresca
MIX RATIO: A classic shandy is a one-to-one beer-to-mixer ratio; however, mix according to your palate. If you’re looking for more beer flavor, cut back on the soft drink and vice versa.
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Brews & BBQ with Yes Brewing
4 to 8 p.m. Friday, 8 Stevens Ave., Westbrook. $20 for food ticket, pay-as-you-go beer. Facebook.
This beer and food event benefits the Downtown Westbrook Coalition and offers a great opportunity to get to know the newly opened Yes Brewing. Yes Brewing is focusing on finely crafted brews that use outside-the-box ingredients like fresh mint and jalapeno in its IPAs. It’s a great addition to a city that just keeps getting cooler. Barbecue meats, wine and sangria provided by Mister Bagel and sides from River’s Edge Deli. Food served until 7 p.m.
Skowhegan Craft Brew Festival
3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, historic downtown Skowhegan. $60 VIP, $40 general admission. Facebook.
Skowhegan’s annual brewfest looks to be a celebration of the artisanal movement in this mill city. In addition to ever-flowing beer, patrons can nosh on farm-to-table eats and buy locally made crafts. Expect beer from area breweries, like Bigelow Brewing and Oak Pond Brewing, along with a number of Maine and New England breweries. Festival-goers can also tour the Somerset Grist Mill where Maine grains are processed for brewing. Also, expect live music and tours of the Langlais Art Trail.