The Shandy: Amusement or Abomination?

Shandy with Avery Brewing Joe's Pilsner
Shandy with Avery Brewing Joe's Pilsner

Whenever folks start talking about favorite summer beers, someone inevitably mentions the shandy and causes me to break into hives and get the dry heaves. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the general concept of the shandy - a sparkling, refreshing, adult beverage with a low ABV sounds perfect for long summer days grilling and playing in the hot sun. In theory, a combination of beer and soda makes some sense, but in practice, those pre-made, bottled things labeled “shandy” have not just been disappointing but have proven themselves to be down-right offensive. They are to this beer geek what I imagine wine coolers are to a studied sommelier: an abomination that shall not be mentioned without fear of awakening a terrible beast prone to fiery lectures.

And yet, the shandy lives on. Could it be that behind those sickly sweet, artificially flavored monstrosities there really was something worth a sip? Perhaps mixing a decent beer with a nice soda would yield something enjoyable? I headed to the “lab,” and after some lengthy and harrowing experimentation, I think I can offer you a few respectable options.

Pilsner + Lemon Soda

This is a classic shandy recipe. Fill a glass half full of pilsner and then top it off with a lemon soda. I favor the beer by leaning more toward a 70/30 split than the traditional 50/50 ratio, but that might be a personal problem. Someone on the Internet wrote that a lemon-lime soda from one of America’s leading pop manufacturers would work, but that was a terrible lie deserving punishment by an international tribunal. The result was syrupy sweet and just as awful as those bottled shandies I live to hate. For this mix, you really want something closer to a sparkling lemonade for the soda. I used the San Pellegrino Limonata with Joe’s Pilsner from Avery Brewing Company. It’s tasty.


Witbier + Orange Soda

This match is a no-brainer. Remember those folks who fancy a slice of orange in a Blue Moon? Well, there you go. Fill a glass about half full of Witbier, and top it off with orange soda. Again, the quality of the soda is key. You want a drink that contains orange juice and not just a drink that’s colored orange. For beer, I used the 2013 NYIBC winner, Martens Witte. It has the great merit of coming in a can, so it can travel with you to those parks, beaches and sports venues where bottles are banned. It’s also wicked cheap. At about $2 for a tallboy you won’t mind using it as a mixer, but you might have to fend off lurking hipsters hoping to ravage your cooler.

Pale Ale + Ginger Ale (+Bitters)

This surprised me, but it works. The crisp, vibrant ginger perks up the citrus and tropical fruit notes in the pale ale to create a concoction that is all fizzy, summertime goodness. Here I used one of my go-to, value, canned pale ales with 21st Amendment’s Bitter American. After first trying it topped with ginger ale, I entered mad scientist territory and hit that mixture with a dash of Angostura bitters. Instantly I had a sophisticated adult beverage made for poolside lounging. Now, would I still rather have either the beer or a ginger ale? Probably, but this pair has made a big gain toward redeeming the idea of a shandy for me.

How about you? Is the shandy worth saving? Are there combinations that you love? Have you found a bottled version you don’t want to smash in the street? Or should we agree to table the shandy debate in favor of pure, unadulterated, session craft beer?