Taste test: Beat the heat with a summer shandy

Jim Galligan tries out a few shandies, poised to be all the rage this summer.

It’s hot outside as I write this — well over 90 degrees, there’s not a cloud in the sky to spare folks some shade and the humidity is so high that even the men are having bad hair days.

When the heat of the summer begins to strangle my will to live, there’s only one thing I desire — a refreshing beer. I just happen to be sitting with five variations of one of the most refreshing kinds of beer out there — the shandy — which, according to trend predictors, is supposed to take over U.S. taste buds in 2013.

The word “shandy” comes from Britain, where it’s used to describe a broad variety of beers with lemonade or ginger ale or even berries mixed in. But in the U.S., the word is mostly reserved for beers that have been mixed with lemonade.

Let’s look a handful of these heat-beaters, starting with my personal benchmark.

Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, 4.2 percent ABV

Summer Shandy is a Weiss beer brewed with honey and then blended with natural lemonade flavor. It has zesty lemon on the nose, and treats your mouth to a dry and bubbly citrus blast upon the first sip, backed by just enough sweet malt to keep things from becoming a puckerfest. Dry, lemony and ultimately refreshing, this satisfying summer sipper chills you from the inside out.

Shock Top Lemon Shandy, 4.2 percent ABV

This lemony wheat beer is perfect for people who don’t like things that taste like, well, much of anything. It’s difficult to detect much lemon on the nose, and a sip provides an effervescent mouthful of watery beer, reminiscent of a Coors Light with a splash of lemon on board. While easy to drink in the summer heat, this beer lacks palate cleansing citrus bite I look for in a shandy.

Saranac Shandy, 4.2 percent ABV

Saranac takes a different tack with their shandy, starting with a crisp lager as the base beer, rather than a sweet and smooth wheat. The result is a beer with dank scents of lemon, and a thin malty flavor, which is followed by a gush of cloyingly sweet lemon, like that found inside one of those candy’s you always regretted accepting from your grandmother. While light and refreshing, I much prefer the dry crispness of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy to the sticky sweet afterglow this beer leaves behind.

Curious Traveler Shandy, 4.4 percent ABV

This shandy uses an ale as the base for the beer, blending in lemon and lime flavors to add a refreshing twist. There’s a ton of lemon peel on the nose, and the flavor does a lovely job of balancing a rich malt backbone and a sweet and earthy thread of lemon. There’s a lingering hop bitterness on this one that spoils the citrus in the finish, but overall, this is a well-executed and unique take on the style.

Homemade shandy

The recipe for a shandy is so simple even I can’t screw it up – one part lemonade, one part beer – preferably a wheat.

I decided to make my own, blending a Paulaner Hefe-Weizen and Sanpelligrino Limonata, a sparkling lemon soda (I went with a bubbly lemon soda for maximum refreshment, as it works much better than regular uncarbonated lemonade).

The result was fairly magical, with the broad earthy sweetness of the Paulaner still finding voice in the mix below the sweet and dry citrus bite of the lemon soda, and the mild hop and the lemony tang of the soda provided an interesting spicy interplay on the back end of the flavor. This combo was quite refreshing and satisfying in ways that the store-bought shandies can’t match.

All told, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy proved to be my clear-cut favorite amongst the premade beers, and the homemade shandy proved to be a revelation – I’ll definitely be making it again for guests.

Shandies aren’t the most complex or nuanced offerings in the world, but when the sweat is sliding down your back, there’s nothing quite as quenching as a sweet lemony treat.