Last week, rather against my will, I drank a shandy — a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, to be specific. I’ve never liked the notion of a shandy. In the constellation of flavors, beer and lemonade seems a particularly perverse pairing. But again, last week, in an effort to be polite, I drank a shandy.
And I liked it.
It’s the fault of a Bavarian named Franz Xaver Kugler — a former railway worker who, for some unknown reason, decided to give up the rails and try his hand at innkeeping. In the early part of the 20th century, Herr Kugler opened a small establishment called the Kugleralm in the village of Deisenhofen, a few miles outside Munich. He appears to have been something of an innovator. Some of his innovations worked, some didn’t. For example, Kugler was an early adopter of a clear lemon soda, buying several thousand bottles, thinking it would be popular among the railway workers. It wasn’t. Those bottles ended up gathering dust and cobwebs in the Kugleralm cellar.
Kugler was more successful in his attempt to cash in on the bicycle craze which swept through post-World War I Germany. He helped create a bicycle path that ran through the forest, from Munich to Deisenhofen (and which, conveniently, passed directly by his inn). Herr Kugler hadn’t counted on the trail being quite so popular, however, and one summer afternoon in 1922 he found himself running short on beer. Out of desperation, he began to mix the beer with the unsellable lemon soda he had stored in his cellar.
The new concoction was different, it was refreshing, it lowered the beer’s alcohol content to the degree that cyclists could drink their fill and not fret about being able to ride without tipping over. Kugler the innovator decided to call the new drink Radlermass (radler meaning ‘cyclist’ in German).
There are LOTS of regional variations on the drink, each with its own regional name, but they’re all basically beer mixed with something like lemonade — which, to my ear, still sounds absolutely horrid. But what can I say? Now there’s a six-pack of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy sitting in the refrigerator (well, to be honest, by now it’s only a two-pack).
I know tap-heads will recoil in horror. Let them. I am (mostly) unashamed. A shandy may not be cool, but it’s cooling, and it’s pleasant to sit outside on a hot afternoon after a bike ride and read a good book and sip on a bottle of good Herr Kugler’s desperate drink. It was made for bicyclists, after all.