What does the beer industry do when sales are flagging? Flood the market with new beers! With overall beer sales down across the U.S. (while craft beer steadily gains a share), mainstream brewers are finding solace in the growing popularity of malternatives — malt beverages juiced with fruit or other flavorings — whose sales grew 15% by volume between 2010 and 2011. So you’re not seeing quintuple when you’re spotting multiple versions of shandies — beer spiked with lemonade — on the shelves where before there were none. And with summer coming, we can expect to see many more.
Typical Yanks are just now discovering shandies while Brits and other Europeans have relied on them as a cooling summer staple for a century. With Leinenkugel burning up the market (their shandy has its own Facebook page), other breweries are stepping into the brush. Enter Utica, NY-based Saranac, which released its Shandy Lager & Lemonade this spring and appears to be the only craft brewer so far to do so. (Boston Beer Co. is releasing a Sam Adams variation on the shandy called a radler, and the company’s craft brew incubator, Alchemy and Science, has released Curious Traveler Shandy under the brand The House of Shandy Beer Company.)
Saranac’s version is exceptionally pale and exceedingly clear. It pours heady but quickly absorbs most of the head until it’s left with a clean, snow-white foam that clings to the edges and lightly coats the surface. Add to this the focused yet gentle lines of bubbles that float to surface and you realize what you’re looking at is a very pretty beer.
The 3.5% ABV liquid drinks so quickly that it was gone before I finished the review. There’s little that actually tastes like beer in this beverage — not a hint of noticeable flavor of hops, malt or yeast. What you do get is the feel of a mild, spritzy lemonade or an Italian lemon soda that very quickly turns sweet just before your mouth decides whether or not it wants to pucker. The tartness does last long enough to poke the underside of the tongue (in a friendly way), though the finish is just a touch medicinal.
This is an ideal quaff to pair with whitefish or salad drizzled with vinaigrette, or to serve to friends who don’t like the taste of beer – who, incidentally, are the exact audience the industry is trying to capture with the mass marketing of the shandy. Saranac beer is available in 26 states, most East of the Mississippi (although their soft-drink products — which include root beer, orange cream soda and ginger beer — are available in Arizona and California).
Have you tried a pre-made shandy? Mixed up your own? Let us know what you think in the comments.
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