The first time I heard of a radler, I was a 20-year-old college student studying abroad, on a weekend trip to Munich, Germany. My friends and I had purchased tickets to Mike’s Bike Tour, a bicycle tour on which we traveled a total of 4 miles over the course of 4 hours. What took so long, you might wonder? In between brief bouts of historical tidbit-sharing, (i.e. Mein Kampf is verboten country-wide, and you cannot unsee the Glockenspiel) our tour guide lead us to Chinesischer Turm Beirgarten, where we spent the majority of the time … ingesting the culture, if you will.
Upon our arrival, our tour leader gave us some quick beer guidance: “You’ve got kolsh, hefeweizen, helles, a plethora of options. But don’t. Touch. The radlers. A radler is an abomination of Satan, in which someone takes a perfectly good beer, pours out half of it, and dumps lemonade into it. I will kick you off this tour if you order one.” I heeded his subtle advice on that day, but now, over a decade later, my curiosity was peaked.
Ironically, bicyclists are the target consumer of the radler (which literally means “cyclist” in German), an uber-refreshing and effervescent mixture of 1 part beer to 1 part lemonade or fruity soda, often citrus flavored. Historically, this concoction was created to quench the thirst of the sweatiest mountain biker, fresh off the Alpine trail. Radlers are known for having a super low ABV, around 2%, and according to the German Beer Institute, the “radlermass” is also commonly called alster, or alsterwasser instead.
Before the BJCP recently revised their style guidelines*, radlers were considered a subset of the fruit beer category, but in my opinion, the fruit beer category was a pretty broad way to categorize these. Strictly speaking, a radler could have any beer as a base, though Pils and Helles are commonly used. I mean, isn’t it more of a beer cocktail? Couldn’t I technically pour a Mountain Dew into a Bourbon County Stout and call it a radler? (Hmm…) Anyway, now that the guidelines have been updated, there actually isn’t one mention of radlers anywhere! Maybe the writers agreed that they’re uncategorizable.
I sampled the following radlers:
Schofferhofer Grapefruit Radler (Binding-Brauerei)
Mixture: Schofferhofer Hefeweizen + Grapefruit Juice
Warka Apple Radler (Browar Warka)
Mixture: Warka Pale Lager + Apple Juice Extract
Grieskerschner Lemon Radler (Brauerei Grieskirchen)
Mixture: This is the only one I couldn’t find. Brauerei Grieskirchen, if you’re out there, what’s your special, secret mixture?!
Hirter Herbal Radler (Brauerei Hirt)
Mixture: Hirter Privat Pils + Austrian Herbal Lemonade with sage, elderberry, and Alpine Gentian (a blue wildflower)
Boulevard Ginger Lemon Radler (Boulevard Brewing Company)
Mixture: Unfiltered Wheat Beer + Lemon Juice, Lemon Extract, and Freshly Juiced Ginger
Stiegl Grapefruit Radler (Stieglbraueri zu Salzburg GmbH)
Mixture: Stiegl-Goldbrau + Lemonade
Orange creamsicle to sunny yellow, all with a small bit of white froth on top, these concoctions looked like melted popsicles in a glass.
Most notably, the Warka Radler smelled exactly like a green apple Jolly Rancher. The lemon varieties smelled a bit medicinal, like artificial lemon scent to me.
All of these were very effervescent and delightfully fizzy, the only outlier being the Schofferhofer, which had a slight creaminess to it in the finish.
Boulevard’s was tart and a bit harshly gingery; this taste mingled with bready lemon.
Greiskirschner’s version allowed the base to shine through the most, in fact it had a slight DMS nose and actually tasted more like a beer spiked with lemon flavor than the other way around.
Hirter’s was definitely the most unique that I tried, but the predominant flavor was sickly sweet lemon, almost resembling a cough drop with a bready finish.
Warka tasted exactly like it smelled – this was like drinking a melted green apple Jolly Rancher. My 15-year-old self would have LOVED this stuff.
For me, this was a two-way tie between Steigl and Schofferhofer. Both were incredibly juicy and refreshing without tasting artificial or too sweet. The Steigl tasted like fizzy, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, whereas the Schofferhofer was a nice blend of clove, banana, and wheaty Hefeweizen flavor combined with tart grapefruit. I can certainly imagine that, having endured some sweat-inducing pedal-pushing over many miles or just one, that these beers would definitely quench your thirst.
So get on your bike, ride to the nearest public house, and place a historically significant order a for the radler of your choice. Prost!
p.s. You should know that I labor pretty heavily (unnecessarily so) over the titles of my posts. The following is a list, for your enjoyment, of the titles that were deemed unworthy for this post:
Radlers of the Lost Ark
Radler’s Got What Plants Crave. It’s Got Electrolytes
Radler Me This
Shake, Radler and Roll
Don’t Be a Menace to South Bavaria While Drinking Your Radler in the Woods
Totally Radler! Cowabunga!
Radler: Run it Up the Flagpole and See Who Salutes It
Radler: Hero, Menace, or Abomination of Satan?
Do You Have Scurvy? Click for the Cure