From the Rattle Skull to the flip to the Dog’s Nose (a Dickensian favorite), beer has been used for centuries in a wide variety of cocktails on both sides of the Atlantic. Among the most well-known, however, is the shandy, a two-ingredient drink that has remained popular since its invention, thanks in part to its sheer simplicity.
A close relative of the German-born radler, the British shandy embraces broader variety in its two-part formula. Whereas the radler, which gained popularity in the early 20th century, has always been a 50-50 split between beer and lemonade (or nowadays, more commonly, citrus soda), the shandy can alternatively see the addition of ginger beer or ginger ale as a mixer. It also starts its story more than a half-century prior to that of its Bavarian sibling.
First mentioned in print in Edward Bradley’s 1853 comic novel, The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, the drink was initially referred to as the shandygaff (and, in a testament to its popularity, was described alongside two of the era’s most fashionable cocktails: the Sherry Cobbler and the egg flip). Just a few decades later, the shandygaff was established enough to earn a spot in Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual as half “Bass ale” and half “Belfast ginger ale” and was described as “an old English drink.”
Precisely where the name comes from remains hazy, though many suspect it derives from the British slang phrase “shant of gatter.” Colloquially meaning “a serving of beer,” the term literally translates into “pub water” in an appropriate, albeit somewhat unappetizing, nod to the drink’s sessionable nature. While it’s unclear as to when exactly its name was shortened, by 1888 the London Daily News had described the “shandy” as belonging to a class of “new-fangled drinks” that had earned popularity in Victorian-era Britain.
Today, sparkling lemonade has become the preferred mixer over ginger ale or ginger beer, causing the shandy and radler to grow closer in style and their terms to often be used interchangeably. And though the inherent simplicity of these drinks has prompted commercial brands like Stiegl and Narragansett to create their own bottled versions, it’s also provided bartenders with an attractive formula upon which to build. With unusual additions like Campari, Chartreuse, spirits and fresh fruit, these next-generation shandies (and radlers) showcase a variety of unorthodox flavors without straying too far from the original template.
Here, three classics and their modern interpretations:
While the shandy once served to enhance less-than-delectable brews, today’s renditions embrace the wide variety of beer styles available, from pilsner to wheat beer to lager. While some are brightened by the addition of fruit (fresh cherries in the Sour Cherry Shandy and housemade strawberry shrub in Leo Robitschek’s Fresa Y Cerveza), others stay true to form: the Hop Over, for example, builds on the classic flavors of beer and citrus but adds a tiki twist by way of falernum and orange flower water.
The popularity of pre-bottled, grapefruit-tinged radlers from brands like Stiegl has bolstered both grapefruit and commercial radlers themselves as calling card mixers. Whereas the Gin and Grapefruit Radler incorporates German beer and grapefruit soda, Alex Day’s more bitter Campari Radler gets topped with Schöfferhofer’s Grapefruit Weizen-Mix. Similarly, Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen Radler calls on a citrusy beer by way of lager brewed with Meyer lemons, and gets an extra jolt of citrus with mandarin vodka.
France’s answer to the shandy, Picon Bière is based on the now-obscure bitter orange liqueur of the same name, which is then topped with pilsner and finished with an orange wheel. Contemporary spins on this formula turn to a variety of liqueurs, from the pine variation in Adam Bernbach’s Altstadt to the Hungarian amaro Zwack in the Hungry Hungry Hipster. Damon Boelte‘s Americano Perfecto, on the other hand, calls on both French and Italian sweet vermouth, plus Campari, for a pan-European ode to the original.