Within the family of beer cocktails, the radler finds itself situated somewhere between the shandy and the boilermaker; part beer, part citrus soda, with an optional dose of spirit. Debuted in 20th-century Europe as a thirst-quencher, the radler flew largely under the radar in the U.S. until Austrian brewery Stiegl began exporting a fizzy, pre-bottled version to a craft beer-crazed audience in 2004.
Where many day-drinking enthusiasts saw a welcome innovation to the beer category—which spawned the widely used hashtag #teamradler—the craft cocktail movement saw a template rife for rejiggering. With ready-to-drink radlers now ubiquitous (and the bro-heavy radler Twitterstorm behind us), bartenders continue to expand on the beer-meets-citrus template, putting increasingly innovative spins on the warm weather go-to and cementing the radler’s place in the cocktail canon.
At New York’s tiki-inspired Dutch Kills, Tom Richter’s Hop Over build on the classic template with the fitting additions of falernum and orange flower water, while across the country, at Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen, they call on chamomile syrup, lemon and mandarin vodka for a refreshingly tart, citrus-heavy variation. Going further off-piste, Damon Boelte, of Brooklyn’s Grand Army, swaps out beer for Spanish cider in the Ava, then spikes it with white rum, raspberry syrup and two dashes of absinthe for good measure.
As for the most bitter in the bunch, it taps a quintessentially Italian ingredient: Alex Day’s Campari Radler mixes the bittersweet liqueur with pre-bottled Schöfferhofer radler and lemon, for a sunset-hued lovechild of the Americano and the radler.
For more modern variations, some bartenders are looking to the kitchen for inspiration; a.o.c.’s Christiaan Röllich, for example, builds on a base of housemade cherry compote (which had been mistakenly placed on his back bar) mixed with blonde ale and pisco in his Pandora. In a similarly symbiotic relationship between kitchen and bar, the NoMad’s Leo Robitschek borrows Chef Daniel Humm’s strawberry pickling vinegar for a housemade shrub, which is shaken with cucumber and yellow Chartreuse and topped with a dose of wheat beer in the Fresa y Cervesa.
As #teamradler heads into its 2.0 phase, so, too, does its signature drink.