As with food, to professionally write about beer is to engage in an eternal tug-of-war with austerity and overindulgence. Given the brewing talent coursing through this country, there’s always another IPA, imperial stout, and wild beer fermented with yeast harvested from country air that demands a sip or, who am I kidding here, a full-bottle investigation.
Getting drunk isn’t difficult. The tough part is staying sober and ensuring that my belly doesn’t balloon to proportions worthy of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
To fight the battle of the bulge and the enduring, erroneous cliché of slovenly beer drinkers, I could run, or maybe make friends with an elliptical machine. Alack, my knobby knees are not suited to pounding pavement, and a gym membership is a cost that’d crimp my budget for more crucial expenditures, like diapers or another double IPA.
My favored calorie-cutter is the bicycle. Three or four days a week, I’ll pedal loops around Brooklyn’s nearby Prospect Park, or maybe breezily ride to heavily Russian Brighton Beach, home to pelmeni dumplings and Baltika beer. Therein lies the rub. Ostensibly, I’m biking for health, but doing so builds a mighty thirst, one best quenched by beer.
... this summer is officially the Season of the Radler.
No matter if it’s beer, wine or booze, all alcohol equals calories. The higher the alcohol content, the higher the caloric loads. Bland Bud Select 55 is but 55 calories because the beer is a wee 2.4 percent ABV. Screw that. Knocking back diet beers is no way to live life. Instead, I’ve taken to punctuating bike rides with a flavorful radler or shandy, a low-alcohol blend of beer and soda or, more commonly, fruit juice.
As a freelance writer angling for assignments, I’m always analyzing rhythms in beer releases, in watching likeminded dots light up countrywide. Spotting trends becomes stories that become my rent. And this summer is officially the Season of the Radler. The accessible style is a perfect trend-piece storm. It’s low in alcohol, making it lockstep with the session movement; suited for warm-weather sipping, be it pools or beer gardens; and freighted with flavors of citrus, a taste profile du jour.
But it’s the biking angle that most interests me. Radler is German for bicyclist, referencing lore about a Bavarian innkeeper near a bike path. One day in 1922, he was so besieged by parched bicyclists that he extended his dwindling beer supply by combining lager and lemon soda. The mix was a mega-hit, with the beer cocktail in time entering the drinking canon.
From Boulevard Ginger-Lemon Radler to Narragansett Del’s Shandy and Widmer Brothers Hefe Shandy, the style is everywhere, from bars to beer gardens and beaches. As for a bike path–appropriate beer, I’ll pedal to Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewery, or HUB. The organic-focused brewery was founded by Christian Ettinger, himself an avid bicyclist. His two-wheeled passion informs the brewery’s dual locations, where bike frames dangle above the bar, cyclists can borrow tools and Hopworks hosts the annual Handmade Bike & Beer Festival. (Did I mention that HUB also has a keg-toting, sound system–equipped cargo bike?)
Unlike some radlers and shandies, which taste as if they had a one-night stand in an artificial-flavor factory, Totally Radler’s lemony characteristics shine bright, tart and true.
Underling the cycling commitment, many of the brewery’s canned beers, including HUB Lager and Hopworks IPA, are emblazoned with bike chains. At the brewery, a favorite draft-only offering has long been Totally Radler, made by blending organic lemonade with lager. This month, Hopworks put the mixture into a portable package, releasing Totally Radler cans featuring a fully awesome design. (Pro tip to brewers: excellent artwork is increasingly key.) On the 16-ounce vessel, there’s an anthropomorphic lemon and hop, waving gaily, riding a bicycle with citrus wedges for wheels. While flashy packaging may attract customers, the liquid inside matters most.
Pale and hazy Totally Radler is an even-steven blend of herbal, honey-noted HUB Lager and organic lemon juice, a merger that tips the scales at 2.6 percent ABV. (You’ll have to work hard to get wasted.) Unlike some radlers and shandies, which taste as if they had a one-night stand in an artificial-flavor factory, Totally Radler’s lemony characteristics shine bright, tart and true. Cloying sweetness, a fatal flaw for the style, is absent, the juice harmonizing instead of overwhelming the beer. Radler is a crisp ride, gently puckering refreshment served up by the pound.
It’s a guilt-free reward after a bike ride or exercise of any stripe, carbs perking you up, lemons hack-sawing through thirst, alcohol a tiny gold star for all that hard, hard work.