Tag Archives: summer drink

“Radler”: The Solution to my Beer Dilemma

Stiegl Radler Grapefruit

Stiegl Radler Grapefruit

You might have gotten this fact about me if you are a regular reader: I don’t like beer. In a state like Michigan, with its vibrant microbrewing scene, this is almost blasphemy. Throw in that I am German of all nationalities and it is downright crazy, outrageous and reason to hand in my passport. I cannot tell you how often I get these incredulous stares when I tell someone that I don’t like beer…I can’t really tell you why I don’t like beer. I have come to believe it is its bitterness that I don’t find redeeming or pleasant.

Don’t get me wrong. I do drink beer, once in a while, and I also believe in social conventions that dictate “beer and sports”, for example. I have tried drinking wine watching sports, but it is not the same. So, I do believe there is a room for beer, I just make sure it tastes as little as possible like beer. Which is why I drink PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon), the occasional Miller Lite or Miller Highlife. They compare to the German light weight beer “Kölsch”, the beer brewed in the city of Cologne. It drinks like lemonade and comes in small 0.2 liter glasses, so you just keep drinking and drinking and drinking. You can order it by the meter (the glasses are put on a one meter wooden board) and as long as you don’t cover your glass, you will receive new glasses without being asked. What makes this beer great for me is that it hardly tastes like beer.

My go to beer based drink in Germany, however, is something different. It is what in the US is referred to as “shandy”, a mix of beer and lemonade. In German, this type of beer is either called “Alsterwasser” (Water of the Alster, a river in Hamburg, usually in Northern Germany) or “Radler” (Bicycler, usually referred to with this word in Southern Germany). As a rule of thumb, a lot of them are 50% beer and 50% lemon soda, which in Germany is usually referred to as “lemonade”. The ratio can vary in either direction. It is insanely refreshing, does not taste like beer (major plus!) and is widely available.

Anecdotes suggest that the Radler was invented by a desperate Bavarian innkeeper in the 1920s. It was a warm, friendly summer Sunday afternoon and tons of people were out and about, passing his inn. The owner was selling record numbers of beer (it probably didn’t help than Bavarians drink huge amounts of beer from big glasses) and by the afternoon he started running out of beer. So in his desperation, he started mixing in lemon soda and selling it as the perfect drink for people riding their bicycles, hence the name “Radler”. I assume that beer and other stuff has been mixed before, but I do like the anecdote nonetheless. And I like to think that I was saved by this innkeeper when going out to a pub. Because thanks to him, I have something to order. And enjoy!

Nina is completely different: She LOVES strong IPAs, dark wheat beers and everything strong in beers. This often leads to waiters confusing our orders when we are in Germany, because usually guys order these beers, not girls. And girls order Radler, not guys…but hey, I stand by my love for Radler, especially in the summer heat.

German breweries have begun picking up on this trend over the last decade and have been selling premixed Radler, just like breweries have in the US. My favorite premixed Radlers are made by Beck’s and I am still hoping that given Beck’s omnipresence in the US these might eventually find their way here as well. I also really enjoy a mix of Weizenbier (wheat beer) with grapefruit juice sold by the Frankfurt brewery Schöfferhofer. I wish they’d sell that here…

While we were in Chicago last week, I received a text message from my friend John, The Food and Wine Hedonist, asking me whether I could bring him back some Austrian Radler that was available in Chicago. I was naturally intrigued. And after some hunting, I found Stiegl Radler with grapefruit soda at House of Glunz, an old wine store which apparently serves as the main importer of the stuff in Chicago. But it should be available at any decent liquor store in Chicago. Glunz sells it in half liter cans (classy, I know) and I was happy to bring some back for John and myself. Especially because it is really affordable, too: I paid $2.50 for four half liter cans!!!

We opened a couple of cans for a BBQ on Sunday and I quite liked the mix. It is VERY easy to drink, you hardly taste the alcohol at all. It hit a lot of right spots, although it seemed a bit too watery all in all. Given that its flavor was grapefruit, I naturally compared it to the wheat-grapefruit mix I mentioned above, and that is definitely better, has a bit more heft to it. But I’d still encourage you, beer lover (like Nina) or not (like me), to go out and find a Radler instead of a shandy. I don’t know what makes the difference between domestic shandies and European Radler, I just know I taste it…It sure gives me hope that other importers will pick up on this trend.

John has written a great article about discovering Stiegl Radler in his natural enthusiastic terms here.

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Martini Bianco my way…

Martini Bianco (Photo from Martini's website)

Martini Bianco (Photo from Martini’s website)

In line with my summery post earlier this week (we popped our first rosé wine this year, see here), I figured I share another of my favorite summer drinks, a Martini Bianco. I am not referring to the mixed drink “Martini” but rather to the brand Martini, an Italian producer of Vermouth. It is short for Martini & Rossi and has an iconic label that many people recognize (featured on the bottle pictured above). I guess the posts say a lot about how glad I am that this long Midwestern winter is finally coming to a close…

Vermouth is a fortified wine that is flavored with various ingredients like roots, barks, spices and seeds. It was first commercialized in Northern Italy, Turin to be exact, in the 18th century, but its roots go way back. It was first used as a medical drink and later became a key ingredient in cocktails, hence the name of the ubiquitous martini. Apparently (I am reading this up in various sources), Vermouth is made from rather neutral tasting grapes that are fermented to wine, to which further alcohol is added along with each producer’s secret set of ingredients. It comes in usually two styles, dry or sweet. Most people know it as dry, the sweet versions have sugar added to them after they have been fortified. Vermouth has a rather bitter taste to it, which makes it a great ingredient in cocktails. France and Italy are the main producers.

Martini & Rossi, the company of which I buy my Vermouth, started its operations in the mid-19th century in Turin. Its logo was first introduced in 1929 (I really, really love the logo) and merged with the rum conglomerate Bacardi in 1993. Some of you might have noticed that Martini is offering several different bottles of its Vermouth in stores. One usually finds the Extra dry Martini in a green bottle, the Martini Rosso, a red version vermouth, a Martini Rosato, a pinkish, sweet version that tastes like Christmas and the one I am talking about right now, Martini Bianco, their sweet white vermouth.

I fell in love with this drink a long time ago. I don’t enjoy sparkling wine very much, a classic starter in Germany, so this was a really great alternative. To me, it is the perfect apéritif on a hot day because it provides freshness, some sweetness (which by now pretty much everyone knows I love) and has an appetizing bitterness to it that makes your mouth water. I started from the welcome combination of sweet and bitter but it definitely needed an acidic kick to help. So I added a slice of lemon peel and the juice of between a third and half a lemon. I am not shy with the lemon juice because I want the acidity to really kick in. I serve it on the rocks, because the melting ice nicely dilutes what would usually be too sweet a drink. Keep the bottle in the freezer to ensure it pours ice cold and you have an awesome starter for a great evening. The bottles retail for between $6 and $9, I tend to buy them when I see them on sale…Nina has fallen in love with this drink as well, and I am sometimes surprised how fast we can go through a bottle…But even if you don’t guzzle it like us, it keeps forever in the fridge, too.

Martini my way: Al limone.

Martini my way: al limone.

And here the recipe again in bullet points, it’s as easy as it gets:

1 lemon
1 strip of lemon peel
Martini Bianco
ice cubes

Fill a glass with two to three ice cubes. Squeeze a third of a lemon over the ice. Throw in lemon peel. Pour the Martini Bianco over. Let sit for 5 minutes. Enjoy.

Do you have a favorite apéritif? Care to share?

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