As the sun shines hotter, brewers are mixing orange, lemon, grape or even passionfruit juice with lagers or wheat beers to give drinkers a taste of the “radlermass,” or “cyclist’s litre,” in German. According to the German Beer Institute, an enterprising innkeeper, Franz Kugler, invented the drink in 1922. He had a cycling trail built from Munich straight to his forested inn 12 miles outside the city. The first warm Saturday of the summer, Kugler was flooded with more thirsty cyclists than he had kegs—so he mixed half pints with bottles of clear lemonade from his cellar—and the radler was born.
Today the radler’s low-alcohol factor (between 2-4% ABV) and bright, fruit flavours are taking off in Canada, with breweries large and small flooding the market with beer and juice. The usual 50/50 beer-to-juice ratio is being reworked, with newer offerings, like New Brunswick’s Moosehead Radler containing 85% beer and 15% juice.
For me, the perfect radler balances sweetness and acidity, with upfront fruit, but still has whispers of a beer, letting soft grains and grassy hops peak through.
Together with fellow Cicerones, Jesse Vallins and Peter Campagna, and our guest blogger this month, Heather Mundle, we tasted through nine radlers blind—to sort the best from the worst. At the bottom of the pile were mixes that were overly sweet, like Lowenbrau Lemon, or too “fake” fruity, like Waterloo Brewing Company’s new Lemon Radler. Or tipples that just didn’t bring it flavour-wise, like Rickard’s Radler, which starts out promising, but then the flavour dies away, finishing like a sodapop.
Here’s the full list so you can get your Beer + Juice on this summer:
Top 5 — Drink Now!
Yummy. Sniffing this radler is like cracking open a ripe, sweet pink grapefruit—or for the old-schoolers among us—a can of Wink. That lush, pink grapefruit continues on the sip, with hints of orange and pineapple, before the bubbly brew ends on a perfect balance of sweet and sour. It’s just 3.1% ABV.
Clocking in on the higher end of the ABV spectrum at 4%, this new radler mixes 85% Moosehead lager with a blend of grapefruit, lemon and grape juices. Pouring hazy yellow with tons of milkshake-like foam, it’s got a bigger body than most and bursts with grapefruit, lemon and floral hop aromas, leading to a sweet, juicy sip and a slighty grainy end.
This half-grapefruit, half-German wheat beer pours a soft pink with a frothy white head that has staying power. Soft bready malts lead to orange rind and pink grapefruit, finishing with light bitterness from the hops. At just 2.5% ABV it hits the refreshment trifecta of sweetness, bitterness and acidity.
#4 Amsterdam Brewery Sweetwater Squeeze, Ontario
This hazy peach radler is made with grapefruit and blood orange juice and zest, plus house soda for extra spritz. Given all the blood, sweat and tears that the brew team puts into hand-zesting fruit for this radler, we were surprised the aroma felt muted compared to some of the others: mild with soft bread and citrus notes, grain and grapefruit on the sip with a remarkable balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness.
This Austrian offering is bubbly and lemon-forward, a bit like Sprite, with fresh, clean flavours of white grapefruit and light, crackery malt. Its racy lemon acidity makes it totally crushable.
Notable. Try ‘em for Yourself
Honourable Mention: Tricycle Grapefruit, Parallel 49, British Columbia
This one wasn’t in our blind tasting—but I’ve got a trusted source who recommends it, so I wanted to throw it in here, especially as it’s available in Ontario this summer. Victoria Beer Scribe, Joe Wiebe, tells me this radler is the “go-to” in B.C. A mix of 70% of the Vancouver brewery’s Munich Helles lager, and 30% red grapefruit juice, is the “beeriest” of them all with tons of bittersweet grapefruit juice flavour, baguette and a hint of grassy hops that help to dry out the swallow.
This light blush radler had a weird but kind of awesome aroma of curry leaf and toasted curry spice. Combined with a pronounced pink grapefruit-flesh flavour, the combo proved oddly tasty, and is the lowest alcohol of the lot, just 2% ABV. Vallins, head chef at The Saint, said, “I’d like to try this with vindaloo curry. Or if it was really cold and we were on a patio, we could crush these.” Could be that this cheapie radler, made with elderberry concentrate, had gone vegetal in just the right way—or maybe these spicy notes are intentional. Don’t know, I’ll have to try another can to find out.
Worst — Not Recommended
Lowenbrau Lemon Radler, Ontario
This clear straw-hued radler smells like Ginger Ale with a lemonade-like sip that’s more acidic than anything else we sampled. Don’t worry the 2.5% tipple is balanced by a boatload of sweetness. Verdict: Can’t taste the beer, drinks more like a cooler.
This 3.2% ABV new offering from Rickard’s has racy acidity to balance the lemonade sweetness, a very, very light body and plenty of bubbles. While the brew starts out promising, the radler’s bright flavours just died on the palate, leaving us disappointed.
New for 2015, the lemonade aroma is fresher and brighter than Lowenbrau’s, but the palate is so over-the-top with flavour that it borders on Lemon Pledge. The 3.1% ABV drink is quite sweet with a bit of acidity, but no trace of beer.