Most beer styles throughout history were born out of necessity. Access to ingredients, mineral characteristics of water and seasonal fermentation temperatures worked together to create historical beer styles. For the most part, beer styles from American craft brewers are born out of curiosity or experimentation. Who remembers going to the soda dispenser and making your own special blend of carbonated beverages, just to see what it would taste like?
Brewers today get to have fun and experiment in the same way. The result; new beer styles are born.
The American Hefeweizen, a style born out experimentation.
Widmer Brothers is well known for inventing the American Wheat Beer in 1984. It was only the third beer that they produced. The first was an Altbier, made with an ale yeast but fermented at cooler temperatures resulting in a smooth, clean malt flavor and aromatic hop aroma. The second was a Weizenbier, an unfiltered Bavarian style wheat beer with aromas of banana and clove which result from the yeast strain. With the limited fermentation space and trying to utilize the ingredients they had on hand, they experimented by flipping the script and using the Altbier ale yeast strain with the Weizenbier grain recipe. The result was a beer with all the mouthfeel and character of a wheat beer, but with a hint of citrus from the pacific northwest hops. They decided to garnish it with a lemon to accentuate those flavors and thus a new style was born. (This was more than a decade before another popular Belgian style Wheat beer came on the market, garnished with an orange.) They caught some flak for calling it a Hefeweizen because it didn’t have the traditional yeast strain, but it is an unfiltered wheat beer which is how “hefeweizen” translates. Widmer’s classic Hefeweizen garnished with a lemon, has always been my summer favorite. I have often called it my “beer lemonade” because it is so refreshing.
The Shandy, a style born out of necessity.
Who was the first to mix beer with lemonade, or soda, or any other non-alcoholic drink for that matter? No one knows for sure, but the oft repeated story goes that an innkeeper named Kugler serving beer in Munich in 1922 had a concern about running out of beer, so he mixed beer with some lemonade to stretch his inventory for some thirsty cyclists. The cyclists found the beer quite refreshing and asked for it often. So it was given the name “Radler”, which means “cyclist” in German. There is some evidence that shows people were mixing beer with other drinks prior to this and there are other names for this concoction specific to different regions and with different drinks blended in. Consider also that back in the US, at the same time, we see the birth of fountain drinks and the cocktail movement in underground speakeasies. The British called this beer blended with another drink a “Shandy” and that is the name that stuck in the US.
Now, Widmer has taken their classic Hefeweizen served with a lemon slice to the next level and added some lemonade to make a summer seasonal session beer and rightfully called it, Widmer Hef Shandy. It pours slightly cloudy as you would expect and the immediate aroma is that of lemons. If you find the crisp, tart, lemon flavor as mouthwatering as I do, at only 4.8% ABV (similar to most light beers) you won’t find a better summer session sipper.
-John Gestautas, Keg Keeper
Master Brewers Association of America Beer Steward