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Oh to Be a Shandy

Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin


This week, instead of a standard review format, I’m going to take a deeper dive into a beer that had a profound influence on me and probably the beer responsible for giving me the beer bug over ten years ago.

It’s strange.  Looking back through the lens of all the beer we’ve sampled, smelled, and reviewed - hundreds and hundreds of beers - that this is a beer that I will still find myself reaching for and one that I still order.  Call it nostalgia, call it comfort, call it rose-colored lenses, but there’s something about a beer that holds a special spot in your memory and a beer that’s capable of bringing you back right to the first time you drank one.  

Now, knowing what I know now I can safely say that this is a decent beer - it’s not a great beer.  Heck, I’ve heard plenty of people say it’s not a good beer.  I’ve heard it derided as a froo-froo beer, overhyped, over-represented,  just about anything negative you can say about a beer.  I’m not really here to defend this beer - the beer nerd in me knows it’s objectively just okay but sometimes there’s more to a beer than what we put onto a page and this beer is a great example.

For the nitty gritty.   Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy (4.2% ABV)

 A wet straw yellow that leans to the color of dry straw when held to the light and exhibits cloudy haze with a white head that dissipates quickly.  Putting it to your nose gives you notes of overripe lemon - when they start to turn dark and go soft, and a slight hint of biscuit dough on the back end.  Tasting - primarily muted lemon up front - lemon zest that’s lost much of its zing.  Then the flavor moves to definite wheat notes - not quite banana and clove but definitely some sweetness and fruity esters in there besides a muted lemonade.  There is a little acidic bite present however, but, interestingly, it doesn’t come through until the tail end of the finish which leaves your mouth watering for some food.  Let me tell you, it's a great pairing for brats, fish fry, or a burger and is always going to taste better in the summer.

My first experience with this beer - as it was my first full beer I was allowed to drink on my own - was at the biggest party of the year for my family.  The first Saturday of every July was Venetian Night on Brown's Lake in Burlington, Wisconsin.  Boats decorated in all manner of ways and themes - the Playboy Mansion, a deserted island with pirates and treasure, a rock concert, a Star Wars Scene - all for a boat parade you could watch from your pier.  That is, of course, if we weren’t busy decorating our own boat and participating.  My mom, grandparents, and aunts would spend the entire week cooking and prepping the house for the party.

When I say party, I don’t mean a few friends over.  I’m talking a small wedding reception with as many as 100 people stopping by throughout the day.  As I got older - my Mom got wiser and started getting food catered in to let her enjoy the week, my brothers got older and would help out with all the prep and finally - as a tried and true man - I was put in charge of assisting with the beer haul, and - eventually, put in charge of the beer entirely - that’s when I really knew I was a grown-up.

As you can expect, parties of that size needed lots of beer, and lots of beer that wasn’t going to break the bank.  Plenty of Miller Light and Carona (with an afternoon of cutting lime wedges) would be purchased.  Leinenkugel's Red was one of maybe 3 beers that my grandfather would accept as true beer and not “[colorful language] piss”.  I can remember that day in 2007 - I would have been 16 at the time - that Summer Shandy made it into the “top shelf” cooler.  After all - if someone drank Grandpa’s  Leinkugel's Reds out of the fridge there would have been hell to pay.  

I will level with you.  I hated beer when I was younger.  Absolutely couldn’t stand the taste of it.  I think my first taste of beer was from my Grandfather in a out-of-character night of drinking St. Paulie Girl and offering me a taste.  My next experience with Communion wine was not much tastier and then after that the Seagrams wine-coolers were also not exactly winning over my taste buds.  But, after a long morning of mowing lawns, gassing up the boat, hauling tables, and shopping; being offered my first full beer and a quiet moment to soak it all in before the guests arrived while looking out at the water- there’s nothing quite like it. So from that moment on- even though technically it’s a Shandy- it opened up the gateway into the world of beer for me.  

Is chasing that initial feeling of my first beer what keeps me coming back for more?  Probably - in part.  But to be fair to the beer, Summer Shandy is a solid, sessionable beer for a day at the lake, the beach, on the boat, or just a hot day in July.  While it may get a little sweet - and I’ve definitely had experiences where the sugar content doesn’t play nicely with a day in and out of the water while skiing - it’s an easy drinking experience that you can easily sip on for an afternoon.

So cheers to Summer Shandy and some great summer memories that have been had and more to come.  Get on out there and make some.

Until next time, keep on Crusin’ don’t stop boozin’!

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