If beer as a sports drink sounds too good to be true, you obviously haven't been to Bavaria. In lederhosen land, a refreshing blend of lager and sparkling lemonade has been fuelling mountain bikers and road racers for nearly a century.
The drink is called radler (German for cyclist). And now that Canadian craft brewers have hopped on the saddle, a relatively new grapefruit variation is peddling into position as a seasonal beverage of choice.
"It's the perfect hangover cure – only 3 per cent alcohol and full of vitamin C," says Graham With, head brewer at Vancouver's Parallel 49 Brewing Co., which just released its Tricycle Grapefruit Radler in cans.
Other nascent entries include: Waterloo Grapefruit Radler from Brick Brewing Co. in Waterloo, Ont., Grapefruit Radler from Tree Brewing Co. in Kelowna, B.C., and Moose Light Radler from Saint John-based Moosehead Breweries.
All told, there will be about 10 bottled or canned radlers available across the country this summer; two years ago there were none.
Malty sports beverage. Breakfast beer. Whatever you call it, the wheels driving this trend weren't exactly pumped up overnight. According to legend, radler was invented on a hot summer day in 1922 when an innkeeper outside Munich found his beer garden inundated with thousands of cyclists. Faced with a cellar shortage, he mixed his remaining beer with lemon soda and avoided a riot by convincing them that his radlermass was specifically designed for cyclists so they wouldn't fall off their bikes on their way home through the alpine forest.
Whether the story is true, the Bavarian equivalent of the British shandy (beer and ginger beer) soon became popular at other beer gardens in Munich and beyond. Today, radler is a fixture at Oktoberfest and is sold all across Europe.
The Canadian connection was made in Salzburg, Austria. Four years ago, Stiegl Brewery and McClelland Premium Imports, its Canadian distributor, were hosting their key clients on a cultural tour of Austria. The Canadian bar owners had their first radler on a boat cruise, where it was served in the typical flavours of lemon and raspberry. Back at the guesthouse later that day, the export director gave them a sample of Stiegl's new grapefruit radler made with 60-per-cent juice. Everyone loved it and demanded they bring it to Canada.
Initially, Stiegl sent kegs for a few select customers – Calgary's Craft Beer Market and Toronto's Beer Bistro among them.
"I thought radler would be a niche, craft connoisseur beer," McClelland president Guy McClelland recalls. "But almost immediately, our customers were reporting sales of over 20 kegs a week."
Last summer, McClelland began importing Steigl's grapefruit radler in half-litre cans. Even with an unusually large order (three containers for Ontario alone), the entire inventory was sold out by August. In one year, sales grew 400 per cent.
The product's popularity didn't go unnoticed by local craft brewers. "I don't want to say we copied Stiegl, but we enjoyed it," says Mr. With at Parallel 49. "Everyone kept buying it like crazy and no place could keep it in stock." So he decided to blend his own, a heftier, lightly carbonated grapefruit version made with 30-per-cent juice concentrate.
What's not to like? Because the fruit juice is added post-fermentation, a radler tastes fresher than other fruit beers. The grapefruit version has a pleasant tartness so it's not as sweet as some coolers. It's low in calories (about 75 calories in a 12-ounce serving). And it has half the alcohol content of regular beer, usually 2.5 or 3 per cent.
Unless, of course, you "spike the trike" with a shot of vodka or gin – the latest radler trend in Vancouver. After a couple of those, you may need to lock up your bike.
1 part German lager or pilsner
1 part sparkling juice (San Pellegrino limonata or Fentimans Victorian lemonade)
If using fresh juice or concentrate, add a splash of carbonated soda
Stir, don't shake, until fully mixed.