Seven Shandy Alternatives To Quench Your Thirst

There's a better way to cope with the heat. Supplant those syrupy, lemonade-spiked brews with these great 'anti-shandies.'

shandy alternatives

Photo by Chris Hughes

We’re in the twilight of summer, which of course means pumpkin beers are starting to rear their ugly, nutmeg-laced (et tu, Smutty?) mugs. But for those wisely resisting the pull of the gourd, there’s still time to relish the warmer weather with a glass of rosé, a Pimm’s Cup, or everyone’s new favorite “It” drink, the shandy. House-made offerings like The Salty Pig’s “Fine & Shandy” (Pisco, peach, lemon, and witbier) and Commonwealth’s classic pairing of lager and lemonade are both refreshing, sans the intoxicating stupor of a premature, day-drinking buzz. But the pre-made variety now being thrust upon the market by dozens of breweries are often hampered by saccharine off-flavors and artificial ingredients, resulting in a tincture that tastes more like the boozy offspring of Crystal Light. That’s why we’ve put together a list of brews that capture the spirit of the low-alcohol original, without compromising the freshness of real fruit and grain. Here are seven anti-shandies that, well, actually taste good.

1. Night Shift Grove
Alcohol by Volume:7%

The summer supply of Night Shift’s Grove is almost depleted, but there’s still a small window to revel in this crisp and earthy farmhouse saison brewed with the juice and zest of Meyer lemons and Ruby Red grapefruit. “This is a fairly dry beer that gets its funk from saison yeast strain,” says cofounder Michael Oxton. “The fruit juice ferments with the beer itself, giving it an extra juicy, fruity bite, while the zest contributes this nice citrusy aroma and flavor.” Grove is obviously a few notches higher on the ABV scale, so we suggest putting a 750ml bottle on ice and nursing it like a bucketful of bubbles.

2. Dogfish Head Festina Pêche
Alcohol by Volume: 4.5%

Sam Calagione, the “off-centered” icon behind Delaware’s Dogfish Head, loves to tinker with unusual adjuncts like Muscat grape juice, juniper berries, and wasabi. But some of his most successful beers, like the 75 and 90 Minute IPAs, are fairly straightforward. Case in point, the Festina Pêche, which became the first bottled American Berliner Weisse since Prohibition when Dogfish first released it to market. Now of course, craft brewers are turning and more and more to sour beers, but Festina Pêche remains one of the best examples with a subdued green-apple sourness and an seamlessly interwoven addition of pureed peaches. “This is a great alternative to a shandy since it’s mostly wheat and fermented fruit juice,” Calagione says. “Almost a decade ago, when we started making this tart beer we couldn’t give it away. Now we can’t make enough of it.”

3. Slumbrew Happy Sol
Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

Initially homebrewed as an annual gift to his wife Caitlin when Spanish blood oranges arrived at their local Whole Foods in February, Happy Sol has now become a year-round offering from Slumbrew founder Jeff Leiter. The only sticking point? Each batch of this tart hefeweizen requires over a 1,000 blood oranges and buckets of wildflower honey. Fortunately, the couple has found a reliable, organic source from a biodynamic citrus farmer out of Fallbrook, California and enough local honey from the McClure family in Littleton, New Hampshire. “A disappointing number of ‘fruit flavored’ beers are made with artificial chemical additives,” Caitlin says. “Happy Sol is made with bold, sour, organic fruit that provides a fantastic zing without the sweetness.”

4. Founders Brewing Co. Rübaeus
Alcohol by Volume: 7%

Once a year, beer nerds everywhere line up for a taste of Founders’ Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS), an extremely limited, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout brewed with coffee and vanilla. But even if you miss out on that spectacle, as most people do, you can find plenty of other impressive offerings from this highly influential Michigan craft brewery, particularly in the oft-dismissed fruit beer category. Rübaeus, brewed with fresh Washington raspberries at multiple stages of the fermentation, is like a mild framboise with hints of caramel and barnyard funk. “Fruit and beer can be excellent flavor companions, and I think it’s an important style for us to offer, especially in our taproom where we can’t serve wine or spirits,” says brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki. “The recipe is fairly simple—high quality pale and wheat malts, and a light dose of hops. We really want the raspberries to be the focus of this beer.”

5. Lakefront Cherry Lager
Alcohol by Volume: 6%

Unlike other fruit beers, which can be overpowering and cloying, Lakefront’s Cherry Lager has a smooth malted balance, graham cracker notes, and a mild bitterness from an addition of Mt. Hood hops. This medium-bodied brew is jam packed with bright Wisconsin Montmorency cherries and two-row pale malts, for a tart, distinct lager that’s both crisp and fruit-forward. Given Lakefront’s vicinity to Milwaukee neighbor, New Glarus, and their famous Belgian Red (widely considered one of the best beers in the nation) you could make the argument that Wisconsin has the niche cherry beer category all but wrapped up.

6. Abita Strawberry Harvest
Alcohol by Volume: 4.2%

One of the South’s most storied craft breweries, Abita has been making small-batch lagers and ales since 1986 using Louisiana’s best water from the wells of the Abita Springs. Like many early American beer pioneers, Abita’s offerings— although extremely well-made—can feel overtly conventional and prosaic. Not their strawberry lager, from the seasonal Harvest Brew series, which is brewed with pilsner and wheat malts, Vanguard hops, and morning-harvested Ponchatoula strawberries. A pungent nose of honey, cereal, and creamy strawberry shortcake gives way to a quenching, lingering finish perfect with fried clams, cold Asian noodles, and all kinds of spicy fare.

7. Peak Organic Citrus Saison
Alcohol by Volume: 4.6%

With lemon tart, iced tea, Bartlett pear, and subtle hop notes, Peak Organic’s latest saison rivals head brewer Jon Cadoux’s successful spring release, Ginger Saison. Brewed with organic wheat and two-row malt from Maine, as well as lime juice and lemon peel, this unfiltered golden ale is light, dry, and crisp. “It’s super bright and lemony like a shandy, but there’s also bubblegum and clover notes. The goal with this kind of beer is to have the citrus complement the saison, not dominate it,” Cadoux says. “That’s something that happens all too often with shandies.”

Bonus: Stiegl Radler
Alcohol by Volume: 2%

Okay, there is one canned shandy that we can’t get enough of. Stiegl Radler from Stieglbrauerei in Salzburg, Austria is derived from an addictive blend of 40 percent Stiegl Goldbrau lager and 60 percent grapefruit soda. Radlers—which translates to “cyclist”— is the German equivalent of a shandy, meant as a thirst-slaking tonic after a day racing through the Eastern Alps. This juicy, spritzy, highly crushable concoction is like a souped-up Aranciata Rossa from San Pellegrino. Watch yourself, a four-pack can disappear quickly on a lazy, sultry afternoon.