Radler – The Cyclists’ Beer

It is amazing how quickly time flies – when I first started writing this post it was the middle of July, which means unbearably hot and humid weather in the Mid-Atlantic.  Now, in late August the temperatures are falling with highs of perfect, and night time lows of refreshing.

Accompanied by this first taste of changing seasons is an uptick in the amount of bike events in our area – among them the popular 50 States Ride in DC and, Salisbury Universities Sea Gull Century.  After long days in the saddle, I still find myself on a quest for a refreshing post-ride drink – and so a radler tasting was in order.

Radler? Yes.

A few years ago we traveled to a small Bavarian town in southern Germany for a friends wedding (take a look at the hall on the left!). Many great memories were made, but damn it was HOT!  The temperature on the wedding day was unusually warm, soaring deep into the 30’s (Celsius) and it felt a lot like DC felt this summer.  The drink of choice for many of the German guests was radler, and though I was trying to soak up all the wonderful other variations of German beer, I did find a chance to sneak in one of these crisp, citrusy, low ABV concoctions. It’s good to pay attention to what the locals are drinking, as my Radler was a refreshing drink after lots of dancing.

After returning to the states, I did a little research and found that not only had I been close (about 120km) to the birthplace of this drink, but it was made for cyclists (radler means cyclist in Germany).  According to the German Beer Institute, Radler was invented on a hot summer day in June 1922, when a local innkeeper named Franz Kugler found his beer garden (the Kugleralm) inundated with 13,000 cyclists.  The number seems suspicious, but Herr Kulger reportedly built a bike path through the alpine forest to his establishment – so perhaps there is some truth to it.

While nobody knows how many cyclists ordered espresso or asked to borrow some chain lube – it isn’t surprising that mass quantities of beer was consumed on this day.  When supplies started running low, Kugler decided to stretch what was left by mixing the remaining beer with a poorly selling lemon soda  in a 50:50 ratio.  He proclaimed that this drink was made especially for cyclists – the sales pitch being that low alcohol (about 2.5% ABV) would make it safer to ride back over the trail home at the end of the day.  It worked and Radler was born.

Image: mikeorton.tumblr.com

The Taste Test

Here is where the rubber meets the road – literally and figuratively – I had to find out if Radler was a good post-ride drink. I put some of the necessary ingredients in the fridge and went out for a ride – both long enough to get tired, and to cool down the beers.

Not enough to fill a liter (maß), but enough for a quarter liter!

First up was an authentic Radler from Austria – a Stiegel Radler – which is a pre-mixed 50:50 combination of lemon soda and Stiegel-Goldbrau.  Very light and enjoyable, though the combination of sweetness and high carbonation was a bit concerning – generally that would be a “no-no” after a hard ride.  I took notice of the time, and awaited the inevitable revolt from my stomach.  Much to my relief, no GI discomfort had arrived, and the beer was long dispatched – maybe this is a magical cycling drink? A few more sips revealed the slight beeriness, which was nice, but the overwhelming flavors were from the lemon soda.  If it wasn’t so hard to find, I’d keep this one stocked.

After the “real deal” came a series of experiments with a few different German lagers.

Hacker-Pschorr Munich Gold, Paulaner Original, Spaten Premium, Hofbräu Original – Mostly Helles Lagers

Mixed at the prescribed 50:50 ratio with a Pellegrino Limonata – each of these “fresh” Radlers tasted deliciously tart and sweet, with a taste of real lemon and thankfully not as sweet as the Stiegel.  In addition, the beer flavor was able to shine through just a slight bit more – which was a nice reminder to slow down the drinking.  In terms of overall taste this homemade style of Radler was great – and especially refreshing when sitting on our stoop with a few extra ice cubes mixed in.  In terms of the refreshment factor, I felt like each would be a fine post-ride beer.  The sugar and carbs found their way into my system quickly and recharged my batteries, though a true recovery drink should help with electrolytes and protein as well.  I suppose a big soft salt covered pretzel and a sausage at a beer garden would do right by that, and it sure would be a great way to spend the afternoon!

Which beer works the best? That’s a personal taste, as none of the four I tested stood out as a true winner or loser. Our German friend (from the wedding) professed a love for Paulaner, though I found myself favoring the Hofbräu.  My recommendation – ride your bike, then try a few! (And invite me along!)

A DC Connection

That Kugler name might sound familiar to some DC area cyclists.  Wouldn’t you know it – but a grand-nephew to Franz Kugler rides among us, and does more than his fair share in building a welcoming cycling culture in our city.  Erik Kugler co-founded one of the friendliest bike shops around – BicycleSPACE.  They are quickly coming up on its 2 year anniversary – so raise a glass of Radler to BicycleSPACE and stop by for parts, service, a community bike ride or just to say hello.

4 thoughts on “Radler – The Cyclists’ Beer

  1. Awesome. I’ll have to try making this sometime. I didn’t know about the Kugler connection! That’s pretty cool.

    Were you also working on a shandy?

  2. Great post made even cooler by Erik’s tie to the history. Chocolate City on MBT is the local brewer analogous to this story, though they didn’t build the trail like the enterprising Herr Kugler did.

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