He was about to buy into what he describes as “a Willy Wonka-esque potato chip company” in Burlington, Vt., when Jim Koch of Boston Beer called. Koch offered to let Newman run an independently operating, fully funded subsidiary of Boston Beer to explore new business ventures. And since last year, Newman’s Traveler Beer has been trying to hook craft beer drinkers on shandy.
Shandy has traditionally been a cocktail of beer and lemonade. (In Europe, where the drink is most popular, “lemonade” is a carbonated soft drink similar to 7-Up or Sprite, not the sweetened citrus juice that kids sell at roadside stands in the summer.) Newman says he enjoyed the drink while visiting England and tried to make his own version at Magic Hat, “but we could never get it right. It’s not easy to get the perfect blend.”
Newman’s flagship brand, Curious Traveler, isn’t a blend, actually. It starts with an American wheat beer, a style with a citrusy edge to begin with, and adds lemon and lime puree at the tail end of fermentation. The recipe also calls for a little crushed lemon peel. Curious Traveler has a tart, bracing lemon meringue flavor and a bready aftertaste. It’s light on the palate, but it’s beer, not pop.
Newman has spun off two other labels from his original recipe. Tenacious Traveler is flavored with ginger and honey; the recently introduced Time Traveler adds strawberry to the base “to give people a different take on what people think a shandy is.”
Newman’s shandies are available in 10 states. You can find them in the District and Northern Virginia, but not Maryland yet. Traveler shares the market with some much larger players, including Newman’s parent corporation.
As part of its summer variety pack, Sam Adams has reintroduced Porch Rocker, a Bavarian-style golden lager spiked with a lemon extract. The Germans call such a beverage a Radlermass (literally, “cyclist’s liter”) or Radler. According to the Web site of the German Beer Institute, the style traces its origin to 1922, to a country inn outside Munich called the Kugler Alm. Owner Franz Xaver Kugler, to boost sales, had a bike trail constructed that led straight to his door. On one balmy Saturday afternoon, “some 13,000 cyclists descended upon the Kugleralm and demanded beer.” To stretch his stock, the besieged innkeeper mixed lemon soda into the beer at a 1-to-1 ratio. His story was that he wanted to concoct a less potent beverage to keep the cyclists sober enough to stay on their bikes for the journey home.
The tale is colorful but a little doubtful. Beer and soft-drink blends were popular in England by the mid-19th century and probably crossed the channel before World War I, although Germany’s purity law would have prevented brewers from pre-mixing them.