What is a Radler? – The History of a Drink Named for a Cyclist
I realize this might be considered blasphemy, but I’m not much of a beer drinker. I just never developed a taste for it (apparently, I make an “eeewww” face from the bitter flavor when I drink it). But soda is generally too sweet. Fortunately, an innkeeper in Deisenhofen, Germany came up with a solution that I really enjoy when he invented the Radler. What is a Radler? This mix of beer and citrus soda, gives me that perfect blend of refreshment from beer, with a hint of citrussy sweetness from the soda. And in the summertime, it’s a great thirst quencher. Let me tell you all about it.
June 22 is National Radler Day!
How did the Radler Come to Be?
In the early 1900s, young Franz Xaver Kugler worked as a lineworker on the railroad. It was hot, thirsty work, so Franz started bringing beers to work to drink, and a few extra to sell to his fellow workers. And then he brought more. And then he was hauling a cart of beer to sell in the railyard. Before long, he figured out he could make more money selling beer than working on the railroad, so he established the Kugler Alms in Deisenhofen, a small town around 20 km south of Munich. The Kugler Alms was hugely popular with locals because of Franz’s hospitality. And his Bier Garten, with entertainment like sack races, lawn games, and even horse racing, quickly became famous with people in Munich who would make their way out of the city.
In the 1920s, Franz, ever the businessman, started brainstorming ideas to bring in even more customers. The cycling fad was all the rage in Germany. Everyone was doing it! Franz reasoned, why not cycle in his direction? So he had a bicycle path built that started in Munich, and ended in Deisenhofen, right at his Biergarten. Cyclists would arrive thirsty, and everyone would be satisfied.
The problem is, Franz underestimated just HOW popular his bicycle path would be. One weekend in June of 1922, a WHOPPING 13,000 thirsty riders arrived at his door (note, this isn’t a typo, I’ve checked and double checked this insane figure, and it seems to be true). Suddenly Franz Kugler had more business than he could ever imagine. And worse, he was running low on beer.
Legend says that he looked around his cellar, and his eyes landed on the thousands of bottles of “Limonade” (fizzy lemonade) that no one wanted. And it hit him. A mix.
Franz Kugler started selling the beer cut 50/50 with lemonade. He called his “new” invention, the Radlermaß (Radler= cyclist, maß= liter). And insisted that this thirst quenching creation would get the riders home safely because it was lower in alcohol.
The Radler was a hit! In fact, word spread, and all over Munich, customers were ordering a Radler at their local Bier Gartens and drinking establishments. And the word spread.
Today, you can order a Radler all over Germany.
Kugler Alm- Home of the Radler
You can still order one at the Kugler Alm. They have a Garden kitchen, Restaurant, and a Bier Garden that holds 2400 people. And yes, the Bike Path still takes you directly there from Munich!
What is a Radler? How Can you make one at Home?
A Basic Radler recipe has 2 ingredients. (ready for it?)
BUT there is the question of what KIND of beer? What flavor of soda? And Which do you pour into the glass first?
While the original bartenders at the Kugler Alms mixed a Radler from Dark Beer and fizzy Lemonade, the lighter version with Pilsner or lager seems more common now.
Fanta Lemon (the German Fanta, not the oversweet version they sell in the US) works well, but if you can’t get that, my favorite mixer is San Pelligrino Limonata.
As for what goes first…If you pour the beer in first, then the soda, it doesn’t have as much of a head. Soda first, and you get a foamy top.
A Radler by any other Name…
Until 1993 German Beer laws meant that it was forbidden to sell a pre-packaged mixed beer. This meant bars, and people at home, got pretty good at mixing beer on their own. And naturally, a lot of variations appeared. Remember, a Radler isn’t a beer, it’s a mixed drink.
In Northern Germany, they call it Alsterwasser or Alster’s Water, named for the Alster… a tributary of the Elbe River that runs through Hamburg. This mix of Beer and Fizzy Lemonade is said to look like river water (mmmm… appetizing). And although most recipes call for lemon, some say you should use orange soda.
It’s said that in the Münsterland, they call the mix Wurstwasser (Sausage water…. eklig!!), and use fizzy orange soda to mix with beer (I can’t confirm this… my experience in the Münsterland is with the word Radler, but yes, Orange Fanta seems to be the accepted addition).
In Brandenburg, the Saxony-Anhalt, and Berlin, you might order a Potsdamer.
And some restaurants just add whatever “citrus” soda they have onhand… like Sprite or 7 up.
Of course, there are a lot of other beer mixes… Diesel, Soot, etc. You can read about those here…
Today, canned Radlers, like those from Stiegel, are all the rage. Other companies like Paulaner and Bitburger started producing canned versions for sale in the United States. And now, even the craft brewers are getting in to the action, using Grapefruit, Orange, and Lemon Sodas to flavor their beer (and drop the alcohol percentage).
But me, I like mine the old fashioned way at home… 2 cans, one of beer, one of lemon soda, and one glass…..