The beer market is perceived as being very different to either the spirits or wine market. Whisky wonks or wine geeks are passionate and knowledgeable about their favourite tipples. But then so are beer geeks … Yet somehow they seem to be open to different tastes, accommodating all levels of beer drinkers.
Picture the scene: any South African suburb on a weekend in mid-summer. The sun is baking down and some poor soul is pushing around either a petrol or electric mower, trying to wrestle his lush green lawn into submission. It’s a kikuyu carpet of emerald green which literally laps up the dewy drops of moisture supplied by the frequent rain showers and thunderstorms that occur on a near daily basis in some places, pushing out centimetres of growth almost overnight.
After an hour or so of exertion, accompanied by muttered words of encouragement which probably could not be printed in any family-friendly publication, he empties the grass basket on a compost heap or packs them neatly in bags ready for collection and surveys the estate with a sigh of achievement. He has triumphed! He wipes his sweaty brow and reaches for a refreshing beverage. Within seconds the bottle, chilled and fresh from the fridge, is dewily covered with little droplets of condensation. In the movies or on TV, he would roll that chilly, moist bottle on his forehead. Quite why, no-one really knows but it’s a “dramatic device” that crops up frequently.
But what is the beverage that he has to hand? Carbonated, certainly, but is it a straight beer or is it something else? Would your perception be of our domestic garden god slaking his thirst with a Flying Fish or Amstel Radler? Sometimes, what you need is something light, flavourful and zesty which just hits the spot in a way that a slightly bitter, malty beverage wouldn’t – and it’s here that both Flying Fish or Radler have the edge. Not only do they both deliver like gangbusters in the flavour stakes, they also have big crossover appeal.
While the naysayers would gently take the mickey out of Flying Fish, there’s no disputing its flavour. Coming in three flavour variants of pressed lemon, crushed orange and the chilled green apple, there’s a succulence and vivacity to it which a standard lager, pilsner or ale can’t match.
Similarly, Amstel proudly proclaims that its Radler is their standard beer blended with real lemon juice to provide the necessary refreshment. And the fact that it’s alcohol level is also just 3% is an added bonus. Less of that bloaty, full feeling after having one or two after golf, cycling or lawn mowing.
The story goes that the Radler phenomenon was born in 1922 when an innkeeper at a Bavarian hostelry had a group of thirsty cyclists descend on him. To stretch his meagre supply of beer a little further he added freshly squeezed lemon juice to. The cyclists (radfahrer in German) loved it and the popularity of the drink grew.
Radlers in Germany, Austria and elsewhere in Europe often include other forms of citrus, there’s tangerine for one and grapefruit being the most obvious one because it adds a touch more bitterness to the standard citrus tang. Amstel is probably the most recognised brand – and also commercially available locally – but there are a host of producers in Europe: Bitburger, Paulaner, Erdinger, Krombacher and Stiegl, for example. Locally, Jack Black offers a grapefruit-toned supercrush example.
Comments on a Radler beer review site bear out the refreshment factor. “As far as Radlers go,” one reader posted, “this one’s – surprisingly – a winner. Mild beery, lager flavour and a nice, not totally unnatural lemon-lime flavour”. (He did state that he might be a touch biased by his experience, since he was enjoying it in Amsterdam’s beautiful Vondelpark in summer.)
Yet another fan posted: “I love vacation and sail a lot. This tasty refreshing Radler fits in perfectly. It’d be nice if the alc content were a bit higher. My taste buds burn out on beer fast – I am definitely not a quantity drinker in that respect, but I can drink Radler all day.”
Definitely a ringing endorsement. With the hottest days of summer still to come – and lots of lawn mowing, cycling, golfing, hiking or simply braaing in the offing, it might be an idea to try something different.