BC Foreign Exchange | German Traditions Reflected in Radler Beer


Germany has long been a country proud to preserve its high standards of brewing traditions.

In his book, The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver tells of an ordinance in the city of Danzig that read, “Malam cerevisiam facieus in cathedrum stercoris – Whoever makes a poor beer shall be tossed onto the town dung heap.”  This was serious business. 

The Reinheitsgebot, known as the Beer Purity Law of 1516, grew out of the Bavarian desire to protect its people from bad beer.  This law stated that only barley, water and hops could be used in beer, with yeast being the invisible ingredient bestowed on the brewer through the goodness of God.

This law primarily rejected gruit made from herbs, in favor of beer made with hops – partly to protect its people from poisonous additives but also as a result of the observation that hops acts as a preservative in beer.  Most German brewers still adhere to these guidelines in modern brewing.  But even with the strict rules of Reinheitsgebot, brewers were not deterred in the creative development of alternate styles of beer. 

Eventually, it became common to add raspberry or woodruff syrup to the sour style of Berliner Weiss.  The Radler, or cyclists, style of beer, developed in Southern Germany, spread in popularity throughout the regions of Austria and Hungary. 

In his 1977 World Guide to Beer, British Beer Hunter Michael Jackson wrote of this style as Radlermass, developed in the “old Dutchy” area of Bavaria, near Munich.  When German wheat beer was mixed with lemonade, it was called “Russ” in the common tongue.  If ordinary lager was mixed with lemonade, it was referred to as Radlermass.

Radler developed as a solution for cyclists who would work up a thirst as they pedaled their way through the Bavarian countryside, challenged by mountainous terrain and narrow roads.  Beer was the traditional German drink, but cyclists needed replenishment and a clear head.  With the addition of lemonade, this beer was low in alcohol – typically 2.4 to 2.6 percent ABV. 

It was lower in calories and adequately quenched the sportsman’s thirst.  In the United States, you will find few breweries that produce the Radler style of beer, but in Germany, Austria and Hungary, this style is a regional specialty – much like the Gose beer style in Leipzig or the beers of Belgium or Italy. 

To illustrate the point:  With the approach of the 1970s and early 80s, the centuries-old styles of Lambic, Biere de Garde, and Saison could only be found in Belgium or northern France, teetering on the edge of extinction.  With the launch of Michael Jackson’s 1991 book, Great Beers of Belgium, his Beer Hunter series of 1989 and the strength of the beer renaissance movement in America, these styles found firm footing as important historical and regional styles worth preserving. 

Brewers eager to tap into the knowledge of these European brewers made pilgrimages to the Zenne Valley and Northern France, learned of the unique airborne zoo of flora that produced these styles and set-to-work expanding the styles as global phenomena.

Beer Connoisseur Recommendations of Radler Style Beers

Flensburger Radler – Flensburger Brauerei GmbH & Company KG, Flensburg, Germany – 2.5% ABV
Typical of the Radler style, this beauty pours straw yellow from a swing-top bottle and sports a white head with ample lacing on the glass.  Crafted of 50 percent Flensburger Pilsner and 50 percent lemonade, it has a sweet citrusy nose with breadiness in the background.  It grabs the tongue with yeasty malt, tumbles into a citrusy effervescence, and finishes with dry bitterness. 

Augustiner Bräu Dunkel Radler – Augustiner- Bräu Wagner KG, Munich, Germany
Although Radler is usually made with pilsner, other styles of beer can also make up the base.  In this version, Schwarzbier serves as the foundation.  The body glows dark red with a tawny head.  Aromas are of grain, fresh bread, and citrusy lemons, echoing on the palate as a distinctive experience.

Andechser Radler Bock – Klosterbrauerei Andechs, Andechs, Germany
This Radler style uses sweet malty bock to carry the flavors of citrusy lemon, orange, and coriander to the taste-buds.  It finishes with a bitter dry edge.

Ayinger Radler – Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG/Brauerei Aying Aying, Germany
Ayinger Lemonade merges with Brau Hell, a Munich style pilsner, heavily accented with malt, to create this thirst quenching Cyclist’s beer.

Fohr-Radler – Brauerei Fohrenburg GmbH & Company, Bludenz, Austria – 2.7% ABV
Brauerei Fohrenburg delivers a portfolio of Radler beers for enthusiasts who seek crisp, quenching qualities in a light bodied beer.  Fohrenburger Süsser Radler has sweet lemon flavors and 2.7 percent ABV.  Fohrenburger Saurer Radler finishes tart, bitter and dry with 3.3 percent ABV.  Weizen Radler is a Wheat beer version and clocks-in at 2.7 percent ABV.  Radler Ohne is alcohol-free, crafted with non-alcohol beer and the classic lemonade.

Additional list of Radler Beers 
Note:   These showcase a lager base with malty notes and fresh bread yeastiness that marry-up with a citrusy lemon background, refreshing carbonation, and satisfying bitterness.

• Karmeliter Bräu Radler – Karmeliter  Bräu, Salz, Germany – 2.5% ABV
• Hirter Radler – Brauerei Hirt GmbH, Micheldorf, Austria – 2.5 percent ABV
• Krombacher Radler – Krombacher Brauerei, Kreuztal-Krombach, Germany – ~ 2.5 percent ABV
• Radler – Weeping Radish Eco Farm & Brewery, Jarvisburg, North Carolina, USA – ~2.6 percent ABV
• Radler – Pfungstädter Brauerei, Pfungstädt, Germany – 2.6 percent ABV
• Original OeTTINGER Radler – OeTTINGER INTERNATIONAL Getränke-Vertriebs GmbH, Hamburg, Germany - ~2.5 percent ABV
• Bellheimer Radler – Park & Bellheimer AG, Bellheim, Germany - ~ 2.4 percent ABV
• Löwenbräu Radler – Löwenbräu AG, Munich, Germany – 2.5 percent ABV
• Bischofshof Radler – Brauerei Bischofshof, Regensburg, Germany – 2.6 percent ABV
• Pécs Radler Lemon – Pecsi Sörfözde, Pécs, Hungary – 1.4 percent ABV

Clearly, Radler would not serve as an appropriate beer for a cold mid-winter soiree, but as a refreshing quencher for the cyclist or sportsman, the qualities of malt and citrus, combined with low alcohol levels, makes Radler a lively and restorative beer for warm-weather activities.


Carol Smagalski