Radler, Alsterwasser, Alster

Pronunciation guide for English-speakers:

What does a German drink, when he or she wants a low-alcohol beer, but does not want to resort to a "light" brew? Radlermass or Alsterwasser (its northern German name) to the rescue — a beverage that is a half-and-half mix of blond lager (usually Pils or Helles) and lemonade. This drink originated in Bavaria in the early 20th century, but it is now bottled and canned premixed and available in all of Germany. However, it generally does not make its way across the sea to North America.

Related beer style:

Radlermass — The Cyclists' Beery Thirst Quencher
On your next trip to Germany, try a Radlermass if you are in the south of the country or an Alsterwasser, if you are in the north. And when you do, savor the beverage's peculiar story:

The drink was invented in the Roaring Twenties by Franz Xaver Kugler, a fellow who is as home-grown a Bavarian as pretzels and lederhosen. Herr Kugler was a railroad worker turned innkeeper who opened his watering hole, the Kugleralm (meaning: Kugler's alpine meadow), toward the end of the nineteenth century in a little place called Deisenhofen, some 12 miles outside Munich. When, after World War I, bicycle riding became a popular pastime in Germany, Herr Kugler arranged for the construction of a bike trail through the forest, from Munich straight to his establishment—only to get himself into trouble…almost. He had not planned for what businessmen call the up-side risk, when, on a fine Saturday in June 1922, some 13,000 cyclists descended upon the Kugleralm and demanded beer. They almost depleted Franz Xaver's stock of brew.

The Kugleralm without beer would have been a catastrophe! But the quick-thinking innkeeper had a bright idea. He had several thousand bottles of clear lemon soda in his cellar, a beverage that had proven virtually unsaleable to his beer-loving Bavarian public. To save the day, and to get rid of what he considered some useless inventory, he mixed this lemon soda with his remaining beer at a 50/50 ratio and proudly declared that he had invented this concoction deliberately just for the cyclists so that they would not fall off their bikes on their way home. He called the mixture a Radlermass (Radler means cyclist in German, Mass means a liter of beer). In Herr Kugler's case, need became the mother of invention.

Thus was created what is perhaps the Bavarian equivalent of the British shandy (which is a mixture of beer and ginger beer). Herr Kugler's "cyclist's liter" quickly became so popular in Munich that other beer gardens saw themselves compelled to offer the same mixture as well. The new drink became a lasting success, and to this day, you can still buy Radlermass in beer stores all over Germany, and the Kugleralm is still going strong as a beer garden with seating for over 2,000 guests.

The northern Germans, not to be outdone by their Bavarian cohorts, came up with their own version of the Radlermass, but, of course, they had to change the name. They called it Alsterwasser ("Alster water," so-named after the little Alster River that flows through the center of Hamburg and empties into the Elbe River). The modern descendent of Herr Kugler's beverage is often sold in "two-faced" cans, with one side showing the designation Alsterwasser and a sailing motif for the seafaring northern crowd and the other the designation Radlermass and a cycling or alpine motif for the land-locked southern crowd.

In North America, you can mix this drink at home, of course: Buy a 6-pack of Pils, Dortmunder or Helles as well as a few cans of lemon soda. Mix the two in equal portions in a pitcher, add a few ice cubes and stir. It's a wondeerful summer quaffing drink, especially refreshing after an exhausting tour of lawn mowing.

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