Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy: You Had to Be There

Sometimes the circumstances under which you first encounter something can make the difference between loving it or hating it.
Pop music is a great example of this.  I can’t listen to the radio these days, because the music is all soulless corporate crap or garbled gangsta mumbling.  Of course my parents probably thought the same thing about Down Under by Men at Work or Abracadabra by The Steve Miller Band, but for me these songs represent some of the sweetest sounds on earth because of when and where I first heard them.  Summer of ’82 at the pool. 11 years old.  First tingly kisses. A sun-baked world pregnant with possibilities.  These songs were part of the soundtrack of a perfect, carefree summer.

I bet some 10-year-old will say the same thing about TI and  Lil Wayne and Puff Dragon (or whatever he’s called now) thirty years from now and I get it.  Context matters.

I know it did when I first encountered Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, a weiss beer brewed with honey and “natural lemonade flavor.”  Yes, it’s a lemonade beer.  And it’s refreshing as hell, which I discovered the first time I had it.

I was on vacation with my wife and kids in the Wisconsin Dells, a kitschy paradise of duck boat rides, old-timey theme attractions and dozens of water slides.  It was a blazing August day, and we had spent the better part of it outside having a great time together.

By dinnertime, a gentle, steady breeze had blown in, and we found a covered patio at a nice restaurant nestled next to the river.  I was parched, and there was a tent card on the table showing a summer-themed local beer (Leinenkugel’s is brewed in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin), so I ordered one without inspecting it too closely.

When I took the first sip, I was blown away by how refreshing and delicious the beer was.  It had a light, citrusy flavor that cut through my thirst and chilled me to my core.  There wasn’t much to it, but that’s what made it so good. I was on my second one before I inspected the card more closely to discover it was so refreshing because it was a lemonade / weiss beer mixture.  I decided on the spot that it was the perfect summer beer.

My appreciation and knowledge of beer has grown immensely between that first sip and now, but Summer Shandy continues to be the first beer I think of when the weather warms.  It’s not Summer until I crack open a Leinie’s or two, and at 4.2% ABV you can crack a few without getting bogged down by booze.  Thankfully I can find it here in New Jersey.  Even better, they now sell it in cans, which means I can take it to the lake and enjoy a Summer Shandy while we soak up the sun with friends.

I’m not sure I’d feel the same about Summer Shandy if I’d ordered something else on that beautiful day in the Dells.  It was truly a case of the perfect time and place to encounter it for the first time. Now every time I have one it brings me back there a bit, the same way J. Geils singing about how his angel is a centerfold brings me back to Fairfield, Iowa and days spent building legos, riding bikes and talking to girls for hours on the phone.

In both cases, you had to be there to truly understand how special it was.  In both cases, I’m glad I was.

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Categories: Beer, review

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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29 Comments on “Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy: You Had to Be There”

  1. July 12, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Interesting, especially given that you kinda mocked Don and his “summer beers” no?! Sounds yummy. Also interesting….we’re the same age!

    As for the music, I empathize, which is why I have satellite radio. But every once in a while you will still find good music being made out there, not only by contemporaries like Eminem who, in my opinion is a genius poet, but also by old-timers like Rush who are still kicking it!

    • Don
      July 12, 2010 at 9:16 am #

      Now there’s a girl after my heart! Rush is my favorite band, and I’ve seen them in concert twice in the last 3 years! They’re older, no doubt, Alex’s bald head is evidence of age creeping in there, along with Geddy not being able to hit the high notes anymore, but they still rock like nobody’s business!

      • July 12, 2010 at 9:24 am #

        Must be something about being into beer or wine and being a Rush fan….a fellow wine lover I know is a HUGE Rush geek. I grew up playing in a band with a Zeppelin-head for a lead guitarist, so many of my summer memories are attached to (like you) things like The Ocean, Kashmir, No Quarter, etc. but the beer memories attached to those songs are just of crappy Budweiser from a keg that was left in the sun. My favorite band, not that anyone asked….Rainbow. RIP Ronnie James Dio.

        • Don
          July 12, 2010 at 9:30 am #

          Same here! Best I could do for beer memory was Rolling Rock. But when you think about it I grew up in the down cycle for smaller independent breweries. So no surprise those memories include crap beer!

    • July 12, 2010 at 9:21 am #

      I love Eminem for his lyrics-he’s amazing – and there are lots of new bands out there that are awesome as well like Mother Mother, Band of Horses, The National, and the list goes on. But radio is dead to me. Thank god for the Internet and Pandora.

      As for summer beers, I just hit overload after a few weeks of nothing but lighter fare. I’ve struck a balance now and really enjoy a Summer Shandy when I’m parched.

  2. Don
    July 12, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    Nice Post Jim! I just wish I had that same experience to draw from for my summer beer, but my Busch story doesn’t make the beer any better. You really can relate it to music they way you have. I feel the same way about Trampled Under Foot or Kashmir. Those were my 12 year old songs. The way you feel about Fairfield is how I feel about Wauwatosa. What a great place to be a kid. Enjoy your summer shandy. Glad you can get it in Jersey.

    • July 12, 2010 at 9:23 am #

      Yeah, Fairfield was an interesting place for sure. Perhaps for another time, maybe the podcast.

  3. July 12, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    The level of love-hate with this beer continues to blow me away. Every review I’ve read is either “This stuff is awesome” or “This stuff is garbage”. I’m in the “garbage” group myself.

    That kind of diversity is why I love beer so much. No one can be “wrong” with their opinion because our taste buds are completely different.

    Good review.

    -Lost

    • July 12, 2010 at 10:12 am #

      I’m aware of the love/hate thing, and some folks who I really admire hate this beer. I guess that’s why I set up the whole context of when I first had it, as a way to explain why I adore a beer so many folks despise.

      Or I could just say “FU, I like it” but that’d be a short post. 🙂

  4. July 12, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Great story Jim. I’ve been meaning to try this beer based on your reviews, its not something I would buy normally, but I’m going to give it a shot. If I end up hating it I know a lot of people who would probably love it so I won’t be stuck with any leftovers either way.

    Funny we’re also the same age, but all I was allowed to play with were matches and broken bottles. Good memories!

    • July 12, 2010 at 10:55 am #

      I could tell you some stories about matches, Scott.

      We should probably hook up at some point and I can give you a couple of Shandy’s. It stupid that we’re both in NJ and haven’t met. Might have something to do with my house arrest/work release situation. Those parole officers are sticklers!

      Anyway, it’d be great. We’d meet, spend some time awkwardly trying to find common ground, wind up talking about Don and bolt at the first opportunity. Good times. Good times.

  5. July 12, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    You’re on house arrest too? We have so much in common! Maybe we can include our parole officers when we meet up? Good times indeed. Mine is a good icebreaker so it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.

    • July 12, 2010 at 11:10 am #

      You think your parole officer is sooo coool, huh? Well mine’s even more awesomer than yours, Scott. I bet my parole officer can beat up your parole officer. We’ll see when we meet up. Maybe we can rent a steel cage. It’s on like Donkey Kong, buddy.

  6. July 12, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    Jim, I didn’t say he was cool, I just said he was a good icebreaker. He’s pretty quiet actually and enjoys knitting, kite flying and catching butterflies. I think Don would get along with him actually.

    • July 12, 2010 at 11:54 am #

      Nowhere in that description of your parole officer did you say “drunken firearms handling” or “sheep rasslin'” so I’m not sure Don would really connect with him, Scott.

  7. July 12, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I’m with you . Context/ambiance can make a beer awesome.

    As far as the music goes, the good stuff is just hard to find. The only station I really listen is CBC.ca the Canadian station. In between the propaganda they play great stuff.

    • July 12, 2010 at 12:30 pm #

      I find that when I have a moment of awesomeness with a beer, it sticks with me and I taste the beer differently going forward. The same thing happened with Stone’s Arrogant Bastard. It was a “good” beer that went to “great” for me when I had one at just the right time. It blew my mind a bit and has tasted the same way from that moment forward (awesome).

      I’ll listen to (start sharpening your knives, Don) NPR and that’s about it on radio, save for sports radio during the NFL season. There used to be decent college stations in these parts, but most have gone to a Top 40 format to teach the aspiring DJ’s and program directors how to suckle off the corporate teet of the American radio conglomerates.

      I remember this changeover happened when I had a radio show in college, and I just kept playing whatever I wanted to and didn’t follow the awful playlists and “hot tracks” that the station manager insisted I follow. Good thing for me that he was both clueless AND spineless. But it got old after a semester – who wants to work on a station that doesn’t get what college radio is all about (being an inspired alternative to corporate radio). I couldn’t stand to be there anymore.

      Oh my, Nate, you to have set me off on a tirade!

      • July 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

        I listen to NPR as well, and BBC. My hubby/kid got me a turntable for xmas so I’m now also able to play all my old vinyl 🙂

        • July 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

          I was thinking that Don listened to vinyl as a kid, and I listened to cassettes. Since then we’ve seen CD’s and now our kids are growing up with digital downloads. I wonder what new technology will make our kids feel ancient when they’re in their 30’s. Probably some kind of “music cloud” where Google owns all the music and they rent it monthly.

          BTW, the benefit of growing up listening to cassettes is you never long to go back. 🙂

      • July 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

        I would say the same for 8-tracks, LMFAO.

        • July 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

          That was our older sister, but I also recall she had a Victrola in her room, too. 😉

  8. July 12, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    I hear ‘ya Jim. The college station in Toledo plays the oddest mix of music. Good jazz, and occasionally some decent indie. But the DJ’s are retarded. Anyway, they don’t seem to be handed a list like you were given.

    NPR & BBC aren’t on my radar…but I don’t listen to any news. I’ve tried, but there is no such thing as objective reporting anymore. I’d rather just cruise the web and gather the facts of what is happening. I do read the wall street journal, but that’s because it’s free at the office and is handy for when I head to the throne room.

    • July 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

      Plus the WSJ is softer than the New York Times if you need it in a pinch – I think it’s 2 ply.

  9. Matt
    July 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    I’ve always been impartial to Leinie’s, Original and Honey Weiss. I had my first encounter with Summer Shandy one hot, sunny afternoon at a street festival in downtown Milwaukee with the Blue angels soaring overhead. The perfect moment. I will be partaking of my first Shandy of the Summer this weekend hosting a cook out for friends. Thanks for the great review and memories of the 80’s!

    • July 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

      Wow, that does sound like the perfect moment, Matt. I’ll be in Milwaukee in a few weeks and can’t wait to tear through Lakefront Brewing Co and head over to New Glarus for a day. These days, most my travel revolves around beer, even if I’m “visiting family” – it counts if I drag them along, right?

  10. July 12, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    I can attest to the power of place in relation to how much someone enjoys a beer. Because we’re the only place online where you can purchase products like Alaskan Brewing beers or Kokanee we see a lot of sales to customers elsewhere in the country where those products aren’t available. The story is almost always the same, they went on vacation to Alaska or British Columbia, had a great time and that’s the beer they drank while there. They associate so strongly the great time they had with what they were drinking that they are willing to pay in some cases exorbitant shipping in order to experience that once again.

    My experience with Leinie’s Summer Shandy was not as glowing as Jim’s. I had it while standing in my kitchen after working in the yard a couple years back. I took one sip and thought it tasted like lemon scented Dawn dish detergent and haven’t been able to pick it up since. Tatiana on the other hand loves the beer and finds it very light and refreshing just as Jim did.

    As for music, I gave up on American commercial radio few years back. A couple years ago I was in Montreal and discovered CBC Radio3 and that has been my go to for musical entertainment. I highly recommend downloading all of their weekly podcast.

    • July 12, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

      Lemon dish detergent is usually the knock against Summer Shandy, and I can see where folks are coming from, but just don’t taste it.

      Another good example of a “context” beer is Abita. They make pretty average beers, but they taste like New Orleans to lots of folks (me included) and that makes them special.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What's Your Guilty BEER Pleasure? | Thank Heaven for Beer - January 17, 2011

    […]   Do you secretly stash a Mickey’s in the back of your fridge, or do you sneak away for a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy after having mowed the […]

  2. “Craft Beer Destination” at Yankee Stadium Puts the “Crap” in “Craft” | Beer & Whiskey Bros. - April 2, 2013

    […] say it), what frosts my flakes about this isn’t the quality of the beer – it’s well documented that I enjoy a Summer Shandy or two when the weather gets […]

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