Allow me to be transparent. When I first tasted the latest product in Barsmith’s lineup I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Not due to it being obscure or unusable, but rather due to my own knowledge gap. Sure, the name “Shandy” is self-explanatory, but I’m more accustomed to cocktails than beer. That said, I’m a bit of a sucker for tinkering around with unusual flavors. Hops and grapefruit? Count me in.
Barsmith shandy is in its simplest form intended to make a shandy out of a pilsner or lager. If you’re not familiar with shandy, it’s simply beer with a non-alcoholic ingredient added. This is often a citrus element, but can also be ginger beer/ale, orange juice, or apple juice. The additive is combined loosely in a 1:1 ratio, but is open to interpretation based on personal preference. For Barsmith’s Shandy, they suggest pouring 1 ounce of Shandy into a glass then adding 12 ounces of a pilsner or lager and garnishing with a grapefruit wedge. I chose Marshall Old Pavilion Pilsner for the beer, and honestly it felt a little odd adding something to it. The beer is great on its own, but I realized that I was adulterating it no more than a quality whiskey is adulterated by adding sugar and bitters. I tasted the Old Pavilion side-by-side with the newly created shandy, and there was a very noticeable difference. The extra oomph of the hops and balanced kick of the citrus created the perfect twist that was simply refreshing.
The next step was trying it out in cocktails, but before going off the “designated path” I’ll mention the tasting notes. Not because I want to drink it neat, but in order to understand it as a lone ingredient. (Although, I wouldn’t mind sipping the stuff if it were an amaro.) On the nose it’s pure hops. If you’ve ever smelled raw hops before you know what I mean. That aromatic citrus-vegetal note that hits the back of your sinuses transported me to experiences I’ve had on brewery tours. The intensity of hop aromas reminded me of the potency of St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur that other brands can’t even come close to. On the palate it’s sweet with the bitter acidity of grapefruit, yet slightly neutral in acidic flavor. The vegetal bitterness of the hops comes through in the finish like a subdued spearmint note.
I essentially tested three different cocktails, with one having a second iteration. The one that I felt deserved two iterations included at various points some of the following: blended scotch, pilsner, Shandy, grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters, St. Germain, and acid phosphate. Both iterations fell short because they had no backbone. They weren’t disagreeable, but nothing made the drink worth enjoying. However, with some more experimenting there could be something there. The second and third cocktails were more interesting. I did negroni variants, but swapped the Campari for Shandy. I did one with Loyal Gin as the base spirit, and another with Sombra Mezcal. Cocktail #1 was equal parts Loyal Gin, Barsmith Shandy, and Dolin Sweet Vermouth. Cocktail #2 was equal parts Sombra Mezcal, Barsmith Shandy, and Dolin Sweet Vermouth. While I really enjoyed the version with mezcal, the smokiness was too much and it overpowered the hop and grapefruit found in Shandy. Modifying this to be half an ounce of mezcal and half an ounce of tequila could be a good remedy. Also, I didn’t serve them on the rocks like a negroni, but in glasses with a lemon twist. I think the winning ticket would be to serve the gin-based one in a chilled martini or coupe glass with a grapefruit twist as the garnish. (UPDATE: I did some more experimenting and came up with a great cocktail to highlight Shandy. Find the recipe for The Lucent Endeavor here.)
Overall, I’m impressed with Shandy and would recommend it to both beer and cocktail enthusiasts. Personally, I’m looking forward to using it in cocktails more than beer, but its strength is that it works for either. I couldn’t find any existing products in this category and it’s outside the realm of something I’d want to make myself at home. For those reasons Shandy provides value as a unique addition to the home bar.