Whilst in France earlier in the year, I was amazed at the selection of low alcohol beers available; although when I saw how many people were drinking them at lunchtime, I realised that the breweries are responding to a clear demand. Hoegaarden Radler Lemon & Lime was one of the first that I tried, and ultimately, one of my favourites. Strangely, this isn’t included on Hoegaarden’s beer listing, although they do reference some of their non-alcoholic beers on there. In the supermarket, there were a variety of flavours in Hoegaarden Radlers alone.
We don’t see a lot of Radlers in the UK, so I thought I’d look up where the word comes from. I was amused to see that the word Radler is German for “cyclist” (Radlers are indeed very popular in Germany).
It commonly consists of a 50:50 mixture of beer and sparkling lemonade. The origin of the name is lost to time, but is presumed to relate to the popularity of cycling and the need for a refreshing, less-alcoholic beverage on the journey. The story says that a German innkeeper was waiting for his cyclist regulars, when he found out that he did not have enough beer. So he blended the remaining beer with a fresh citrus lemonade. The regulars really liked the new drink, so it became popular.
And to any non-Germans who think that a beer being created for sport seems slightly crazy, don’t forget that Erdinger Weissbräu Alcohol Free is actually isotonic!
The story of the brewery itself is an interesting one. Hoegaarden is a village near Tienen (in Flanders, Belgium), and has been known for white beers for centuries. In 1957 though, the last of its (at peak) 13 witbier breweries closed its doors. 10 years later, Pierre Celis, a local milkman who had sometimes helped in the brewery, started to revive the style by brewing in his hayloft, creating the de Kluis brewery. He brewed to the traditional style (water, yeast, wheat, hops, coriander, and dried Curaçao orange peel known as Laraha), and soon saw enough demand that in the 1980s he bought Hougardia, a former lemonade factory, so that he could increase his production. In 1985, a fire destroyed the brewery, and several other brewers offered help. One of these was the largest brewer in the country, Interbrew (after a merger with AmBev, renamed InBev), who lent enough money to purchase new buildings and restart operations. Sadly, Celis felt that this investment led Interbrew to pressure him into changing his recipe to appeal more to the mass market, and he grew frustrated, eventually selling the brewery completely to Interbrew (and himself moving to Austin, Texas, to setup the Celis Brewery, where it is still claimed the original Hoegaarden recipe is used!).
That’s not the end of the story either; in 2005 the owners of the Hoegaarden brewery announced its closure for late 2006, with a plan to move the production to a larger brewery. Huge protests were held by the locals at losing their largest employer, as well as a well known landmark – so much so that the move was never completed, and instead the owners invested 60 million Euros into the Hoegaarden site to upgrade the facilities.
Onto the beer itself – it’s a top fermented beer that isn’t filtered, so it pours a cloudy, yellowy-green colour, with a creamy white head. There are plenty of lemons on the nose, and a touch of wheat – it’s smells like a slightly funky fresh lemonade.
As you’d expect, this is a sweet drink, but with a surprisingly dry finish, meaning you can reach straight for the next one. The lemons, and some lime, make it taste fresh, and it’s incredibly thirst quenching. The aftertaste has a slight hint of the spices that you might expect in traditional Hogaarden beer.
Overall, the internet doesn’t seem to rate this beer well, but most people appear to be comparing it to a traditional beer, which it isn’t. For me, this is something different, something really drinkable, something refreshing, and most importantly, something that I can drink at lunch without needing a sleep after.
The lunchtime beer
Something different, something really drinkable, something refreshing, and most importantly, something that I can drink at lunch without needing a sleep after.