My first Radler, from Bad Schussenried
After posting the article about the health benefits of beer, I gave more thought to the relationship of beer-drinking and cycling. I was always curious about “Radler,” a shandy-type drink served in beer halls and restaurants everywhere in Germany, since the name means “cyclist.” The connection was not apparent to me and as a person who likes his beer pretty much as simply beer I was not all that enthusiastic about the idea of mixing it with a soft drink or juice. While cycling in Germany, I tended to drink Schorle, which is just sparkling water mixed with fruit juice, during a ride and then switching to more serious consideration of beer in the evening.
The jolly Franz Xaver
However, it turns out that there is an historical connection between this drink and cycling. The story goes that an entrepreneurial innkeeper named Franz Xaver Kubler had an establishment a short distance from Munich. He was a former railway worker and had opened his inn late in the 19th Century in Deisenhofen.
He arranged to have a bicycle path built through the woods to his place, the Kubler Alm, and on a summer’s day in June 1922 a considerable number of Bavarians, having taken up cycling after World War I with great enthusiasm, descended on Herr Kubler and required refreshment. Herr Kubler does not look like someone who would stint on beer but on that day he and his staff faced an estimated 13,000 thirsty cyclists and–disaster of disasters in Bavaria–it was clear that there was not going to be enough beer. Herr Kubler did, however, have a large stock of unsalable lemon soda and he improvised, mixing it 50/50 with beer and claiming that he had invented the drink just for the occasion to ensure that the cyclists would be able to get home in fairly sober condition, although I suspect that in 1922 there were not a lot of cars around to hit them anyway. He christened his creation the “Radlermass” from “Radler” for “cyclist” and “Mass” being the standard litre quantity of beer that the Bavarians drink. The drink quickly gained popularity and became available throughout Germany. The name is generally shortened to “Radler,” although in Northern Germany it is called “Alsterwasser,” after the river that flows through Hamburg.
After riding the Bad Schussenried Radmarathon in 2000, a really dreadful 200 km ride most of which was undertaken in pouring, cold rain, I was presented with a certificate, a beer stein (a “Mass”) and a bottle of Radler brewed by the Bad Schussenried brewery, one of the sponsors of the ride. I was not very interested in the Radler but I took it home to Berlin anyway. A few months later, on a very hot day, I discovered that I was out of beer but the bottle of Radler was in the fridge so I opened it. It was delicious! The Germans take a light blond lager and mix it with lemon soda and it was quite refreshing. The main advantage is that the full flavour of the beer is apparent but the alcohol content is reduced. 0.5 litres of Radler is about 265 Kcal, compared to around 205 Kcal for that much regular beer so even though the alcohol is down the sugar from the lemon soda clearly neutralizes the weight-loss effect.
The Kubler Alm is still in business and the outdoor beer garden will seat over 2,000 people. It has a full calendar of events and in July there is a celebration of the invention of the Radler. There are bicycle racks sufficient for over 400 bikes so clearly the owners have not forgotten their tradition.