Alchemy & Shandies
Headline newsworthy is the Curiosity Rover, NASA’s gizmo for exploring the red planet and searching for life-sustaining water. Curious Traveler, by comparison, is designed for thirst-quenching refreshment. As you’ll see, it’s hardly rocket science. But first, at the start of 2012, Alchemy & Science—billed as a craft beer incubator and legacy solution run by Magic Hat co-founder Alan Newman and bankrolled by Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Company—made its first move by acquiring Angel City Brewing in Los Angeles. You can read the Q&A I did with Newman here. Now, with perfect timing in the midst of a national heat wave producing a drought on par with the Dust Bowl era, A&S introduces its second project, House of Shandy. A shandy is part beer, part lemonade (or other soft drink) that’s not too sweet, not too bitter, not too alcoholic and entirely refreshing. There may only be about a half dozen on the market now such as MillerCoors’s Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy and A-B’s Shock Top Lemon Shandy, but I do believe they’ll grow. Newman’s banking on it.
All About Beer: How’d you conceptualize a Shandy-only brewing company?
Newman: In 1993, ’94, Bob Johnson was my homebrewing partner. He learned how to drink beer in the pubs of England and Ireland and he introduced me to shandies there. When we started Magic Hat, we thought, “It’s gotta come to America. They’re so refreshing. How can we make a shandy and put it in a bottle?”
We tried a couple times and couldn’t get it right. It tasted lousy.
When we started Alchemy & Science we wanted to put some interest back in (shandies). So we started playing around. I went to my new product development group and said, “What do you think?” They said, sure, no problem.
We played with recipes where the first couple batches weren’t promising (including lagers, putting it more in the German radler vein). We then tried different beer styles and someone said, “Let’s try a wheat beer.”
Then we started playing with real fruit. Real fruit gives you real flavor. The last piece, at the last minute, someone said, “What if we give it a little bit of lime? Some tartness to combat the sweetness.”
AAB: Was there an issue considering Boston Beer debuted a summer seasonal, Samuel Adams Porch Rocker? (Note to readers: Curious Traveler is made at a Boston Beer production facility.)
Newman: That’s not a shandy, it’s a radler. There was no discussion (with Boston Beer Company). People find this hard to believe, but it’s true. I pay less attention to Sam Adams today than I did when I was at Magic Hat. I didn’t know they were doing (Porch Rocker) until we were pretty much done.
Jim (probably) drove the Porch Rocker and I drove the Curious Traveler. There’s obviously room in the market.
AAB: Though the name is singular, House of Shandy, there’ll be others?
Newman: Next up is Tenacious Traveler, a ginger honey shandy. Package only, no draft.
We use a phrase: We’re taking the age-old tradition of shandy and applying good-old American ingenuity to it.
Just like craft beer. Everything (used to be) stylistic. When Magic Hat started, everything was brewed to style. We were one that said we’re not going to brew to style… Not until late ‘80s, early ‘90s, did people really embrace (returning ingenuity to) beer. “Why the [flip] do we care [about style]?”
Americans like that. We’re doing that with shandies. We won’t be held to the traditional “shandy is.” So the next one is ginger honey. And a third one’s coming out in spring. Traditional? No. But easy-drinking, refreshing. Using only the finest, all-natural ingredients, brewing in small batches. (The focus is making) fun, refreshing beers that are great to drink.
AAB: Shandies are generally perceived as being summertime refreshers, but you’re going year-round. As more flavors come down the pipe, will they be built on the same base beer?
Newman: No. Tenacious Traveler will use similar base but not after that. Similar bases but not the same. We have no rule.
AAB: But no barrel-aged imperial shandy? (I thought I asked jokingly)
Newman: Well… we’re definitely talking about barrel aging and using other yeasts… Krieks are my all-time favorite beers.