Oh, Shandy

By Todd Coleman

Published on August 9, 2007

Beer is arguably America's national drink (see COLD BEER), and we tend to like ours just as it comes out of the bottle or the tap. But the English, whose beer-drinking history goes back considerably farther, have a long tradition of mixing beer with other drinks or other types of beer: consider the snakebite (beer and hard cider), the dog's nose (beer and gin), the half-and-half (half porter, half beer), or the black-and-tan (half stout, half lager). For my money, the finest of these British hybrids is the shandygaff, often called a shandy: equal parts beer, usually an ale, and ginger beer. The origins of the drink are murky. Some accounts attribute the invention to Henry VIII, who purportedly came up with the concoction as a tonic during his matrimonial difficulties; others trace it to the 18th-century novel Tristram Shandy. (The "gaff" in the name is thought by some to be a contraction of ginger and half-and-half.) In a 1918 compendium of essays collected, appropriately enough, under the title Shandygaff, the American novelist and poet Christopher Morley wrote, "[It's] a very refreshing drink…commonly drunk by the lower classes in England, and by…newspaper men, journalists, and prizefighters." I like to join the ranks of that august group by making a shandygaff using Bass ale and Reed's Extra Ginger Brew, a pungent Jamaican ginger beer. The result is light, slightly sweet, spiked with hints of ginger, and eminently drinkable.

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