Putting the Rad in Radlermass: How Quick Thinking Invented a New Beer Style

If there's one thing that a summer beer almost demands, it's drinkability. You're spending time outside, being active, getting thirsty, and wanting a refreshing beer without impairing your outside active time. Enter the radler.

Radlermass, better known as radler, is a beer cocktail of sorts - the original version was a 50/50 mix of Munich Helles and lemon soda. It is basically the same drink as the British shandy - half beer, half fruit soda. While most beer styles are products of their environments, Radlermass has a particularly interesting origin story.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, in a little town called Deisenhofen, a former railroad worker named Franz Xaver Kugler opened an inn called the Kugleralm. Deisenhofen is located about 12 miles south of Munich, the birthplace of the Bavarian Helles. 

After World War I, bicycling became very popular in Germany and Franz Kugler capitalized on the trend by arranging the construction of a bicycle trail from Munich straight to the Kugleralm, which means Kugler alpine meadow in German (SN: I love how Germans make new words by stringing together all the words. Mark Twain once said of the German language, "These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions."). 

On one Saturday in June 1922, Kugler's plan to draw bicyclists to his inn nearly backfired when 13,000 cyclists arrived at Kugleralm from Munich, thirsty for Kugler's helles. Not having enough beer ready to serve all the cyclists, Kugler had to come up with a way to quench the thirst of that immense crowd. 

Luckily, Kugler happened to have several thousand bottles of lemon soda that wasn't selling very well because - well, Bavarians. Kugler mixed the unpopular lemon soda with his helles at a 50/50 ratio and declared that he had invented the drink just for the cyclists so they could slake their thirst but still be able to cycle back to Munich without falling off their bicycles.

Kugler named his drink Radlermass - radler means cyclist in German and mass is an old Bavarian word for liter. Thus, the cyclist's liter was invented.

Until the 1990s, it was illegal in Germany to sell radlermass in bottles; rather, it had to be mixed at the beer garden. Today, however, radlermass is widely available in bottles and cans.