Lemonade never goes out of style. But in the alcohol world, it’s having a moment.
In recent years, a flurry of lemonade-flavored — and just as important, lemonade-branded— beverages has emerged: Truly Lemonade hard seltzer. Bud Light Lemonade. Vizzy Lemonade. Natty Daddy Lemonade.
This summer, two of Chicago’s largest breweries will wage a particularly interesting boozy lemonade battle: Goose Island’s 312 Lemonade Shandy versus Revolution Brewing’s Freedom Lemonade.
Freedom Lemonade was released in January, while 312 Lemonade Shandy debuted last year to strong early local returns.
At heart, they’re both takes on “lemonade beer,” though via different approaches.
The starkest difference is in the base beers: 312 Lemonade Shandy is built on Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat Ale, honoring the shandy tradition popular across much of Europe of combining beer and lemonade.
Freedom Lemonade employs the lightly sour base in Revolution’s series of fruity-sour “Freedom” beers, which includes Freedom of Speach (peach sour ale), Freedom of Expression (strawberry rhubarb) and Freedom of Assembly (blueberry ginger).
Both beers are low alcohol — 4.2% for 312 Lemonade Shandy and 4.5% for Freedom Lemonade — and meant to be bright, refreshing summer sippers.
Adding a lemon version to Revolution’s Freedom series was a no brainer, Chief Strategy Officer Doug Veliky said. Employing the word “lemonade” offers a world of opportunity.
“A lot of people might have their first Revolution sour (beer) be Freedom Lemonade because it’s something they understand,” he said. “That’s the big opportunity here: to bring people into the category with this familiar term.”
Brewmaster Jim Cibak said the beer got far more tweaks than the average new Revolution brew. The trick, he said, was layering the right balance of lemon flavor, tartness, sweetness and aroma.
“We wanted to really have lemon integrated into the finished product rather than make a regular lager or ale with a dosing of a little lemon at the end,” Cibak said. “We wanted to make it seem like a true lemonade beer.”
Revolution does so with three additions of lemon flavor blended into the base beer — lemon concentrate, a blend of lemon extracts (mostly for aromatics) and a lemon simple syrup for sweetness. A 12-ounce can has 170 calories and 12 grams of sugar, the brewery says.
Revolution is so bullish about Freedom Lemonade that it’s already envisioning extensions: mint lemonade, raspberry lemonade, an Arnold Palmer version with tea and limeade.
“Lemon is just a flavor that resonates with a lot of people,” Cibak said. “And lemonade hearkens back to childhood. Everyone has been exposed to it at some point.”
Goose Island has already begun extending 312 Lemonade Shandy, introducing 312 Lemonade Grapefruit Shandy and 312 Strawberry Lemonade Shandy this year in mixed 12-packs.
Goose Island declined to answer questions about 312 Lemonade Shandy, including the process behind it, where it is made or nutritional information.
It did, however, release a statement saying the beer is 312 Urban Wheat Ale with “bright lemon flavor” added. According to filings with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, it appears 312 Lemonade Shandy was initially made in Chicago at Goose Island, but is now made at an Anheuser-Busch brewery in Baldwinsville, New York.
And which Chicago lemonade beer will reign supreme this summer?
Well, Goose Island wins on price — a 15-pack of 312 Lemonade Shandy ($12.99 at Binny’s Beverage Depot) maps out to about half the cost of a six-pack of Freedom Lemonade ($9.99) — but that’s no surprise. Anheuser-Busch became the nation’s largest brewery in part by undercutting competitors on price.
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As for the taste, I attempted a blind kitchen counter tasting that wound up not so blind. The beers look so different, it was easy to tell which was which. 312 Lemonade Shandy is hazy like a wheat beer should be; Freedom Lemonade has only a light haze.
While both are easy to drink — as a lemonade beer should be — Freedom Lemonade is the clear stand out. My wife and her mother, both drafted into tasting duty, agreed. One interesting note: My wife’s mother is no beer fan. She’s a white wine drinker. But she was quite content to sip Freedom Lemonade. Not so much for 312 Lemonade Shandy.
312 Lemonade Shandy has a bright, appealing aroma, but is uneven on the palate: A too-sweet finish strays from its lemon underpinning, winding into notes of vanilla and cotton candy. There’s also a surprising lingering bitterness working against it. (312 Grapefruit Lemonade Shandy skews a bit sweet but has an authentic grapefruit flavor I enjoyed, and which mingles far better with the bitterness; it’s my favorite of the series. 312 Strawberry Lemonade Shandy is a cloying mess.)
Freedom Lemonade is far more refined in its construction. From a backyard cooler, it’s unlikely anyone — from hard seltzer drinkers to hardened India pale ale drinkers to my mother-in-law — would turn it down. It tastes like a unified whole, like something built from the ground up meant to echo actual lemonade. The lemon character is the star. The beer base sits in support.
Freedom Lemonade’s aroma is earthier and more intricate than 312 Lemonade Shandy, with notes of lemon pith and zest in addition to bright citrus. The flavor comes across as deep and well integrated between what we expect from lemonade: citrus, sweetness and tartness.
We’ll see if this is a fleeting moment of attention for lemonade-flavored beer in the U.S. or something lasting. Either way, it will be interesting to see where Revolution takes Freedom Lemonade from here. I’m already looking forward to the Freedom Arnold Palmer.