A shandy is a drink which is made by mixing beer and juice or soda-water. Classically, the drink is made with beer and lemonade, and it has been enjoyed throughout Europe for centuries. The lemonade used in a traditional shandy, incidentally, is a more tangy variety with less sugar than some people might be accustomed to. The result is supposed to be a refreshing drink that allows people to cool down while remaining relatively sober.
Originally known as shandygaff in England, shandies consisted of beer mixed of lemonade, and the idea quickly spread to many British colonies. Outside of England, some colonies created their own versions with locally available ingredients, such as ginger beer in the Caribbean. The shandy has also historically been very popular in Germany and Austria, where it is sometimes better known as radler. In these areas, radler is often available at markets in premixed form.
The proportion of ingredients in shandy varies. Many people make a simple half and half mixture, while others adjust theirs to taste. Commercially, shandy often has a very low beer content so that it is exempt from regional laws that restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages, and it may be mixed with lemon, lime, soda water, or a variety of other ingredients. Even with low alcohol, the drink can pack a punch, especially in the heat, so care is advised when consuming this beverage.
The choice of beer used in shandy also varies by region and taste. Many hoppy ales taste excellent with lemon, and in fact some beers are served with a wedge of lemon or lime for this very reason. These beers often lend themselves very well to a shandy, while stouts tend not to blend as well with lemonade. When experimenting at home, it is a good idea to make a small taster before blending a big glass, in case the flavors don't play well together.
Supposedly, the shandy was developed so that people could have a refreshing drink after working or traveling in hot weather. In regions where water was unsafe to drink, beer was often the drink of choice for laborers and travelers, but after drinking a few glasses of beer, it might be hard to keep working. The shandy strikes a happy medium, blending beer with a less volatile beverage to provide refreshment and temper the effects of the alcohol.