The other day I noticed a half bottle (PET-type) of Canada Dry ginger ale in the fridge. I had a can of beer partly-filled from a couple of days earlier, it was Amsterdam Autumn Hop Harvest Ale, but I’d have used any IPA or pale ale available for what follows.

(The Amsterdam beer, a wet hop seasonal release, isn’t labelled IPA as such, some have called it American pale ale, but I think it has an IPA character).

It’s been hot in Toronto again, earlier this week I mean. And after a long walk, I mixed the two. It’s shandy-gaff, sometimes called simply shandy, or beer-shandy.

It’s one of the family of beers mixed with a gaseous or other non-alcohol drink in varying proportions, e.g., Radler, bitter tops, clara, Diesel, etc. Tasting it I was reminded how good it can be.

The Canada Dry, while not as assertive as ginger beer, still has a good smack and had the telling flavour in the mix. The beer was not hidden though, especially the hops which gathered round the edges.

The etymology of shandy-gaff is very obscure. I won’t rehearse the different theories except to note they range from a nonsense term to a corruption of a certain blacksmith’s favourite drink (sang de Goff) and yet more. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (ed. Jonathan Green) offers up two other theories, one related to a sense of “shanty” as a quart, or quart of drink.*

1853 for the compound word, and 1888 for the unadorned shandy, have been cited as first appearances, but searching ’round in Google Books I found this 1846 reference to the full expression. It’s in Charles Dickens’ magazine Bentley’s Miscellany. This is the earliest citation to date, as far as I know.

Bentley’s defines the drink quite precisely as a mixture of ale and ginger beer. Scotch ale was used in that instance which would have produced a quite sweet and still strong mix if 50-50 was used at any rate.

The one I made was only 3% ABV if that, and I think shandy should be not too strong, it is of its nature.

I tend to stay away anyway from strong beer. I still try them but usually add sparkling water to reduce them to 5% or less. It’s surprising how much character is retained in the original drink.

A shandy in Canada to many would mean mixing beer with 7 Up or another lemon soda. You don’t see it as often as years ago. Certainly it was a golf clubhouse or summer fixture at one time.

Brewers have plumbed the depths of the Radler mixture and should launch into shandy. The possibilities are endless and different flavours and strengths can result.

I think an Imperial stout mixed with ginger beer should be very good, an analogue to a Dark and Stormy, the rum and ginger beer mix. The ginger beer would pick up the dryness of much porter as it’s now brewed, too.


*See my additional remark in the Comments below.







1 thought on “Shandy-gaff”

  1. I think shandy-gaff may derive from the sense of shanty as a quart or pot of beer, and “gaff” means error (gaffe), or “B.S.” to use today’s vernacular. In other words, a beer shandy, being diluted beer, is an imposture of the real thing, a kind of joke. The American “guff” seems derived from one British sense of gaff, see this etymology discussion by David Sutton: The sexual explanation in Cassell’s could be true as well, but I incline to this other as it is simplest. A joke pint, or pot, in effect.

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