Shandy in Sydney
By the time I get to the bar it’s already 6 p.m., but the sun is high overhead and the temperature’s a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius (72 Fahrenheit).
The streets are quiet, the air is still, and the rainbow lorikeets are cheerily grazing in the waratah shrubs across the road. It feels like summer.
This is the kind of afternoon that most Sydneians would pair with a fancy cider; or a craft IPA; or a fine Barossa prosecco. The Australian drinking culture may still be one wherein “women glow and men chunder,” but it’s no doubt an artisanally-crafted and very expensive vomit these days. We’re rich now. We like nice things, and we can afford the dry-cleaning.
I order a jug of cheap beer and another of lemonade and settle in at a table outside. The idea is to recreate an Australian classic and see how it’s held up over time. A mixture of beer and soft drink, the shandy has its roots in English colonialism (although there’s a German equivalent, the Radler, which usually employs a wheat beer instead of an ale or lager).
Like a gin and tonic, the shandy is meant to act as an antidote or accompaniment to hot summer days in exotic tropical locations. But unlike that enduring favorite, the shandy has fallen into sad ignominy: it doesn’t have the allure of class or conspicuous consumption that a branded beer or obscure cocktail might.
For this venture, I’ve chosen one of the crappiest pubs I know. Once upon a time this place—we’ll call it the Friendly Cockatoo—was an unpretentious little joint; a traditional Aussie pub in a quiet inner-city suburb. Now it’s just themed like one. Kitsch and crap hang off the walls and ceiling, tossed together in a mish-mash of Australiana and whatever was going cheap at the tourist markets. Bobbing-head Elvises and surfboards jostle with street signs and model airplanes. There’s a mannequin of a Native American chief.
There’s also a noticeable lack of backpackers tonight (they get trucked in on Wednesdays for the crab racing, the bartender explains). Most of the punters are stalwart regulars, pensioners discussing their impressive collection of health complaints. There’s a lonely Irish lad in the corner, who eventually tries to start a fight with an octogenarian over his orange shirt (and whether or not it means he’s of the Protestant faith). Later in the evening, one sad gentleman will turn up with a bag full of his worldly possessions and cadge a few beers off me. It’s all gently tragic.
I sip at my beer-and-lemonade mix. It tastes like beer and lemonade. Somewhat refreshing and slightly intoxicating, but not remarkably much of either.