By Drew Olson Special to Published Jul 20, 2010 at 3:04 PM

It's a sultry summer evening and you've worked up a thirst by working in the yard, playing volleyball or simply enjoying a freewheeling conversation with friends. You approach the bustling bar at your favorite festival/watering hole and begin formulating an answer to the common question, "What'll you have?"

After quickly scanning the beer taps and considering your options, you try to offer a cool answer, but end up blurting like a nervous teenager:

"I'll have a Leinie's Summer Shandy."

As the barkeep springs into action, you notice that several others have made the same decision. When the beer arrives, you notice the light, somewhat cloudy color and the thin, quickly-disappearing head. You raise the glass to your lips, greet the refreshingly tangy mix of malted wheat and barley with a strong lemon-citrus flavor, a touch of Wisconsin honey and you know you made the right choice.

If you haven't experienced a variation on this scenario this summer, you're certainly not alone.

But, plenty of Milwaukeeans have.

Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy, a seasonal summer product which debuted in the Midwest in 2007 and went into national distribution two years ago, has undergone a surge in popularity according to local bar operators and distributors.

"It's completely taken off this summer," said Patti Haas, manager at O'Brien's, 4928 W. Vliet St. "We don't do as much with the other seasonal beers from Leinenkugel's, but we brought it in Summer Shandy specifically for this summer. We have some regulars that like it, so we knew we'd sell some, but it has done really well."

Jerry Stenstrup, owner of Steny's Tavern at 800 S. 2nd St., has had a similar experience.

"We're out of it right now," Stenstrup said. "I was just talking to my Miller guy about that and he said it would be a week or two before we can get more. We can't even keep up with the demand."

Shannon Russell, owner of Colonel Hart's, 7342 W. State St. in Wauwatosa, echoed Stenstrup's comments.

"We usually run out before our next order arrives," Russell said. "I was actually surprised at how well it sold last year and it has been even better this year."

Theories for the uptick in sales abound. Leinenkugel spokesman Tom Ryan pointed out that this is the first time that Summer Shandy is available in cans. 

"That has made it easier for people to take some along for fishing, camping, picnics and baseball games," Ryan said. "That has had an impact, but the sales have been amazing. It definitely has exceeded our expectations. It's one of those beers that people can't get enough of."

The hot, sticky conditions this summer haven't hurt.

"I think a big part of it has been the weather," said John Droese, a bar manager for Major Goolsby's festival business. "I just got done working at Festa Italiana, where we had hot weather all four days and we moved a lot of barrels of Summer Shandy -- I'd say more than usual and more than we did of the other Leinie's products like Sunset Wheat and Berry Weiss.

"Shandy is a light, refreshing drink. It's great for hot weather. The ladies definitely like it, but the big, bald, hairy guys like it, too."

Tom Greguska, who is co-owner of Discount Liquor on Oklahoma Avenue and in Waukesha, believes that branding and seasonal scarcity have played a role in the Shandy sales spike.

"I think it's becoming a bit more established," Greguska said. "Leinenkugel's products always have done quote well. Being a local brewery from Wisconsin (product is made in Chippewa Falls and at the old Blatz brewery on 10th Street), they have a good following. I think people are trying it at bars and festivals and then they look for it in the store and take it home."

As with other summer resources -- like sweet corn and fresh tomatoes -- some consumers figure they better consume Shandy while it's available.

"When something is only around a few months, people know they have a limited time to enjoy it," Greguska said. "When it gets down to the end of the season they'll stock up. It's not unusual to see people come in and buy three, four or five cases because they want to have it at home."

Though Ryan said that Leinenkugel's "will make enough" to get through the scheduled end of the product run in August, Russell and other bar owners expect the supply of Shandy to run out a bit earlier this year.

"It's interesting, because there is a period of time when we run out of Summer Shandy and before we get Oktoberfest," said Russell, whose bar runs $2.50 specials on Leinenkugel's on Friday night.

"People ask for Summer Shandy and we don't have it. Then, they ask for Oktoberfest and we don't have that. I have to tell them that it's not my fault. They only make so much."

Given its performance this summer, it's a safe bet that they'll make more next year.

"Personally, I don't drink a lot of beer," Haas said. "But, I'll have a Shandy once in awhile. I like to have one at a Brewers game. It's lighter and less filling. You don't feel weighed down."

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.