BEER TASTES GOOD on its own. I wouldn’t be writing this column if I didn’t think so.

But people keep adding things to their beer: to provide a little kick to the flavor, to lessen the alcohol content or to boost it.

I’ll only discuss the first two this week. Boilermakers and depth charges come later.

The impetus for this column was nine days spent traveling around Ireland with my wife, Nancy, and two friends from college. The woman friend kept ordering a shandy, and I didn’t know what it was. Beer and lemonade, she told me.

I took a sip. It was pretty good, mild, sort of like beer with lemon. But I kept up with Guinness, Murphy’s, Beamish, Smithwick’s and the occasional real ale.

Then I tried a shandy at home. It was pretty bad.

A little bit of research told me that in Britain and Ireland, lemonade is a carbonated beverage. Another case of the nations being separated by a common language.

Online recipes have shandies made with 7UP or ginger ale as well as British lemonade. Some say you can use Guinness instead of a pale ale or a lager. If you have any interest at all, keep trying until you find one you like.

The best beer with stuff added I ever had is Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale, served at Boston Beer Works outside of Fenway Park. It is a golden ale filled with probably an eighth of a cup of fresh Maine blueberries.

The carbonation moves the blueberries around the glass, and the sweetness of the berries is a super counterpoint to the beer.

Of course, people have been adding lemon and lime to their beer for years — Corona and other Mexican beers with lime, and white ales with lemon.

When I was growing up, lots of people put salt or Spanish peanuts in beer — but we are talking inland Maine and bland national brews. I’m not sure people did this elsewhere.

And Shannon Bryan, who writes Go’s Off Beat column, swears she has friends who put Skittles in beer. (Wonder why she is doing Off Beat?)

With people adding their own stuff to beer, the breweries figured they would do it for us. Magic Hat from Vermont makes a living adding things to beer. No. 9 is the company’s most popular beer, and it has a bit of apricot. Not something I order often.

I recently tasted Magic Hat’s Wacko, a summer beer brewed with beets. It was pink and clear, and had a decent head and a creamy texture. It was fairly sweet and smooth, with quite a bit of malt. Not a lot of hops. That one I might order a bit more often.

Sea Dog, with several locations in Maine, and Atlantic Brewing in Bar Harbor make blueberry ales, and I have had neither this year. I remember liking them, but I don’t dare go into detail based on last year’s memories.

It’s a little early for this, but the one thing I know I don’t like in my beer is pumpkin. I have never had a pumpkin beer I have liked.

So, my overall advice with stuff added to beers: If you like what is being added, try it. But until you know you like it, buy it in the smallest quantities possible.

 

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

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