Germans have been putting fruit syrups into wheat beers for some time -- though just before serving, not before bottling -- so lemon-flavored beer isn't that strange an idea. The white beer of Belgium is flavored with orange peel, and both Samuel Adams and Pete's have drinkable summer beers with a little lemon peel or lemon flavoring. I turned up three varieties (there are many more, including a Bad Frog Lemon) and had a try.
One Eyed Jack, JLBC, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (licensed by The Thick
Head Beverage Company, Newark)
The labels have the phrase "PUCKER UP BABY!" said by a cartoon wasp with an eyepatch. The words "The original alcohol lemon brew" aren't encouraging, nor are "This quality product was inspired by the bucolic industrial splendor of Wilkes-Barre, PA." Anything made by a "beverage company" rather than a brewer is bound to disappoint, too.
This looks like slightly-carbonated lemonade from a commercial mix, the sort with a lot of clouding agent to remind the drinker of lemon juice: it has just the faintest yellow-brown tinge. It smells intensely of lemon, with a slight unpleasant odor (think of lemon-scented industrial cleanser). It's powerfully sweet, from sucrose as far as I can tell, and it tastes almost exactly like artificial lemonade, with a faint nasty bitterness added. It's as sweet as a soft drink, and I can detect no taste of alcohol, merely a faint burning in the throat that suggests that alcohol is indeed there. There's not enough sourness to make a baby want to pucker up.
Almost as bad as Zima. Undrinkable.
Two Dogs Lemon Brew, Two Dogs Beverage Company, Detroit
Supposedly this is brewed "according to the original Australian recipe." The phrase "Why do you ask?" appears on the neck label and on the cap, and the label suggests, "Serve chilled with ice and a slice of lemon." Another "beverage company". Oh, dear. Green bottle, too; clearly no worries about light spoiling the hops.
Two Dogs isn't as murky as One-Eyed Jack, and it actually has a little beery color to it. That, the faint carbonation, and smells of real hops (Saaz?) and malt along with a reasonable dose of lemon, bring to mind a shandy, a half-glass of beer filled up with lemonade. To me, that's pretty much what Two Dogs tastes like, a shandy made with a very bad mass-market lager (with a mess of adjuncts) and drink-mix lemonade, perhaps with a little cheap vodka added (the label says that Two Dogs is 4.2% alcohol by volume). Hence the sweetness isn't overpowering, and the bitterness that fights with the lemon taste might be from hops.
I'm not particularly fond of the shandy, and I'd rather make my own.
Saxer's Lemon Lager, Saxer Brewing, Lake Oswego, Oregon; contract-brewed by Saxer Beer, Seattle
Saxer makes some good beers. The label has no hype, just pictures including lemons, a descriptive phrase, and the necessities. This is encouraging.
Lemon Lager is very pale, a light amber like that of many mass-market lagers. It builds an impressive head when poured into a glass and smells distinctly of hops (Saaz, I think) and malt, but not of lemon. With the first sip the lemon taste hits, and hard, jarring against that of a pretty good lightly-hopped pale lager. The annoying part is the sweetness: it's nowhere near that of the "malt beverages" above, but it's strong for so light-bodied a beer. It doesn't seem entirely from malt, either, but I don't think it's sucrose or fructose. (My guess is lactose, if only because brewing yeasts can't metabolize that, but Saxer could remove the yeast by microfiltration and add a fermentable sugar afterwards.) Adding a bit of lemony sourness to balance a heavy malt sweetness would have made a better beer.
Despite its cloying sweetness and lack of tartness, Lemon Lager is remarkably refreshing and surprisingly drinkable. I wouldn't want to drink it very often, and I can't suggest that anyone actively seek it, but it's a pleasant oddity.