The Seasonal Beer Creep

You may have noticed that there are some pumpkin beers and oktoberfests already out on the shelves of your favorite liquor store or place to buy beer. Southern Tier released their Pumking in July. I don’t know about you, but even though I’m not one to care about what kind of beer I drink in certain seasons, pumpkin beers aren’t something I want in the summer. The spices and flavors just don’t go well with 90 degree weather. I imagine I’m not the only one that feels this way. Victory just announced via Twitter that they’re Festbier will be released in a week or so. Naturally, I asked them why they’re releasing it so early. Their response was that it’s refreshing and easy drinking and this will allow it to reach more markets in time for the season. That’s a valid response. In fact, it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Victory and Southern Tier aren’t the only culprits with the seasonal creep. Boston Beer Co., brewers of the Samuel Adams line of beers, is one of the worst (though they’re hardly as bad as Southern Tier this year, maybe they’ve learned their lesson). I’ve seen their Summer Ale released in March/April. I don’t know who they’re going after, but March in New England still brings quite a bit of snow. April isn’t necessarily a whole lot warmer

What about freshness? If they’re brewing these seasonal beers early to get them to market early, what happens with the freshness of these beers? People don’t want to drink pumpkin beers and oktoberfests in the summer. At the same time, people don’t want to drink beer that’s been sitting around for 2 months either. I know the real reason these breweries are releasing their seasonals early is to make as much money off them as possible. After all, what doesn’t sell hurts their bottom line. I can’t argue with that either. I mean, breweries need to make money to stay in business. I have no problem with that. My problem is using old beer (now 2 months is hardly old, but there’s nothing like fresh beer) to do this. It creates an artificial demand for the limited seasonals. People see them on the shelves and need to buy them. The problem is, it’s August. It’s 90 degrees outside. Humidity is high. People want to go to the beach. They’re not going to be drinking a 9% ABV pumpkin beer. Most people want something lighter, something more refreshing. Granted, Victory’s Festbier fits that bill. Oktoberfests traditionally aren’t strong and don’t have big bold flavors. It’s the little nuances that give a good oktoberfest its flavor. They can be consider refreshing, and it’s a little understandable why Victory is doing this (though it’s mainly for their bottom line).

I get disappointed when some of the better summer beers are sold out long before summer’s end. I also get disappointed when October hits and all the good oktoberfests are gone (granted, Oktoberfest in Germany starts in late September). I like these types of beers to last through Thanksgiving. They make for great beers to pair with a New England Thanksgiving dinner. Summer doesn’t end until late September and Winter doesn’t start until late December. I can understand using the “Polish seasons” (as a teacher in high school used to call them) with fall starting September 1, winter starting December 1, spring starting March 1, and summer starting June 1. That’s fine with me. But hold onto those seasonals until the seasons (Polish or actual) truly start.

So what can we do to put an end to the seasonal creep? For starters, don’t fall for the hype of the seasonals hitting the shelves. Wait until you really want to be drinking that type of beer to buy them. This will cause your local liquor stores (or places that sell beer) to keep them off the shelves, or better yet, not order them from the distributor, until the season actually hits. When the distributors start seeing a buildup of the seasonals because no one wants them out of season, they’ll stop buying them from the breweries until the time is right. And you know what happens next… the breweries will stop brewing the seasonals so early.

Another thing you can do is to write to your favorite breweries. Explain to them that you want their summer beers to last through the end of summer. Tell them you want to see them on the shelves in late August so you can stock up on them for your Labor Day BBQ. Brewers tend to listen to their customers. It’s a tough business and if they lose sales, they’ll have to change their ways to keep going. I’m not telling you to threaten them with a boycott. That’s going too far. We still want them to exist. After all, we love their beer. We just want them to release their seasonal beer in a sane manner and keep it in season.

I understand that oktoberfests are a tough one. They have the shortest season. People tend not to want to buy oktoberfests after Halloween. Pumpkin beers have a little longer season, assuming breweries don’t name them after holidays (I know Gritty’s Halloween Ale is an ESB, not a pumpkin beer, but it’s tied to a single holiday) or use holiday-specific artwork (I’m looking at you Shipyard Pumpkinhead). If they changed the way they market these beers or even the branding of them, the beers will sell through November. Pumpkin pie is a staple dessert for Thanksgiving. It’s funny because pumpkin beers tend to taste like pumpkin pie.

So to all your brewers out there… Please stop releasing your seasonals earlier and earlier. I don’t want to start seeing summer beer released in February or pumpkin beers released in May.

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