(Boston, MA) – Notch Brewing Co-Founder, Chris Lohring, published a provocative post this morning and no, it had nothing to do with session beer. It has everything to do with the demise of the “seasonal beer” as a concept. Lohring gave BeerPulse permission to re-post it here.
While there are still seasonal beers released “in-season,” there are plenty of other examples that are released quite early. The early arrival of pumpkin beers is well-documented. More recent examples include Samuel Adams Alpine Spring which was released the last week in December (in mixed packs but early January in 6-packs) and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy which is being released right about…now.
Are some breweries killing the seasonal beer concept (or are we for demanding them early)? Are some of these just “periodic” beers now? What do you think?
Well, the death of a Notch seasonal beer. Let me explain. Back in the day before modern refrigeration, brewers were forced into brewing cycles to coincide with the seasonal temperatures, and certain beers were released as a result. Many of these beers lined up quite nicely with the seasons (refreshing in the summer, bolder in the winter) and became tradition. As craft brewers, we picked up on the tradition, because craft beer consumers like variety. But over the years seasonal release dates have shifted, as brewers try to gain an edge by being the first seasonal on the shelf. This is why Sam Adams Spring beer is available in December, and why Fall pumpkin beer is available in July.
So my perspective is from that of a brewer and not a consumer, forced to exist in a market where other brewers have pushed aside tradition in order to shift a few more units and make their stockholders happy (yes, some of us tiny, small brewers are traded publicly). Brewers have jumped an ENTIRE season ahead of when seasonal beers should be released. We are rarely drinking the seasonal beers in the season they are meant to be enjoyed. Kinda takes the fun out of it, no?
Why so early? Research shows the first seasonal beer you purchase is the one you tend to stick with for the next 3 months. But that’s only the big guys who play that game, I hear you saying. Maybe, but here’s how it affects the real small brewers who’d like to return to sanity. I released my BSA Harvest in late September. You know, that time of September when Fall actually begins? Something about an equinox, I think. The BSA Harvest is a result of a program where Notch prepays a Western Massachusetts farmer for that year’s barley crop as in incentive, which in turn encourages local agriculture. The barley is harvested in August, malted a few weeks later, brewed in the beginning of September, and hits retail fresh on September 21st. A real harvest beer in the season we should drinking it.
And the response by an overwhelming percentage of retailers? They claim a September release is too late for a Fall beer, as they are making room for the Winter beers that will be in any day. This is the hand retail has been dealt, and it is certainly not their fault. So, a real Fall beer, the BSA Harvest, born of the change of the seasons that yields a barley harvest, is deemed too damn late. So unfortunately, BSA Harvest will be absent later this year, as it was killed off by the rush to shift units and make shareholders happy (See number 5).
What to do as a consumer? It is really quite simple. Stop buying beer out of season, and stop encouraging the trend. You may start to see more beers that make sense in the season. Or during today’s snow storm, sit back and enjoy that Summer Beer that was released just last week.