The death of seasonal beers.

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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.

 

20 Responses

  1. This post made my day… and my season. I personally cannot stand that seasonal beers are released when they are. Pumpkin beer in July/August. Find me one pumpkin that has grown to maturity yet… oh wait, there is supposed to be pumpkins in pumpkin beer? I took a stand a few years back and will not purchase any seasonal beer before its season arrives. That being said, as a producer, I also have decided to try and avoid the term seasonal and just leave it as limited release or the like. The other piece of this is the following… I look forward to several Spring beers in April and summer beers in July… too bad they won’t fresh anymore! uggg

    • Jesse Dunklee says:

      Matt,

      Totally agreed. Unfortunately, being on the retail end, I need to at least sample the seasonals in order to talk about them to customers. I’ve held out on most of them (i.e. didn’t have any pumpkin beer until Sept equinox), and even told that reason to customers. I think that the worst part of introducing them so early is that then they’re already gone by the time you actually want them. I want a pumpkin beer at Thanksgiving and winter beer through February.
      How’s your production going, btw? Think you could send a growler to ANTS sometime?

      - Jesse

      • Chris says:

        Jesse, I hope I pointed out clearly enough that the retail is caught in between. I lay the blame for this on brewers. And Matt, glad I can help you access your retailers on my blog! All good. Chris

  2. It’s sad and it cheeses me off but it was inevitable that this has happened. First to market is a term I hear everyday in my real life. It inevitably leads to inferior products in the market I work in but the consumer has been conditioned to expect the short fallings. I’m sure though that you would never compromise the quality of your product.

    Thanks goodness we don’t sell cars like beer. Their releases are extreme. Every year in January 2012 for example, the ads hit TV saying new 2013 models in stock now! Now that’s extreme. @Stuart_Arnold

  3. Brandon says:

    Too bad, this was THE BEST Fall Seasonal beer there was this year. I hear you on all counts. You speak the truth, I just wish everyone else thought like us. There are a bunch of us out there, just not enough to sway the majority. It’s too bad…

    Keep up the good work Notch. I can’t wait to crack a Notch Pils in May!!!

  4. Star Aasved says:

    I absolutely agree. Our favorites, the deep, dark winter brews are essentially gone from the shelves to stock spring offerings already. Admittedly, my preference lies with porters and stouts but to my mind harvest beers should be available at the harvest and lighter offerings during the heat of summer. It’s a shame to sacrifice timeliness for sales, but that seems to be the way of it in our society…

  5. When I was a beer buyer I never brought Fall beers in before Labor Day. Sadly the demand for beer out of season only reinforces the drive to be the first on the shelf. Great article! :)

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Carrie. The retailer is really in a no win situation. Glad to hear you fight the good fight, however.

  6. Of course I meant sell beer like cars!

  7. Burt Nehmer says:

    Great post Chris, I ranted about this on my blog last month when all I could find was spring beers and it was still cold here in Tucson. I hate the way all of these bigger craft brewers have moved their relaese dates forward in order to get the first sampling. The best seaonal beers are winter beers and that window is only two months.

  8. Tyler Ruse says:

    I completely agree and consume beer naturally in line with seasonality. I do the same with food: soups, stews, chilis in the winter and grilled meats with fresh vegetables in the summer.

    I find that my approach is pretty well self-enforced. I don’t really have a taste for beer, or food, if it is clearly out of season. I think seasonal beers are an awesome part of the brewing and need to retain their history and tradition. The Notch BSA Harvest story is a great one that demonstrates that point.

  9. Clint says:

    Why not make BSA Harvest your Winter seasonal, since it comes out in the Fall?

    • Chris says:

      Clint, It has been suggested. But I feel like it loses so much of the essence of the BSA program and the true celebration of the harvest. It also feels like stepping in line with Boston Beer’s seasonal calendar, and I will fight that to the end. Cheers.

  10. As a consumer, I recently saw a “winter” beer on the shelf at a local store and thought, “I wonder how old that one is?” (Which shouldn’t be my first thought in February.) That’s a shame. It’s just that some “winter” beers came out almost 6 months ago. Anyone producing seasonals “in-season” runs the risk of seeming like old beer and that’s not right. Sorry to hear about BSA Harvest. Thanks for the inside look from the brewer viewpoint. Cheers!

  11. Brian says:

    Hear, hear. This not only applies to seasonal beers, but food as well. We should be encouraging ourselves and those we share our meals with to eat food that is appropriate to the season in order to localize our consumption. We take it for granted being able to eat watermelon in November or pineapple in January, but it has traveled a long way to get to your plate.

    The biggest thing we can do is act on an individual level and vote with our wallets. It’s not a boycott of big beer or craft brewers brewing out of season, but rather an acknowledgment that, like the growing crops used as ingredients, good seasonal beer comes with patience.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Notch Session: The Death of Seasonal Beers February 24, 2012 News and Interesting Links No comments FB.Event.subscribe('edge.create', function(response) { _gaq.push(['_trackEvent','SocialSharing','Facebook - like button',unescape(String(response).replace(/+/g, " "))]); }); (function() { var po = document.createElement("script"); po.type = "text/javascript"; po.async = true; po.src = "https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"; var s = document.getElementsByTagName("script")[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s); })(); I’m sure you’ve noticed that seasonals are coming out earlier and earlier. We’re on the tail end of reviewing winter beers here, but even in late January I had a hard time finding any left. While this might seem like it’s just the way it goes and everyone is keeping up, the folks at Notch Brewing wrote an article about this phenomenon’s impact. They’re not able to release their BSA Harvest because retailers deem it too late. One has to wonder if other breweries are experiencing similar difficulties due to seasonals continually being pushed earlier. You can read the article here. [...]

  2. [...] 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 [...]

  3. [...] crafted a great blog post titled “The Death of Season Beers” that explains how pressure from stockholders has forced many of the bigger craft beer brewers to [...]

  4. [...] Lohring of Notch Brewing posted this lament the other day about the way that the whole concept of releasing seasonal beers has been perverted [...]

  5. [...] further support of my theory, Notch Brewing recently had to pull their harvest beer. Apparently if you use actual, fresh, end-of-the-season [...]