Notch founder: the death of seasonal beers

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(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.


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19 thoughts on “Notch founder: the death of seasonal beers

  1. The market (sales) will dictate whether or not the brewers are making poor decisions. If people choose not to embrace a spring seasonal offering in December, sales will be poor. If sales are strong, expect to see seasonal offerings year-round. I take offense to the author’s suggestion that I “stop buying beer out of season”. I’ll do as I please.

  2. I have to agree that it all seems quite ridiculous. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that Leinenkugel was releasing their summer when we’re not yet out of winter – a full two seasons early. Why call it a seasonal beer at all? Drop that moniker and simply call it a “rotating release”.

    As a consumer, I take the author’s recommended approach of not supporting the behavior. I absolutely refuse to buy seasonals out of season. Am I making a difference at all? Not likely. But I feel better about it. 🙂


  3. Geez…it’s just like clothing seasons. I don’t want to buy a sweater in July when it’s 105 out, I want to buy it in November!! His advice in the last paragraph, though, is a bit impractical. A lot of the great seasonals that I truly love are very limited, so when they come out I must buy! I don’t have the requisite will-power to buck the trend, nor do most beer geeks I know. I think it’s up to the brewers, which reminds me of the prisoners’ dilemma, which means it won’t happen.

  4. While it is ridiculous, I am not opposed to having a the option. With the advent of air conditioning an Imperial Stout still tastes pretty darn good in July…. Still, I like the seasonal idea but feel that if brewers are selling out of season beers year round and able to make them at the same quality level, I find it difficult to fault them for it.
    Concerning this article, I work in high end alcohol retail and my anecdotal research tends to disagree with this statement “Research shows the first seasonal beer you purchase is the one you tend to stick with for the next 3 months. ” . I have seen and have convinced many people to branch out and trying new beers, both similar styles and all over the board. Brand loyalty and complacency are still large factors but I do not think they are the only factors, in the game, and releasing a pumpkin beer in August (yes, I do think it is absurd) does not, by any means, mean that said pumpkin beer will win the pumpkin beer sales award, at least at the store I work at. Taste, price, salesmanship, merchandising, availability, competition and many other factors far outweigh timing in my opinion. I would not be surprised to find the opposite of that statement true, in that the first seasonal beer to come out, may also be the first to fade in terms of sales. Of course I have no hard data to back that last statement up, so take it for what its worth.

  5. I thought it was weird when Alaskan Brewing released a new “Spring Seasonal” Black IPA on Jan 1st of this year… especially since I don’t think the Winter Ale was discontinued. Also funny that Juneau broke the January record for monthly snowfall…

    They released their “Summer Ale” in the beginning of March last year so with this new seasonal I’d imagine they’ll push that release back to at least April, which is when Spring really starts in Alaska…

  6. Here’s the thing. Beer is different than clothing. It is perishable, just like food, and, in my opinion, should be treated exactly like seasonal produce. Release the seasonal in the season for which it was intended. Anything else is ridiculous. In other words, if you buy a sweater in July you can put it away to wear when the weather gets cooler and there is no difference in the product. However, if you stash your Pils or Oktoberfest for a couple months until it is time to consume them, your product will have lost its freshness.

  7. My clothing analogy was sales related only- the concept that I buy things when I need them, or want to consume them, and how it frustrating it is when I find I’m a couple of months behind. But you make a good point about people trying to save beers for months until they’re season-appropriate. Definitely detrimental to the quality of the beer by the time you’re ready to drink it.

  8. If you don’t like the early releases, just wait a few years and they’ll come all the way back around to their proper seasons.

    I have a larger problem that some periodic releases aren’t available year-round. Sometimes I want a heavy stout in the summer, and I want Nugget Nectar almost every day.

  9. “Sometimes I want a heavy stout in the summer, and I want Nugget Nectar almost every day.”

    And you can’t find a heavy stout or a good IPA whenever you want?

  10. What’s happening here is really a very simple concept, and has nothing to do with the proper season for a specific release. This is about being the first in the supermarket cooler with a brewer’s particular seasonal. They think that the first one in will garner the business. Soon, Oktoberfest will be released in spring. Then, before you know it, they’ll have caught up and be lined up seasonally again. Albeit, a year in advance. Ridiculous.

  11. It is an annoying trend, but I have to agree with a previous post that as a consumer, you can’t afford to wait, otherwise you might miss out on the beer altogether.

  12. HornyDevil is right. I bought my Summer Shandy in March. Well, it’s hot in Philly in July and I want one. I can’t because it’s not around. I guess I could save one for 4 months, or drink their Oktoberfest, then when Fall hits, I’ll have their imperial stout. Sam Adams was the trendsetter here. They adjust the seasons to boost sales. Great. It’s ironic, considering that their biggest brand is going to be Twisted Tea, which can be drank with ice on a balmy summer day. Take out Sam Summer Ale and just put a Sam label on Twisted Tea. Blehhh

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  14. via jer617:

    The problem is that seasonal releases die on the vine at a certain point. No one is buying an Octoberfest on Nov. 1st. So you release your fall seasonal on 9/21 and get about 40 days to sell the beer?

    Same goes for Winter seasonals. Since many are holiday themed, after Jan. 1st, folks are ready for spring seasonals.

    Seasonals continue to be the best selling style, and brewers are going to capitalize on that.

  15. Great Topic. I too hate these beers that come out so early, BUT Adam Nason is right on track. You have to start early so that the transition goes well when the new one comes. If you make the next seasonal and you and the distributor have dozens or hundreds of cases, nobody cares. They want the new one. Predicting the amount that will sell on a product that takes about three weeks to manufacture is somewhat of a guessing game. We use sales data, but seasonals tend to slow down near the end of them. We release spring beer Jan 1, Summer beer April 1, fall beer (short seasonal) aug or sept 1, and winter seasonal oct 1. remember, when you see a seasonal on the shelf too early, you can likely go into the store next door and see the past seasonal sitting there. seasonal beer buying is weird. Remember that a beers lifes span (one batch) sits in 1) fermenter, 2) brite tank, 3) keg or bottle, 4 ) our cooler, 5) distributor cooler, 6) retailers cooler, and 7) consumers cooler. How do you make it through that chain if you release a fall beer in sept and by oct/nov they are clamoring for winter beers.
    That being said, Leinie’s summer shandy out now is just silly.
    Cheers! Matt Van Wyk Oakshire Brewing

  16. I have to agree with the first comment from shadytony, the market will dictate what producers should produce and when. Personally, I don’t mind the seasonals coming out a bit early – it tends to charge me up for the new season. Oktoberfest and Pumpkin ales prime me for football season, winter ales have me looking forward to the holidays, and the spring and summer ales have me thinking of better weather and vacation.

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