31 Aug 2009 @ 11:37 AM 
 

The double-edged sword of fall seasonals.

 

Oh, man. Is it rant time, already?

I went beer shopping this weekend; I watch a lot of tap lists in my local area. It’s clear. Fall seasonals are out, the best and worst time of the year, but also: rant time. I’m sure that at this point my friends will expect me to go on my usual Reinheitsgebot rant, but I’m not going to (no, I’m saving that for the beginning of Oktoberfest). No, this is reserved especially for fall seasonals. Why?

I think I’m the only person in the world that really -and I mean intensely – dislikes pumpkin beer. It’s an aberration. For one thing, I believe that I correctly assume that many pumpkin beers don’t actually include pumpkin, but pumpkin pie spices. In my world, pumpkin pie spices belong in one place: pumpkin pie. The flavor of solo pumpkin isn’t all that great. That’s why they load it with spices.

Not to say I don’t like pumpkin pie – I do – but I really like beer, and frankly I’d like my beer to taste like beer, not like allspice and cinnamon. The only thing I can think about is how, in the world-before-refrigeration, they used to spice the crap out of their meat so that they couldn’t taste the fact that it was rotting. Maybe it’s my over-active imagination, but you give me allspice, cinammon, and nutmeg in something that’s not pumpkin pie and I think rotting meat. So thank you, the overactive marketing machine of America, you’ve given me two months full of rotten-meat flavored beer. Awesome. That’s so great. I especially love that it’s on the shelves now, well before pumpkins are in season 90% of the country. You know that pumpkin’s got to be fresh.

Thank god there’s Oktoberfest to offset it.

Oktoberfest! That crisp, malty, lovely lager! It evokes cool fall days, the smell of fallen leaves, and chapped lederhosen! Oktoberfest! What are you doing on the shelves of my store in mid-August, a full month before Oktoberfest even begins? (Sept. 19th – Oct 4th this year. Note: it starts three days before the first day of fall, which is about when I’d expect my seasonals.) This is like how you can go into Wal-Mart on October 30th to buy Christmas decorations.

Come on, guys. Let’s not fall (a-har-har) into this trap. I know you want to be the first seasonal on the market and all, but this is a little ridiculous. When did you make this stuff? And how long is it going to sit around before being consumed by customers? How fresh can it be if it’s been sitting in my retailer for a month and a half? When did it get to the wholesaler? Yikes!

I know that seasonals, and especially fall and winter seasonals are big sellers, but bringing them out earlier and earlier really defeats the purpose of it being a seasonal. They’re working their way to being out-of-seasonals.

Here’s a challenge: Instead of pulling out the fall seasonals in the summer so that you’re the first one on the market and can have your beer sitting around on the shelves forever and ever, why not make a Late Summer Seasonal? Nobody ever said that your seasonals had to correspond exactly with The Four Seasons, but having them match the season (like a beer-food pairing) would, I think, be preferable.

Maybe I’m just a relentless advocate for small-batch brewing, but it seems to me that agility in the marketplace, to more accurately respond to consumer demand – especially when we’re talking about something like a seasonal purchase – is going to be much more important than “I got my beer there first.” It might be first out, but if I buy an Oktoberfest that’s been sitting in a retailer’s hot warehouse for 2 months and it tastes like ass, you can sure bet that I won’t be buying that one again.

Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: distribution, marketing
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 31 Aug 2009 @ 11 37 AM

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Responses to this post » (21 Total)

 
  1. meg says:

    You are not alone. You & R should get together some time to rant about pumpkin beer.

    The Brew at the Zoo event at the National Zoo a couple weeks ago was filled with autumn seasonals – on a 90-degree, very muggy evening. I gave one of the beer guys an earful about Oktoberfest in August, and he just nodded and said they were following the big guys. Why? Why would they want to follow the big guys?

  2. ingrate says:

    I can’t get over the complete awesomeness that is the picture for this post. I hear ya, too. I am still wondering why Dogfish has their “winter seasonal” on tap right now. Their pumpkin is due out tomorrowish. Honestly…I would rather see another keg of 120.

  3. Macguffin says:

    Heh! I had exactly this question on Octoberfest when my brother and I were (pleasantly) surprised to find it on tap at TGI Fridays last night.

    He sent me out for beer for tonight – came back with DFH 90 and Sam Imperial White. We’ve drank his Yuengling, now it’s my turn. 😉

  4. nate says:

    I’m with you. I got a little mad when I saw a deluge of pumpkin beers in the center aisle of my beer shop two nights ago. You won’t find a pumpkin beer in my home. I don’t like pumpkin pie much either, though.

  5. zy1125 says:

    I am in complete agreement on pumpkin-spiced beers. So very much not my favorite.

    Also wondering if maybe, just maybe, there is a smart brewery out there that will run with and expand on the beer-food pairing idea you present. I think there is an untapped market opportunity within the localvore space.

    There is a lot of interest right now in buying / cooking with truly seasonal vegetables, and understanding what is in-season at your farmers market or local eatery…. Matching a seasonal beer calendar to increase the likelihood of having your beers paired with those good eats would be a great idea for a small-batch brewery. Or even approaching a few forward-thinking chefs at local restaurants about designing some beers to pair with their likely menus.

  6. Aaron says:

    Could not agree with you more, on all counts. Pumpkin beer=nasty.
    And as far as out of season-als:
    My local grocery store (Charlotte, NC) is still selling Harpoon Winter Warmer that probably came out last August. Yikes!

    • Nemanja says:

      Hi Shari, I’m so sorry to say that we don’t have any dairy-free recipes for the ppuikmn pie mix. I can start playing with some until I find one that works but for now, I would suggest trying the Gluten-Free Coconut Pumpkin Pie Recipe and leave out the sugar and spices.Happy Holidays!!The Farmer’s Market Family

  7. Russ Carr says:

    Pumpkin pie is awesome! Especially with a good witbeer.

    This just echoes my rant on IM about everybody and his brother getting stiffies about football when there’s still baseball to play. Only in the case of beer, it’s almost more apt. College Football begins, what, this weekend? Fine. But October is 30 days away, and I don’t like contemplating pumpkin pie prior to the ides of November.

    It’s still grilling season, too. I’m not hankering for thicker, maltier beers when I’m pulling pork chops and burgers and brats off the fire. So be patient, brewer guys. In a couple of months, I’ll be ready to double-bock and roll. But not today.

  8. Steve says:

    I like pumpkin pie and I like beer, but nary the two shall meet. Although, I don’t necessarily despise their existence. I’m more bothered by the seasonals appearing on the shelf earlier and earlier each year.

    • Dolors says:

      Orange and navy for me. I would like to think that me and my walker can be a cotruny version of fabulous. It’s great for my health, takes very little time with a little planning. I don’t want to cringe when I pass a mirror. I hope that people think ” She may be grey and wrinkly but she has style.

  9. Sam says:

    The notion that these beers are being rushed to the shelves too early is exactly on point. I even like a well-made pumpkin beer a few times a year when the leaves start to turn, but I won’t be picking some up any time soon. I never thought about how most pumpkin beers will have been on the shelves for months come November. It makes me gun-shy to buy that yearly six pack just thinking about it.

  10. notaro says:

    does pumpkin ale really sell? How much demand is there for it? I mean, it still tastes mostly like beer, to turn off people who don’t like beer. But it tastes enough like crap to turn off people like me who just want beer flavored beer. Where’s the upside? Novelty?

  11. erik says:

    Fall and winter seasonals are huge sellers. I feel funny linking directly to a callout from the presentation, but this month’s Brewers Association Power Hour was the “Craft Brewing & Mid-Year Category Sales Review” but lemme pull out some statistics:

    Seasonals account for ~15% of craft beer sales through the year. It’s not an insignificant number.

    Fall seasonals outsell all the other season’s seasonals by as much as 30%.

    Now – that could be all Oktoberfest or other non-pumpkin beers, but my guess is that they’re all rolled up together. I think for most people who are just learning craft beer (which is, let’s face it, the majority of the U.S. market), pumpkin beers represent an interesting novelty that is completely and utterly unavailable in any other beverage.

    There are no pumpkin alcopops, wines, or domestic beers, and craft beer has the market on sweeter, caramelly flavors. It’s why craft beer pairs so well with food, but also why it would tend to fare better than anything else with pumpkin spices. Pumpkins make you think of fall, you need a fall seasonal, etc. It all fits into place.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that it tastes like rotting meat.

  12. austin says:

    Finally, someone said it. Pumpkin beer is horrible! I like pumpkin pie (and an occasional pumpkin latte), but I don’t know why professionals choose to brew pumpkin beers.

    Ich liebe Oktoberfest bier. I could put it in my oatmeal. I agree with you that seasonals come out too early, but Oktoberfest is the one that I can let slide.

    F.Y.I. – I’m gong to be opening a brewery in 2010/2011. I can’t give any more info at the moment; I just wanted to let you know so that when we meet at the NABA awards in a few years, I can reference this blog. I have a feeling you will be there also.

  13. Steve says:

    How about an Imperial Stout Pumpkin Ale? That’s what the local microbrewery here in Houston just announced is the next in their Divine Reserve series.

    http://blogs.chron.com/beertx/2009/09/coming_soon_dr9_an_imperial_st.html

  14. erik says:

    That sounds terrifying.

    At least they’re working on making it when pumpkins are in season with actual pumpkin, but I can’t imagine that you’ll actually be able to taste any of it in the beer itself, it’ll be masked by spices and imperial stoutness. Why bother with the pumpkin, then? Just make an Allspice Imperial Stout.

  15. nate says:

    Couldn’t help but chime in again…I tried Weyerbacher’s Imperial pumpkin on a whim and nearly hurled. It tastes EXACTLY like A1. the bottle was infected:

    http://thankheavenforbeer.com/2009/09/15/two-impulsive-buys-too-bad/

  16. I’m with you on this one. I do enjoy one Pumpkin Ale. Pumpkin ales do become wearisome in about 5 minutes. I know how to respond, though. I’m going to make a turkey gravy ale when I have a brewery. Maybe we can keep this novelty going.

  17. erik says:

    Fear has been struck into my heart, and its name is “Beer that tastes exactly like A1.”

    Good god, man. I don’t believe you drank them both in entirety.

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