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It’s Still Summer – Back Off with the Fall Seasonal Beers!

I was at one of the larger beer stores in my area last week, picking up a four pack of Founders Cerise, their ale brewed with Michigan tart cherries that is particularly excellent this year.

I love fruit beers in the month of August – they are a tasty pick-me-up at the end of a long, hot summer. The trouble is, I feel like they are being rushed off of the shelves while the weather is still scorching to make room for heartier fall seasonal beers.

I saw this illustrated quite clearly as I was perusing the craft beer wall for fruity delights. Behind me on the opposite side of the aisle were more than a few different pumpkin and “fest” beers stacked high, looming silently, waiting for the SKU’s of summer to sell out so they can take their place.

I know that seasonal beers are…umm…seasonal, but summer is still in full bloom, and I don’t like feeling pressured to load up on summer selections so I’ll have something refreshing to drink when it’s still 90 degrees in New Jersey in a few weeks.

It should be like when I was a kid.  Christmas waited patiently until the Thanksgiving table had been cleared before it tried to take center stage. Black Friday kicked off the holiday shopping season, with the mall (a place where people shopped in the late 20th century) decked out in cheesy displays of seasonal splendor.  It was an event.

Then a few years ago, Cyber Monday became a thing, and online retailers cut in line ahead of their brick-and-mortar counterparts to make a grab at your wallet four days early (EDIT:Reader Mark points out that Cyber Monday is after Black Friday, not before, but last year’s pre-Cyber Monday deals were definitely pimped before the turkey was carved). But now even that seems tame, because the TV ads for holiday shopping now start in October, while I’m still trying to admire the goddamn fall foliage! Stop humping my leg, Christmas – wait you turn!!

As you can see, I have some issues about seasonal appropriateness when it comes to retailing, and seeing those fall seasonals stacked up in the first week of August clearly struck that nerve.

I guess I see the unvarnished greed of it. Target doesn’t start playing Christmas ads during Week 8 of the NFL season because they’re just so darn excited about sharing the holiday spirit that they just can’t wait(!). They do it so you come and buy early with them. Once you have that Nerf flame thrower in the attic for little Johnny, you’re not gonna need another one. Suck it Toys ‘R Us!!

I kind of feel the same way about fall seasonals. I know there’s a supply chain and sometimes things arrive early, but seeing them out for sale made the “money grab” bell go off in my head. I felt like these brewers were so eager to get in my cart before the other guys sold me a pumpkin beer, they shipped their stuff in late July, when Target proclaims its Back to School time(!).

As a guy who appreciates a wide selection of beer buying options, I should be happy to see these fall beers rolling into the stores. But it seems early this year. Too early. Suspiciously early. Like craft brewers are adopting Big Business tactics to maximize their potential seasonal profits and hit their projected revenue targets as efficiently as possible.

While this might be a reality (craft beer is a big business), it’s a reality I don’t like.  I prefer to think of craft brewers as shaggy guys and earthy girls who are having fun making beer and accidentally make some money doing it.  It’s becoming more and more clear that my beer goggles are a little rose colored.

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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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55 Comments on “It’s Still Summer – Back Off with the Fall Seasonal Beers!”

  1. August 16, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. I was in my local craft beer enabler just yesterday and had to shield my eyes from the wall of pumpkin ales. I love them (especially Schlafly, which was beckoning me with a Siren’s call) but I can’t put them in cart when it’s still 90 degrees. Simple as that.

    Of course, by the time I do feel its appropriate to grab some great pumpkin and other Fall brews, they’ll have been replaced by the Winter Seasonals…..

    Cheers!

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      I don’t think I could resist the Schlafly or a Southern Tier Pumking, regardless of the weather. Id’ just curl up in front of the AC, put on a sweater and pretend…

      • August 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

        I have to admit that I did consider sneaking the Schlafly in the cart for future enjoyment. The virtual Autumn environment wouldn’t work for me because my wife would banish me to the very non-air conditioned shed if I dared lower the thermostat below 73.

        • August 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

          Two words: ice bath!

  2. August 16, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    I don’t really mind seeing the Oktoberfests and Pumpkin ales making their appearance so early, especially since they are not required to be consumed as fresh as possible. The fresh hop beers are another story. I think that (at least some) breweries try to get the Fall beers out of the way before the hop harvest, so that their fresh hop ales can be cranked out and sold as soon as possible. Just a theory.

    Then again, I will drink an imperial stout when it’s 90 degrees outside, so my “seasonal awareness” is probably all out of whack.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      I also feel pressure that I’ll miss something because I’m not looking for it because of the season. Case in point, I didn’t get a drop of Avery Kaiser last year, because I suspect it was here and gone before I thought to look for it. That’s not happening this year. I’ll bitch about the seasonals being early, but that doesn’t mean I’m not watching them like a hawk!!

  3. John King
    August 16, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Says the guy who if Mad Elf was out on shelfves next month would stock up…

    I’m fine with it. I love pumpkin. Don’t hate.

  4. johnking82
    August 16, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Shelves*

    • August 16, 2012 at 11:23 am #

      I rather like shelfves. It’s a portmanteau word of elf and shelf and the plural forms.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Why correct your Elf pun? And you’re mostly right, although I’m not sure my constitution (read: my liver) is up to the barrage it endured last year. That sugary nectar is hangover sauce!!

  5. August 16, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Well, as someone who works in the industry, it’s a little more complicated than that. Breweries plan their seasonals on a 3 month arc. The first month is to build sales and awareness; the second month drives the sales; and the third month is where they clean up the last of the inventory. To further complicate it, consumer trends also play a big role. People stop buying winter beers on December 26th. They stop buying summer beers after labor day. So if you over produce and still have beer on the shelf on September 1st, you’ll be hung with it.

    The next factor comes with the new found interest in seasonals other than winter. Traditionally, the winter seasonal was by far the best selling seasonal in anyone’s portfolio. The others paled in comparison. Now, Summer seasonals are taking off in a big way. So, breweries are projecting what seems like a reasonable amount of growth based on last summer’s sales only to have the projection blown out of the water by consumers.

    Finally, stores don’t like empty spots on their shelves. This could risk losing a placement with large national chains. So, the breweries almost always have their next seasonal in the pipeline and ready in case they need to ship it when the previous seasonal runs out.

    We, as consumers, are driving the seasonal creep. If we didn’t buy the way we buy, breweries wouldn’t respond.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      I hear you, and it points to the fact that craft beer has indeed become a grown up industry, full of these business issues that are now supposed to be my problem somehow. 🙂

      • johnking82
        August 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

        Thanks for providing further evidence Jim is lame.

      • August 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

        It’s your problem because you created it, you beer consumer you.

        • August 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

          So my wife is right, everything IS my fault!!

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      “People stop buying winter beers on December 26th.” I suspect your talking about the Christmas beers (like Elf). Although I don’t like or drink that type of sweet winter seasonal, I do like a lot of the other ‘winter beers’ and as I’ve already shown will buy dark lagers, porters, stouts and dark IPAs, well into the summer (especially if their marked down, LOL.) I find it hard to believe that I’m in the minority on this.

      • August 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

        No, I drink motor oil year round as well.

      • August 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

        I’ve been selling winter beers for over 10 years. If you’re not named “Sierra Nevada Celebration” or “Deschutes Jubelale,” your beer languishes on the shelves after Christmas, even if you’re not Christmas themed. Christmas themed may as well be a death sentence come January.

        We are on the leading edge of drinkers, but the mass majority of basic craft consumers follow a pretty predictable pattern. Winter beers are done after Christmas and Summer beers are done at labor day.

        • August 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

          Ah-hah, more discounted beer for me (nyaahahahah.) (There, that’s better!)

  6. August 16, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    How coincidental. My local ‘beer enabler’ (thanks for that term Alemonger, I love it) was just complaining about the same thing. He’s been fighting his distributors off, trying to keep the summer brews on the shelves till the weather cools down. But the distros are really pushing hard. He did buy several pumpkin ales and he said they practically jumped off the shelf. But then, like you, he complained that by the time fall comes there won’t be any available.

    BTW: I too will drink a stout or porter anytime of the year (and I don’t particularly like fruit beers/shandys), but I’m still happy with lagers, IPAs and pilsners–especially after mowing.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

      I think it’s been well documented that my blood is 73.4367% bourbon aged stout, so you know they’re a year round obsession with me as well.

      And I hate it when I have a problem with something, but then the marketplace shows I’m in the minority. Or maybe we’ve been trained to realize that craft beer is a get-it-while-its-there proposition. If you want pumpkin beers, better snap ’em up!

  7. August 16, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Honestly, I don’t care for fall seasonal beers, aside from the various fresh-hopped beers that show up later in the fall. If no one was buying these fall seasonals, then they wouldn’t be in your face. I suggest you keep drinking the summer brews and just switch back to the normal IPA/Imperial Stout/whatever rotation until the winter seasonals show up in November.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      I like malty and sweet stuff, so fall seasonals are a-okay in my book. I just don’t want to feel pressured to buy them when I can still get a nasty sunburn for fear of not getting a taste before they’re all gone.

  8. August 16, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Face it Jim, you’re getting old. Everything seems to be appearing earlier and earlier. What’s next, New Year’s on the winter Solstice? … I’d prefer the first day of spring.

    Next you’ll be telling the kids to get off your lawn.

    The answer seems clear to me. Brew your own and drink it when you damn well want to.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      THERE’S GODDAMN KIDS ON MY LAWN?!!! I”LL BE RIGHT BACK!!!

      • August 16, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

        Yup. You’re not slowing down really. The world’s just going faster.

        Oh, btw, somebody let their great dane lay a pile on your lawn.

        • August 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

          Marmaduuuuuke!!

  9. August 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Nitpick: Cyber Monday is the Monday after Black Friday, not before (i.e. no line cutting for us retailers! Though for my company, that whole timeframe is a big deal…)

    Regarding seasonal beers showing up ever early, it doesn’t bother me much. Of course, I’m not actually buying any of that beer just yet, even though it’s showing up. But the mere fact of its early appearance doesn’t bother me.

    I guess I just don’t see the whole “money grab” issue here. While we all see breweries growing at huge rates, I don’t think we have a good appreciation for things like margins/profits, and my understanding is that they’re relatively low. And big growth makes it hard to schedule brewing of specialty beers without impacting core beer production, etc… I imagine this is an impossible task for brewers. Even large craft brewers are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty small enterprises.

    And of course, if you’re not in the mood for pumpkin or octoberfest beers yet, don’t buy them yet. Seems pretty straightforward to me. If it’s really a problem, retailers/breweries will get the message if you don’t buy it. I guess the summer seasonal stuff is starting to run out at this point, but it’s not like you can’t get pale ales or wheat beers or other light fare even in the winter.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      Ahh…Google…google…google…aaaaand….you’re correct, sir! Still, PRE-cyber monday was a hing this year. That’s what I meant, yeah, that’s the ticket….

      Also, if I don’t buy a beer when it’s right there in front of me, there’s always the chance that it’ll be gone on my next trip to the store. I always feel pressured because of this – it’s ingrained in my as a craft beer nerd. Get ’em while they’re there.

      Plus, if the fall beers are pushing the summer stuff off the shelves, just imagine what’ll happen when the winter stuff (as ithinkaboutbeer says above, the biggest moneymakers of the year) are released early. If I want an Oktoberfest in, you know, October, then I might have to buy the damn thing in August!

      Plus my fear of missing a beer rages when I think about Avery Kaiser or if Southern Tier released their Oaked Pumpking in bottles this year. That stuff could be here and gone in days!!

      I need to go to the beer store NOW!!! I can’t miss out!!!

      • August 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

        If you’re drinking Oktoberfest beer in October, you’re late! *cough* September *Cough, cough*

        • August 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

          But you get the point, no?

        • August 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

          I totally get your point. We’re both victims of market forces, man! I’d only really worry about the special big bottle releases. I often snag them and stash them until I’m ready. 6 pack offerings? Those tend to hand around a lot longer, so I don’t rush to get those.

        • August 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

          Agreed on that. I’m mostly paranoid about missing a big bottle moreso than a four pack of Punkin.

        • August 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

          Out here, the 4 pack of Punkin is the one you have to jump on.

      • August 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

        Oh believe you me, I’ve been in Holiday mode since June, and we’ve been pushing holiday related stuff to customers since “Christmas in July”. You are indeed right to point out the way the calendar is moving these days.

        And that’s a good point about the limited nature of some of these brews driving interest. I still don’t think it’s a major dealbreaker, but I can see where you’re coming from.

        Wasn’t Oaked Pumking out in, like, May or something?

  10. August 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    I felt the same way when I saw the Southern Tier Pumking already on the shelves. I know summer went by pretty fast, but it’s not over yet! I still have Saisons and Sours on the brain.

    • August 16, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

      But still, Pumpking. Mmmm…pumpkin pie and booze. Maybe it’s not too early after all. 🙂

      • August 16, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

        Pumpkin Pie Creme Brulee is more like it. 🙂

  11. Brendan
    August 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    I think that I saw a Christmas beer last week…

    Oh well – yeah, it’s hot and no, you can’t buy a bathing suit now – if you do then please, please, please – trunks, not a banana hammock?

    It’s total big business stuff and the only part of this that I like is knowing that the fall beers are coming. Sure, they might be sold out before I finish my shandies and lawnmowers.

    • August 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      Yeah that’s the bummer. I love the fall (my favorite season by a long shot) and I love fall seasonal beers, so I hate the idea that they’ll be gone before I need a banana hammock.

      Wait..what?

  12. August 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    I completely agree! Although, I do feel like kind of a dick because I split a bottle of Southern Tier Pumking just last night with my girlfriend. I don’t normally jump for Pumpkin and fall seasonals so early, but it’s been chilly in Ohio lately and I’m in the mood for fall to hurry up! Haha. At the same time I feel bad because I’m contributing to encouraging these breweries to release them earlier year after year.

    It really does feel like “macro tactics” being used by craft breweries. That being said, I did read an article from some brewery that explained the reason they ship their Pumpkin beer out so early is because if they didn’t there wouldn’t be any left by the time October rolled around. That I can understand, but others I don’t.

    • August 16, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      Wait…they sell it early so there’s enough left later?

      • August 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

        Yeah….they basically said that if they didn’t start brewing it now they wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand until October plus they wanted to get back to their core beers as soon as possible.Only problem is, is that they can’t keep the beer at their facility so they have to start shipping it and selling it early. I wish I could remember the exact brewery.

    • August 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

      Well that’s okay, as long as they’re gonna have the fall seasonals available in fall–but that ain’t what my beer enabler told me.

  13. Bill
    August 16, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    Jim, not only is it too early now, they’ve been on the shelves at my local store since mid-July. It’s disgusting. These fall beers are being brewed in the spring. Seems silly, and when they boast organic or harvest ingredients, I have to wonder just where the hell they’re getting them from. I maintain a rule of never buying ANY fall seasonal before September 1. I might be late on some by then, but even in early September it’s still summer beer season (and they’re slim pickings even now).

    • August 17, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      They probably get them the same place my wife does for her pumpkin pies: Libby’s!

  14. August 16, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    One of the things that bothers me about the early pumpkin ones is that they clearly aren’t made with this year’s pumpkins. Those will generally be harvested in September and October.

    Fresh and local? Definitely not. Probably canned.

    That said, the brewery I work for is still cranking out our Summer seasonal! We can’t make it fast enough!

    • August 17, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      I’ll be honest and say I like canned pumpkins, at least when it comes to pies. I wouldn’t even know what a “real” pumpkin pie tastes like. If it’s good enough for my pie, it’s okay for my beer, too.

      • August 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

        It tastes the same but takes a lot more work. But beware that canned pumpkin isn’t really pumpkin, its another type pf winter squash altogether.

  15. August 17, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Dude – I could not agree more. I’m also seeing them at taps at my favorite watering holes. No way I want an Octoberfest when it is still in the 90s. And Johnny – what part of Ohio are you in? We’ve been in the 90s for all but a few days down here in Cincinnati!

    • August 17, 2012 at 10:41 am #

      I agree, but I never pass up a chance to taste Avery Kaiser, which is a fall seasonal, so don’t be TOO picky, James! Also, all it’s gonna take is one cool early September evening and I’ll be jonesing for a pumpkin beer. I just wish they’d keep them in the back until then so they don’t spoil the occasion…

    • August 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      I live in Strongsville. For about 3-4 days it was around the 60’s so pretty cool compared to what it has been and it was severely overcast those days too!

  16. August 18, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    But for those of us who sometimes enjoy a heartier beer, I welcome the fall seasonals. Or, for those of us who want to properly pair a beer with a meal, the over abundance of fruitier and lighter beers during the summer just doesn’t cut it. Last week we were craving a brown ale to pair with dinner. We couldn’t find one for the life of us at our local craft beer store. We were disappointed.

    • August 18, 2012 at 10:17 am #

      Time to find a new craft beer store! That stuff should be available year round.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I Got In The Mood For Fall Beers at 6:57am Today | Beer & Whiskey Bros. - August 30, 2012

    […] soon I shall oblige. I’ll stop off tonight and load up on all those fall beers I was complaining about a couple of weeks ago, happy that they’re here now that I crave […]

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