Monday, March 29, 2010

Time of the Season

Seasonal creep has hit a new low in the brewing world. For those of you that have no idea what I'm talking about, seasonal creep essentially refers to breweries releasing their more popular seasonal beers sooner than the season that they represent dictates in order to maximize sales on that particular style from their portfolio.

From a business perspective, this makes complete sense. If you've got a Winter Ale that typically sells twice as much as your Octoberfest, then you best get the former on the shelves as soon as you can. The problem is that from a craft beer consumer standpoint it often leaves you scratching your head.

Case in point, and the reason for this post: I went out to dinner over the weekend and while the beer selection was limited, the bar had tap handles for Magic Hat Vinyl, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Samuel Adams Noble Pils, which if you didn't know is the new Spring Seasonal from Boston Beer Company and is actually quite enjoyable and in my opinion is a significant step up from their former Spring seasonal, the White Ale. Anyway, I happily ordered up a pint of the Pils and not five minutes later our waitress had returned to inform me that the Pils keg had recently kicked and had since been replaced by the Summer Ale. Huh? Spring was barely a week old and the Spring Seasonal from one of the largest breweries in the country was already being shoved aside. Unacceptable. I decided to pass on the Summer and go for a pint of the Vinyl instead as while it's not nearly as flavorful or enjoyable as the Noble Pils or even the Summer Ale at that, it's still decent enough and is actually Magic Hat's Spring beer. A light, refreshing lemony summer wheat beer just didn't seem right on a cold, windy and rainy April evening.

(As an aside, and this is not Boston Beer's fault in any way, if a keg of one beer kicks and you replace it with something else, change the tap handle! I'm pretty sure it's actually illegal in New Jersey to dispense beer from a tap that's marked as another brand. Bad form by the restaurant.)

And while Boston Beer might not be the biggest culprit, they are almost certainly the most visible simply because of their size, yet are of course not the only offenders. I've been able to pick up four packs of Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale in early August, have already seen Leinenkugel's Summer Explorer Twelve pack on the shelves this year and just recently purchased a Lakefront Brewery Sampler Eight-Pack (reviews of these beers coming soon) where one of the slots was reserved for a seasonal beer from the brewery. I assumed that slot would be occupied by Snake Chaser, their Irish Style Spring Stout, but alas was greeted by a bottle of White Beer which is, you guessed it, their Summer offering.

Now, I'm not suggesting that a Summer Ale for instance should only be available from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but having it out in the market from late April until early September seems much more reasonable (although it's still too early for my liking).

Hopefully we've maxed out the seasonal creep for the breweries that are current offenders and others won't follow suit. The problem is that, again from a business standpoint, you can't really blame them for making the decision to do so as they'd just be trying to keep up with the other guys.

The only way to make these breweries realize that their release schedules can be a bit ridiculous is to refuse to purchase a beer that comes out with a crazy early jump on it's intended season. Maybe then they'll realize that they're doing a disservice to their other brands (you certainly can't grow a brand if you limit it's release window) and change their ways. Speaking for myself, I can say that my first sip of Samuel Adams Summer Ale is still weeks least.