By Jon Harahan
Seasonal beers have been brewed since time immemorial. And people have never been great at delaying gratification. This is especially true for a satisfying beer. When the beer is ready, why wait to indulge?
Why would the brewer have the beer ready so early? Why do these beers brewed for fall continue to come out earlier every year? These questions have been posed to brew- ers for over a decade in the United States.
First, let us dispose of the idea that only new seasonal beers are released, sometimes months, before the actual season in which they were intended. The process of releasing seasonal beers early has been going on for over a decade, but why?
The first reason may surprise you. It has to do with consumer demand. Brewers do not brew beer for it to sit on a shelf and go stale. They brew seasonal beers early because the wholesalers, stores and consumers ask for them. You may turn your nose up at the idea of drinking a pumpkin beer or Oktoberfest-style beer in August, but for a person who is a fan of these styles and has been waiting for months for their favorite beer to come out, July may not be early enough. Even the Germans cannot seem to wait, since the festivities of Munich’s Oktoberfest start in mid-September.
Aside from consumer demand, the brewery must look at competition and shelf space. First there needs to be an understanding of the sales of beer in the United States. By law, sales of beer occur under a three-tier system. Those tiers are the brewery, the wholesaler and the retailer.
There are some exceptions to this on a state-by-state basis based on criteria like a brewery’s size. If a rival brewery is coming out with their seasonal offerings earlier to meet the demand, that brewery is beating competition to market. By controlling shelf space and being on the forefront of the minds of sales representatives, store managers and consumers, the brewery boasts bigger sales.
For other brewers to contend in an ever more competitive market, they must satisfy the needs of that market. If the consumers, wholesalers and store owners want the product and the competition is already selling, a brewer would be silly not to brew their beer “early.” It is always advantageous for the brewer to sell more beer. If releasing a beer early allows them to do that, then they ought to.
Beer is a perishable product. In many ways, beer is liquid bread. The supply chain for beer is not a short one. And the seasons for seasonal beers are not long ones. People do not buy “holiday” beers on the first day of February, nor do they buy “winter” beers on the first of March. Consumers do not buy Oktoberfest-style beers on the first of December.
The winter beers in March are typically shelf stable and relatively tasty, but the perception for the consumer changes as the calendar does. Beers will sit and gather dust. It is better to get the beer out of the brewery door sooner rather than later, so it can hit the shelves and sell through before the next season arrives.
A brewer is tasked with keeping the beer fresh, meeting market demands, selling as much beer as possible and not getting stuck with old beer on a shelf. How do they combat these challenges?
Releasing a beer early enough so that consumers can buy what they want, when they want helps with this problem. Beer can last through a season and can be replaced by the next upcoming season as the last season sells out.
People have never been great at delaying gratification and when it comes to a delicious seasonal beer, why delay? We are so lucky.
The writer is a brewer and social media manager at Port City Brewing Company.