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Your Beermonger: Fall Already?

by ARLnow.com August 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm 2,318 24 Comments

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

Every year around this time, I get the same comments from folks when they see the early arrivals of Oktoberfests, Pumpkin Ales, and other fall seasonal beers: “Already?”; “Isn’t it a bit soon?”; “Shouldn’t those Oktoberfestbiers be available in, like, October?” For the record, the answers to those are “Yes”, “Probably”, and “No, since the Oktoberfest starts in late September (the 22nd of September this year, by the way)”.

Season changes are always awkward times of the year for me, as the demand for outgoing specialty beers clashes with the need to be up-to-date with my inventory for those looking for the newest arrivals. Of all the season changes, the transition from summer to autumn is by far the most difficult to handle.

We’ve talked about the intense competition for the consumer dollar that drives breweries to release seasonal and specialty beers earlier than expected. I’m not sure there is a seasonal beer segment more competitive than Oktoberfest beers; there’s a built-in audience and a specific date and event to associate the beer with. If you make a great Oktoberfest it can drive the growth of your brewery like few other styles can. Even if you only make an okay Oktoberfest, you’re still likely to sell a fair amount of it, and for some breweries that can be the difference between expansion or failure. All of that is to say that I understand the early releases of fall seasonals (especially Oktoberfestbiers) and try not to shake my head too much when some pop up sooner than expected.

To bring you behind the curtain a bit, here’s how it usually goes for me this time of the year: On August 1st of every year I wait for the phone calls and emails telling me which fall beers are arriving and ready to go. I expect this and think it’s an appropriate if seemingly early date to start working on bringing them in. The usual suspects are the first to pop up — Hofbrau, Paulaner, Weihenstephaner, etc., along with a handful of Harvest Ales (notables this year include Southern Tier’s Harvest Ale and New Belgium Red Hoptober). Over the next few weeks more will roll out; Pumpkin Ales will tend to run a little later with many coming in as we get into September and various Oktoberfest and fall releases will be scattered over the next couple of months.

There are always outliers of course. The big one this year seems to be Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale, made by MillerCoors under their Blue Moon label. I heard reports of this hitting shelves as early as three weeks ago, which is the kind of corporate marketing leverage move we should expect yet it still surprised me to see them roll out so early. The aforementioned Southern Tier Harvest Ale arriving a week ago wasn’t expected, but I’m hoping that means we see more of it over the course of the next few weeks as it’s a favorite of mine. After the popular first-year performance of their Oktoberfest and the continued growth of their Pumpkin Ale here, expect to see Schlafly seasonals in sooner rather than later.

Regardless of what your favorite fall brew is, keep an open mind and palate and try everything that sounds interesting to you. That unheard of beer you see out-and-about may just become your go-to beer. If you’re looking for a particular Oktoberfest or Pumpkin Ale, talk to your local bartender or retailer and keep the conversation going; many of these beers come in limited quantities and it can be all too easy to miss out on the beer you want to stock up on. In any case, don’t fret when you see fall beers early: all it means right now is more great beer to choose from out there. Until next time.

Cheers!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

  • JamesE

    Spaten Oktoberfest is my go to. Also Southern Tier Pumking

    • DCBuff

      Spaten. Yum. +24

  • A

    Can we talk about where the pumpkin is coming from that is used in the pumpkin ales released in August? Canned pumpkin? Last year’s frozen pumpkin? No pumpkin at all, just fall spices?

    • Shirlington

      Fall spices. Pumpkin itself has very little flavor

    • Aaron

      Shhh, just use zucchini and dump in enough cinnamon/nutmeg and no one will notice.

    • zimmy

      I’ve wondered about this myself. I imagine the big boys like Miller Coors use processed/frozen pumpkin from last years harvest or brought in from the southern hemisphere, but I don’t know about the smaller craft breweries.

      It will be interesting to see if the drought and subsequent shortage of pumpkin has any effect on the availability of pumpkin ales this year or next.

      • JamesE

        None of them use actual pumpkin, it is all spices

        • 1

          Actually, lots of craft brewers use real pumpkin. I’m fairly certain both Mad Fox and Cap City used real pumpkin last year, and those are just two off the top of my head.

        • Casey

          Not true, Mad Fox in Falls Church uses pumpkins and spices. Here’s their description from last years Punkinator: Punkinator
          Our seasonal pumpkin beer made with 250 lbs. of heirloom Cinderella varietal pumpkins. This beer is also spiced with pumpkin pie spice from Penzey’s of Falls Church, right across the street from our brewery. Medium bodied and very low hopped so the spiced pumpkin flavors are forward.

        • malaka

          Not entirely true…Schafly and Dogfish both claim “Pumpkin flesh” or “Pumpkin Squash” as ingredients. How they provision it in time to brew is anyone’s guess. probably frozen. But true most of the flavor is cinnamon / cloves / nutmeg / cardamon etc.

          • TheBeermonger

            malaka FTW. I was coming here to mention the “pumpkin squash” in Schlafly’s Ale. The gang at Sixpoint have been all over this during the week. The spices ARE the biggest factor in Pumpkin Ales, but in the right quantities, fresh pumpkin can make for a real treat in beer.

  • Bluemont

    I was crushed last week to discover that Shiner had replaced its summer Ruby Redbird with its Oktoberfest. Too soon! And Redbird was *so good* 🙁

    • Ren

      That sounds pretty awesome – where did you normally pick that up? I’ll look out for it next time around.

      • JamesE

        Total Wine had it

        • Bluemont

          Freaking Harris Teeter had it! But alas… no more.

          • Aaron

            Harris Teeter tends to have a fairly nice selection, imho.

          • TheBeermonger

            HT does well. Even Giant’s getting into the craft beer game, though selections vary by location.

  • Rob

    This is missing a discussion of the distributors’ roll in the process. The brewer gives the beer to the distributor, then what? Could the distributor hold onto all the fall beers until September 1 if they wanted to? If so, why don’t they? If no, why not?

    • RandL

      The same reason that stores start decorating for Christmas right after Halloween – $$$ (why would you sit on a product you want to sell as much of as fast as you can – nostalgia?)

      • TheBeermonger

        It’s rare to see a distributor hold back on releasing a beer, but it does happen. One of the bigger German Oktoberfest beers was in the distributor’s warehouse for a couple weeks before they were ‘allowed’ to put it out there. That’s the exception to the rule, which is essentially what RandL said above.

  • Reinheitsgebot

    Verflucht!

  • southarlington

    Dogfishead Pumpkin Ale is awesome !!!!! Can not wait for it to come out !!!!!!

    • TheBeermonger

      Believe it or not, should be about 2 1/2-3 weeks out. It’s gonna be a long autumn.

  • TheBeermonger

    Sorry to take so long to pop up today, everyone. It was a bit of a day in the shop and I didn’t find my usual window to answer questions.

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