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.
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.
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