In early January, when many New Englanders were shoveling out cars from the latest winter storm, local brewing powerhouses Harpoon and Samuel Adams launched spring-themed beers. Harpoon’s Long Thaw pays homage to spring as the region’s “fickle friend,” while Sam’s Cold Snap is designed to “stir you from the haze of winter.”
That the two companies were releasing spring brews while Jack Frost was covering us with a layer of ice is not lost on the local beer community. “There’s snow on the ground and we’re selling spring beer,” says Jamey Roberts, general manager at The Harp near TD Garden. Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch explains it this way: “In New England, we tend to look forward to the next season.”
There are business reasons for the early changes, of course, and many have to do with the bottom line. Seasonal releases are often best-sellers, and getting yours out before the competition can be valuable. “I think you have to pay attention to that,” says Rich Doyle, Harpoon cofounder. “Retailers are thinking about it and putting your product on the shelf ahead of others. You do have to think about getting into the wholesalers’ minds and the retailers’ mindsfirst.”
But getting a beer on the shelf before the competition can be confusing for retailers and consumers alike. Anthony Lopez, the craft beer specialist at Acton Wine & Spirit Co., describes it as “a delicate balance.” He says, “Once one of the larger breweries skips ahead to the next seasonal before
everyone else, we see a decline in the current seasonal beers.”
That decline is something both retailers and smaller brewers constantly contend with. If a brewer can’t sell a beer because it’s out of season, they might have to get rid of it. Somerville Brewing Co., branded as Slumbrew, offers three seasonal releases. “I watched a truckload of a popular local October beer being packed into an 18-wheeler, to be destroyed, in December. It’s a shame to waste beer,” says Slumbrew cofounder Caitlin Jewell.
The best seasons for brewers are summer and fall. Any beer with the name “pumpkin” sells. Both Harpoon and Samuel Adams sell more summer beer than any other release. And despite some beers being sold out of
season, the best beers sell early and
“I think people are trained now,” says Roberts. “I think the consumer knows these beers will be released early, and if it’s a beer they like, that’s OK.”
While traditionalists may want things to go back to the way they were, the horse may already be out of the barn.
“As a result of social media, people are seeing that their friends have
gotten their hands on a particular seasonal beer or their favorite restaurant has it on tap,” says Lopez, the Acton beer specialist. “Even if it’s a pumpkin beer in August, that generates interest and we always want to make sure our store has what our customers want.”
In other words, expect beers intended for a season when trees are budding to be released when icicles are hanging from branches.