The beer groundhog has seen his shadow and is extremely confused. It looks like the beer world will be having an exceptionally long summer and equally early winter. I noticed a December expiration date while drinking a summer ale. There's nothing wrong with drinking summer seasonals well into fall, but isn't it brewed "just" for summer? What's even more confusing is fall seasonals are already being released. I'm scared for the future of brewkind, is this some kind of beerpocalyptic warning with seasonals showing up literally months before the season hits?
When it comes to summer, just about any beer will do as long as it's refreshing. There are plenty of good releases simply titled "summer ale" or "summer lager." These brews often contain little indication of what style they actually are, such as the popular kolsch or witbier styles, but the marketing tactic clearly works, and those same relatively meaningless "seasonal" labels appear year-round.
As much I want to keep summer around and winter at bay, this practice actually creates a serious vortex when it comes to carving out shelf space for smaller craft breweries. One of the biggest culprits is Halloween fan favorite Southern Tier's Pumpking. We are three months away from Halloween and it's already been on the shelves since June. This early treat is no trick. The craziest thing is, people are actually buying it! Pumpking and Warlock, Southern Tier's seasonal imperial pumpkin stout were both sold out at two different shops I went to. Seasonals are supposed to be a celebration of the season you drink them in. Where exactly are we getting pumpkins in June?
There are still some flag bearers when it comes to waiting patiently in the spirit of true seasonality. Props to Rogue Brewing's Pumpkin Patch, which came out late two years ago because they needed more time to let the pumpkins they grow on-site ripen naturally. I wish freshness was the only issue, but pushing seasonal branding out very early or keeping out-of-season brews on the shelves longer can give larger breweries an advantage, depending where you buy beer.
Moral of the story: trust your local craft beer store over whatever the groundhog thinks he saw when it comes to seasonals and you won't have to worry about picking up a stale ale any time soon.
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