It seems seasonal beer offerings start hitting shelves earlier every year, but in 2014 we hadn’t even made it out of June when bottles of Southern Tier’s Pumking released in Pennsylvania. Sure, Southern Tier blamed its area distributor for jumping the gun, but that got me wondering: Why does this beer exist so early to begin with?
Beer-making isn’t an instant process; fermentation takes weeks. Then, the finished beer is kegged or bottled, and may travel great distances to a distributor’s facility. For this “rogue” distributor to have pumpkin beer to sell, someone else further up the chain had pumpkin on the brain in May, before pumpkins are traditionally even planted. In fact, retailers were contacted back in March about this year’s Pumking orders. Spring hadn’t even officially started, and a fall-harvest beer was being allocated.
This concept of traditional boundaries being blurred is known as Seasonal Creep. Many of us complain when Christmas music plays in department stores before Thanksgiving, but won’t bat an eye about picking up Oktoberfest beers in August (traditionally released the last week of September).
I get it. There’s a huge market for seasonal beers. I’ve heard countless times how pumpkin/Oktoberfest/summer/winter beers are people’s “favorite.” Brewers are in the business of making and selling beer, and are naturally eager to tap into this market. Seasonal offerings are rushed to market earlier every year because nobody wants to be caught holding the bag at the end of the actual season. Nobody seems to want a pumpkin beer anymore come Nov. 1, though their season should realistically last until Thanksgiving. Good luck finding pumpkin beers on shelves in November anyway; they’ve been replaced by Christmas ales already.
I sat at Good Bottle on South Boulevard last week and watched a parade of folks put their four-bottle allocation of Pumking on the counter. Forget the fact it’s over 90 degrees outside. One or two complained about the early release, but didn’t even realize the irony of their purchase making the problem worse.
In years past, the folks with Vintner Wine Market did something admirable: They took delivery of their pumpkin beers, but refused to sell a drop until September. When other stores in town were out of favorites like Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin, Vintner could ride the wave as the only game in town. This year, they’ve sadly gotten in line with other retailers, and Pumking grins from shelves a month before it used to.
If the market says they’ll allow a seasonal product to come out a month early, producers will release the next year’s seasonal beer another month sooner. Last year, pumpkin beers saw July releases; this year it’s the end of June. I, for one, hope this trend holds. By 2021, I can enjoy a pumpkin beer release coinciding with Thanksgiving, when actual pumpkins are seasonally available. It’s just going to be rather awkward for the few years until then.