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Monday, October 8, 2012

Hi Doug: Where are all the Pumpkin Beers?

With the whereabouts of previous advice columnist Hey Kevin currently unknown, Siciliano's staffer Doug Dorda has stepped in to pitch hit. For his first column, Doug tackles an age-old question, one, in fact, that Hey Kevin himself took a stab at during his short-lived heyday.

Hi Doug,

I can't help but notice the fact that fall beers come out earlier every year, why is that, and why is it that a lot of my favorite pumpkin beers are gone already?

-Zachary Binx

That's right, Zachary, according to our shelves at least, it has been fall for well over two months. Octoberfest and Pumpkin beer seem as though they arrive earlier and earlier each year, which is wonderful for those who hotly anticipate the season, and woeful for those that wait for nature to show the signs of change. For as these beers are easily found in August, by the time their intended season rears its head in a tumult of climactic activity, the beers that are meant to accompany them are dwindling rapidly in terms of availability.

However, this is not a trend that is unique to fall. Throughout the year, winter beers arrive in fall, spring beers arrive in winter, so on and so forth. It's easy to see how fall beers make the most startling impact fo the consumer though. “Pumpkin beer?! But it's only August!” In the last month of summer, this is an exclamation commonly heard around the retail universe of beer. It isn’t often you hear people scoff at the maibock that arrives late winter and isn’t meant to be enjoyed until spring. Similarly, fall beers often fit into the paradigm of winter seasonals and vice versa.

There are a few reasons that we see these beers as early as we do, but principal among them is a brewery's production schedule. Lets say that brewery “A” intends to release a pumpkin beer for the fall and an imperial stout for the winter on top of all the mainstay beers that they must produce in order to fill the demand of the general drinking populace. In order to do this, and have the beer available at the intended time, they will have to brew the beer well ahead of its desired season within gaps that exist in their year-round production line up. Generally, but not always, this means pumpkin beers are brewed as early as June each year (hardly a time of year that people seek out the spice-laden indulgence of fall).

Alright, so the beer has been brewed in June and is now taking up fermenter space that is generally used for one of its flagship beers. After it is packaged, it occupies space in their warehouse that is generally taken up by one of the flagship beers, as a result they will send the beer out to the distribution channels as soon as they can to make room for the rest of their product line. Once the beer is in the hands of a distributor, they will sell it as quickly as they can in order to continue to have room for all of the brands that normally occupy their warehouse. Boil it all down, and we end up with pumpkin beer on the shelves in August. The cycle continues for the next seasonal beer down the line, and so it goes, destined to become something as dutifully complained about as the aisle in Meijer that is selling Christmas decorations before thanksgiving dinner has even been served.

As to why many of them gone already, that is for an entirely different reason. One would think that beers such as the fall seasonals would be wholly undesired until the fall is actually here. In the case of the modern beer aficionado, however, this is not entirely true. Those seasoned ale-heads that have noticed the trend over the years have begun investing heavily in the season. Often times they will notice that the beers have arrived and purchase them a case at a time so that they are well provisioned throughout the season. Indeed I believe I saw a case of O'Fallon Pumpkin Ale leave the store on a near 90-degree day. It would seem then that the time to purchase these beers is the moment they land at our feet. Of all the pumpkin beers that were received at Siciliano's in the past months, only about 2 percent now remain.

Think of their arrivals like early season clearance sales in retail stores – buying winter clothes in summer is clearly the best choice for your pocket book. While you wont be getting the beer on sale if you purchase it early, you can guarantee your seasonal enjoyment of it. This author posits that “Pumpkin August” shares strong similarities with “black friday” in that you spend a lot all at once on something that will make someone very happy in the future. The best part is that you save yourself worry over availability in the long run, so that when the big days come, you can simply sit back and enjoy your forethought, and most importantly, a beverage.

Thanks for listening.

Doug

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