Christmas In July? Pumpkin Beers In August? We Just Weren’t Ready.

The popularity of pumpkin beers, however seasonally brief, is a difficult thing to ignore.  Even four or more years ago, one could see evidence of their growing popularity.  At least a few examples were available in your grocery or local craft beer store – if you had one in your hometown – and they certainly caught your attention, even if you walked past them for something else to pair with the first chill in the nighttime air, like a favorite stout.  The names of the beers were becoming so instantly recognizable that the brewery name wasn’t needed – Punkin, anyone?  And for some craft fans, the beers themselves were starting to become as much part of fall season traditions as the wedge shaped dessert they often tried to mimic.  Almost certainly, pumpkin beers were becoming the most well known seasonal “style” of beer one could likely think of.  So it’s not difficult to understand that today it almost seems to be a requirement for every brewery put one out on the market.  Perhaps you are one who truly enjoys them, or you only pick up one or two each year to test out whether your tastes have changed enough to do so, but pumpkin beers are definitely here to stay.

But let’s be honest.  Not to dismiss them at all, but pumpkin ales are a relatively innocuous style of beer.  Not that there are great examples – Southern Tier’s Pumking instantly comes to mind, as does many others.  But it’s often said the best of the style do indeed seem to replicate your mom’s pumpkin pie, and after all, who doesn’t like pumpkin pie?  So when pumpkin beers began showing up on store shelves this year, the backlash which this relatively inoffensive seasonal style of brew generated was nothing short of interesting, at least to me.  Technically, it wasn’t the beer that caused the unrest, but the seemingly un-seasonal early arrival of them, which began to occur in early August in most places.  Although the response has begun to fade now with the coming of cooler temps, at the time, the sentiment expressed that many weren’t the beer’s early arrival, and was relayed across internet bulletin board discussions, Twitter, and even in articles in Yahoo Finance and The Denver Post, summarized by Twitter hashtags such as #summersnotover and the more direct #holidayfail (as mentioned in the Denver Post article).  And I swear that I heard a cheer somewhere far off in the distance at the exact moment well known Richmond craft beer bar Mekong posted on their Facebook page this very to the point statement:  “WE WILL NOT BE TAPPING PUMPKINS BEER UNTIL THE FALL, WHERE THE SEASON IS APPROPRIATE”.  Now perhaps you didn’t mind the early arrival, or didn’t care either way, but there seemed to be more than enough kickback to take notice.  So I simply couldn’t help but think that this energized response to pumpkin beers showing up on store shelves in mid August, when most craft fans were still giving the latest low abv IPA a try while sweating through another day on the beach, might have been craft beer’s first official equivalent to shopping malls putting out their Christmas displays mid-summer, or Halloween candy showing up in July.  Could this have been craft beer’s first formal attempt at stretching the seasons, something so many other industries do?  (In their defense, since stouts and IPAs are already available year round, and aren’t necessarily seasonals to begin with, what other true seasonal do they have?  Oktoberfests?  “Winter Warmers”?)

Perhaps breweries wanted to make sure they got theirs out there first, which meant they all did.  Perhaps it was a concerted effort to capitalize on the still surging craft beer interest, and truly make the pumpkin beer season last as long as possible by starting it early.  This is not a statement of blame for either one.  Not in the least.  (I think it’s important to note here that I wrote this post while sipping on a Williamsburg Alewerks Pumpkin Ale.)  I only thought it was interesting to see, and hear, the kickback happen.  It was a curious juncture in time, at which the craft beer movement seemed to so closely follow the traditions of other holiday selling seasons in a rush to market.  But I thought it was even more curious for another reason.  After all, who in their right mind would’ve thought that pumpkin beers would provide what might be considered a small, yet notable, benchmark moment of the craft beer craze?

The Denver Post article which I referred to can be found at this link here.

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~ by thebeerroad on September 19, 2013.

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