At the time I first decided to write this post it was late July here on the east coast. I was walking through one of the local beer stores I frequent, and thinking about what I was in the mood for that night. I couldn’t stomach another round of shandys, fruit beers, or ciders, and was thinking actually that summer is my least favorite season for beer. But there are good stores in my area and I knew I would find some off season stout or barley wine to meet my craving.
Then I saw it, Octoberfest.
Be careful what you wish for.
My favorite season for beer is autumn. Oktoberfest, pumpkin, and harvest selections are in full swing and the Imperial Russian Stouts and winter warmers are just emerging. These are my favorite styles, but when I saw this Oktoberfest beer, my reaction was quite the opposite of excited. Oktoberfest in July?
I had a flashback to earlier in the year, second week of February to be specific, when I was in Atlantic City and asked for the draft selection. The Sam Seasonal was Alpine Spring.
So, spring starts in February and October is now in July? As I stared at the delightful yet un-purchasable fall beer in front of me I did my best Lewis Black impression, shaking my head, wagging my finger and exclaiming to anyone who would listen “What!?!?” Standing on some principle I never even knew I had, I skipped the choices of pumpkin and Octoberfest, even though I did want them.
Can the ‘seasonality’ of seasonal selections be ruined if enough respect is not paid to the tradition of the style itself?
This trend we are seeing in the craft beer industry is not uncommon for any industry with seasonal influences. When you have a limited time frame to sell a product, there are only so many things you can change to try and increase sales.
As the craft beer market continues to develop and mature we have seen every brewer with enough capacity jump head first into the seasonal pool. Branding tactics, fancy and funny names, new styles, collaborations, and other marketing tactics are all necessary to ensure that a brewer’s new imperial-marzen-style-pumpkin-spice-whatever gets noticed and, more importantly, gets purchased. Once the seasonal market begins to get saturated, there is only one thing left to do, expand the season. It is why Halloween shops are now open on Labor Day and department stores start playing Christmas music in October.
As the movie Beer Wars taught us, if brewers were at war, the battlefield would be on the shelf.
How does a larger craft brewer ensure that his seasonal gets top billing when the market is becoming flooded with similar, and often better, local and regional selections? Get it out early. I am sure Sam Adams does not plan to sell a tremendous amount of Octoberfest in August, but what they do want is to make sure every time you go to the beer store for the rest the summer to purchase the last of your favorite patio, beach or golf beer, you are seeing their autumn samplers and branding front and center. It is called top of mind awareness in the marketing world, and they know all about it.
So when back to school is come and gone, and you decide it is time to fully embrace the fall beer season, will you be more likely to grab a six-pack or case of some beer you have been staring at for a month? There are a lot of marketing dollars betting that you will.
What are your thoughts on seasonal releases out before the season? Comment below.