Bottle & Tap: Remember When Seasons Used to Mean Something

click to enlarge You’re seeing these beers a lot earlier than before. - Courtesy
You’re seeing these beers a lot earlier than before.

It has come to my attention that Bottle & Tap devotes an inordinate amount of time to talking about the weather, a trend I will do nothing to diminish this month. It's been a week since the formal end of summer and technical beginning of fall, and though this transition has had no impact on your thermometer, it's a convenient marker for a seasonal culture shift.

Football dominates the athletic landscape from Friday night lights to ESPN. Pumpkin spice lattes can be had anywhere in the continental United States. Women sport those boots that look like the ones Han Solo wears. Besides the inevitable irritation in an election year, autumn is pretty awesome so far.

Beer fans used to have lots to look forward to this time of year. Like I wrote about two weeks ago, Oktoberfest is observing its 105th anniversary in Munich, encouraging the creation and consumption of barrels of festbieren. In our own country, Halloween and pumpkin beers go together like Jason Vorhees and a rusted machete. And yet you will scarcely be able to find a Dogfish Punkin or Southern Tier Imperial Pumking by trick-or-treat time, unless you've been hoarding them since their release back around Independence Day.

What's caused production and provision schedules to get so out of whack? Like Valentine's Day chocolate before New Year's or Christmas sales in July, beers and breweries have been tripped up by seasonal creep. While it's good business to edge out competitors by bringing your own wares to market a little early, such anticipation inevitably leads to the total junking of the calendar itself. One might be inclined to opine that brewers have committed the double no-no of contradicting both The Bible and The Byrds — "to everything there is a season/and to every time a purpose under heaven," unless your customer base can't wait to get turnt, turnt, turnt on gourd-infused stouts. But somebody's got to pay the electric bill, so as long as somebody keeps ponying up pumpkin beer cash three months too early, any appeal to readjust those release schedules is going to remain a hard sell.

Thankfully, there is one facet of beer that has remained obstinately seasonal. Hop crops come but once a year, the majority of which are tagged and bagged either as loose leaves or concentrated pellets and frozen for commercial distribution throughout the year. There is a 24-hour window between harvest and spoilage, however, when hops stay wet and whole, fresh off the vine. Brewers fortunate and fanatical enough to truck these wet hops in straight from the farm, such as Sierra Nevada and Founders, produce beers that can and should only be products of their time.


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