Let’s clear up my bias immediately: I love summer, and I hate winter. Summer is full of long, fun-filled days, beaches, and grilling weather. Winter has short, nasty days, brutal nights, and requires layers of wool and synthetics just to make popping out to buy cat food bearable. Plenty of people who point out that New York City stinks of hot, angsty pee in the summer, and wave Robert Frost poems and black metal as proof of winter’s superiority. I can agree with those points, but summer still first in my eyes.
With all that in mind, I’m sure you understand why I’m thrilled every year when Summer Ale starts to show up in our warehouse in Brooklyn. It’s a ray of hope, an extended hand ready to help all of us up from the wet seat of another slushy winter. Sure, we’re still wearing jackets, and our office is filled with the docile hum of space heaters. But summer is really, truly coming– it says it right on the can!
And while Summer Ale reigns supreme, it’s far from the only case. When our Oktoberfest starts showing up as summer fades, I hoard it and give thanks that I no longer have to do calculus homework. When I found Sierra Nevada Celebration in my supermarket this fall, I put the rest of my groceries back on the wrong shelf and cradled it all the way home. I could go on, but frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I know these reactions aren’t just a personal quirk, so it bothers me when people get rankled at early seasonal releases. The “it’s too early” crowd is raining on a parade that the rest of us have come to cherish, because it’s honestly somewhat inevitable (though there’s still no reason for pumpkin beers to be released in early summer, when pumpkin vines are nowhere to be seen.)
First off, it’s no secret by this point that retail stores are nearly a full season ahead of any rational calendar. The easiest last-minute Halloween costume at this point is probably Santa Claus, and if you forget Valentine’s Day your day-saving gift will probably feature the Easter Bunny. Beer is, for better or worse, tied to the same schedule of getting the jump on the next season in order to stay fresh and interesting. This means all of us common drinkers are along for the ride unless you plan to go off the grid.
Second, we’re faced with an increasingly global craft beer market, and that means that not everyone agrees when the seasonal lines should be drawn. We might think this is a little early for Summer Ale, but what about our Australian friends who are hoping for a little refreshment before they hit fall in full swing? Hell, how about the difference right now between Texas (mid-70s and sunny) and New York City (rainy and oddly chilly)?
That’s a lot of conflicting beer drinkers to balance. When we enjoy the seasonal beers as much as we all do, it’s tempting to bump them up a wee bit to satisfy the folks who are ahead of us on the seasonal cycle and reward ourselves with a pint in our Tasting Room.
The simple truth of the matter is that seasonal creep cannot be avoided. The retail cycle we keep being surprised by has been in place for generations, and the practice of brewers coming up with reasons to brew things they like is literally the reason we have craft beer at all. The key to dealing with it is to make these releases work for you.
Do you love Summer Ale, like I do? Drink it proudly, for all to see and share! Stuck with an eye towards the calendar, fretting about how quickly time seems to be going, haunted by the inevitable grave? Loosen up a little, then go ahead and don’t drink what you don’t want to. There are thousands of beers in the world for you to choose. Don’t get so hung up on whether or not you “can” drink an airy saison in the depths of winter or a blustery stout to celebrate Labor Day. Just do it, and be glad you live in an era where you have the choice.
And to the person who will smugly ask what happens when my beloved Summer Ale and other seasonals can’t be found on the shelves towards the end of the season? As the White Stripes said, be like the squirrel and stock up ahead of time. Now if you’ll excuse me, all this discount Easter candy isn’t going to hide itself in my sock drawer.Back to all blog posts