Craft Beer of the Week

What's With All The Pumpkin Beer Already?

These are pumpkins. Seem a little out of place, don't they? Know why that is?

Because it's f-ing August.

The term "seasonal creep" has long been used to describe the way Christmas ornaments seem to start tinkling onto store shelves before the Fourth of July fireworks even get cold, but it can just as easily be applied to beer. Spring ales in January; summer brews in March -- overzealous brewers are releasing "seasonals" so far out of season as to render the term meaningless.

No other beer style exemplifies this trend as clearly as pumpkin ales, which have already started appearing on shelves throughout the Valley even though it'll be months until you see an actual pumpkin. Why the premature release?

The fault, brewers say, lies mainly with us, the consumers. Pumpkin beers are in high demand, which encourages brewers to make more of them. To do that, however, they need to start brewing these seasonals earlier in the year, and they're not just going to let those kegs and bottles sit in the brewery until the vernal equinox. How quickly we consume the full batch of the previous seasonal can also affect a brewery's timing -- when a summer beer sells out, brewers are inclined to replace it with the next beer in the rotation, regardless of when that is. The popularity of lighter, sessionable warm-weather ales along with the growing demand for craft beer may have as much to do with seasonal creep as our desire for pumpkin beers.

But brewers aren't blameless in this crime against nature. By pushing the seasons ahead, a brewery can gain an edge on its competition. Every day a beer from, say, Sam Adams is on the shelf when others aren't, it gains market share. Other brewers release their beers earlier to compensate, so Sam moves the date up even earlier and next thing you know we're all drinking pumpkin stout at the beach. It's a vicious cycle.

Some have rallied against this encroachment of the seasons. The heads of, a Massachusetts-based beer retailer chain, decided last year to hold back their entire stock of pumpkin beer until September 1 and are repeating the practice for 2014. Inability - or unwillingness - to participate in the creep has caused at least one brewer to discontinue his fall seasonal.

So, as we make our way through the rest of summer, I give you this mission: Postpone your pumpkin purchasing. Wear your tank tops and flippy floppies, enjoy the bright green leaves of the trees, sit poolside drinking session IPAs, wheat beers and pilsners, and leave the pumpkin beers on the shelves. If we, the drinking public, are truly the main culprits of seasonal creep, then maybe we can set things right by refusing to buy out-of-season brews until their appropriate time arrives.

It will be a struggle, comrades. Arriving in Total Wine locations for the first time this week are bottles of Southern Tier Brewing Co.'s lauded pumpkin ale, Pumking. Brewed in Lakewood, New York since 2007, this 8.6-percent ABV can usually be found at the very top of all those lists of the best gourd-based beers that come out it autumn. It's a difficult brew to argue against - the aroma, stuffed with sautéed butter, graham crackers, maple, sweet pureed pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg, is one that you can't help but keep coming back to. The flavor showcases a subtler blend of brown sugar, cinnamon, roasted pumpkin and graham cracker that, in the family of pumpkin beers, makes Pumking royalty.

But it's all wrong! Those flavors are like Marty McFly, dropped into a time in which they don't belong. So do your part by letting them sit in stores until the time is right. Support brewers who craft their ales with the freshest ingredients possible and care not for boosting their bottom line by beating everyone else to market. And maybe wait on buying your Christmas decorations while you're at it. The madness has to stop somewhere.

Zach Fowle is a BJCP-recognized beer judge and a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.

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Zach Fowle
Contact: Zach Fowle