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10 Pumpkin Beers You're Seeing Before Labor Day and Why

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- We got our first pumpkin beer press release Aug. 3 from New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo.

Just after that, we got reports Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine, had been putting its pumpkin ales on shelves since late July. The person issuing the report was ecstatic.

By now, it should be an accepted fact that just as supermarkets will begin stocking Halloween candy in their seasonal aisles after Labor Day and department stores will begin hauling out their first Christmas items in mid-September, pumpkin ales will be an end-of-summer staple. It's still a bit jarring and raises the question of who'd want said beer during the summer, but the brewing calendar is becoming as normalized as the retail calendar for reasons driven by both business and human nature.

The fundamental truth behind it is that beer brewers, especially small brewers, operate extremely close to the margins and don't like to have beer laying around when nobody wants it. Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer (SAM) and the Samuel Adams brand, notes that as much as fans love his Samuel Adams' Old Fezziwig holiday brew just before the holiday season, they want nothing to do with it once the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.

It works the same in just about every season. Summer ales start cropping up in March and are off the shelves by July. Seasonal porters and stouts are a tough find after St. Patrick's Day. Brewers are starting to realize that their drinkers have a very specific window for these beers, and fatigue shuts that window abruptly when July vacations yield to back-to-school planning and Thanksgiving leftovers are cleared out before the winter holidays.

The other motive behind getting the jump on pumpkin brews stems from the fact that they're not exactly a novelty anymore -- all the bigger brewers are picking their own pumpkins. For instance, Samuel Adams now brews its own Pumpkin Ale and toyed with a pumpkin stout before releasing its 8.5% alcohol by volume Fat Jack imperial pumpkin ale in 2011. Demand for pumpkin ale has grown so much within the past decade that Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) introduced Michelob Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale in 2005 and MolsonCoors (TAP) countered with with Harvest Moon ale in 2006 before rebranding it as Harvest Pumpkin Ale last year, when it was on shelves by July.

That increased demand and extended brewing calendar is only bringing drinkers more pumpkin ales earlier. Shipyard Brewing cranked up production of its Pumpkinhead ale from 2,100 barrels in 2002 to 30,000 a decade later while extending Pumpkinhead season from August-through-October to late July-through-Thanksgiving to deal with peak demand around the fall holidays.

The number of brewers making pumpkin ale also crowds the patch a bit. There were only about 1,600 breweries in America back in 2009, but there are more than 2,500 now, according to the Beer Association craft beer industry group. If a brewer wants their beer to stand out and doesn't want to be stuck with cases of unconsumed product by Black Friday, a head start never hurts.

Just to give you an example of how prevalent this practice has become, here are just 10 examples of pumpkin beers that have been on shelves since before the umbrellas and coolers in seasonal aisles gave way to backpacks and notebooks:
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