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PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- There's been Halloween candy in grocers' seasonal aisles since the kids went back to school. There was still Fourth of July cookout remnant on your grill when the first pumpkin beers started appearing on shelves.
What's the chance that any of it is going to taste good when the first trick-or-treaters start ringing the doorbell?
Seasonal creep affects just about all corners of the retail world, as evidenced by anyone who's ever sighed at a
Costco(COST) Christmas display in August, only to buy three rolls of wrapping paper and an illuminated reindeer lawn ornament. We drank our first bottles of
Full Sail Brewing's Wassail and
Deschutes Brewing's Jubleale in September and realize we're part of the problem, but this is basically what shoppers are forced to do if they want a seasonal offering at its peak.
We wrote our pumpkin beer preview
back in August and went into great depth on exactly why brewers hustle that particular beer out so seemingly early. As
countless threads on
message boards for beer websites such as
BeerAdvocate point out, pumpkin beers often made with pumpkin puree and spices -- and little to no fresh pumpkin -- hit the shelves early because you basically stop drinking it after Halloween.
Pumpkin beers are increasingly popular, sure, but brewers including
Weyerbacher and the
Pacific Northwest brewers grilled about the topic by
New School Beer last year routinely explain that the only reason it's on shelves in July in August is because drinkers have already switched to winter seasonals by November or even late October.
Not that the beers being released early wouldn't keep, mind you. Because even beers produced with copious amounts of fresh pumpkin tend to be fairly malty, that profile keeps them relatively fresh for about 180 days. In the case of Pumking, produced by Lakewood, N.Y.-based
Southern Tier and released in July, its 9% alcohol by volume makes it worth keeping in a cool basement spot until next Halloween. It's not necessary to do so, however, as the puree-based imperial is brewed specifically to sell out by October -- and has, despite the brewery increasing production from 400 barrels in 2008 to 1,100 barrels last year.
Even if you found yourself with a July bottle of
Shipyard Pumpkinhead or an old keg of
Post Road Pumpkin, it wouldn't necessarily be undrinkable. It takes a long while for beer to outright spoil, but its character can change the longer it stays in the bottle or keg. A typically sweet, spicy pumpkin-pie brew can take on an earthy, tepid character when it lingers a bit too long -- almost akin to soda flattening. Brewers and casual drinkers alike hate this because it robs the beer of its original odor and flavor and destroys the consistency. Folks inclined toward cellaring high-alcohol, high-gravity beers, meanwhile, bank on that kind of evolution.