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How Seasonal Beer Could Boost Holiday Shopping

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- In the beer world, holiday creep is just another offering on the tap list.

Pumpkin ale shows up in July. Winter seasonal beer is on tap by early October.

But guess what? It's effective. According to market research group Symphony IRI, seasonal beer sales have jumped between 15% and 26% since 2009, even as overall shipments declined. The Craft Brew Alliance (BREW - Get Report) and its Widmer Brothers and Redhook brands release their holiday beers around September and early October and have watched production increase by 52,000 barrels between 2011 and 2012. For a sense of scale, that's roughly how much beer Petaluma, Calif.-based Lagunitas produced in all of 2008.

While some brewers including Samuel Adams producer Boston Beer Company (SAM - Get Report) still hold off on releasing holiday beers and variety packs until November, they're falling into a minority. Big brewers Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and MolsonCoors (TAP - Get Report)/SABMiller joint venture MillerCoors are stocking their Shock Top and Blue Moon lines with winter offerings. Larger craft brewers New Belgium and Deschutes, already have their Accumulation White IPA and Jubelale, respectively, on shelves.

It's holiday creep, but it's also sensory stimulus for holiday shopping. I don't hide the fact that I have a particular fondness for the maltier, stronger holiday beer selections and picked up my first six packs of both Jubelale and Widmer Brothers' Brrr last weekend. After taking the first sip of Jubelale -- which still has the caramel malt base of its 2012 predecessor, but slightly more hop kick -- my mind went back to when I picked up my first six pack at the Plaid Pantry convenience store near my apartment last year. I'd been Christmas shopping for my wife and the nip in the air, the lingering scent of egg nog-flavored coffee on my breath and the presence of a bottle of local sparkling wine -- an odd find next to some $6 Ballatore -- for some holiday champagne punch all somehow wrapped themselves into that first Jubelale sip. I remembered the string of C5 big-bulb lights on our porch, the three-foot Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree in the window and the crinkle of the wrapping paper as I struggled to cinch up those first gifts before my wife got home.

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