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Beer Mailbag: New Belgium, Woodchuck Send Off Summer

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It's only July, but here in beer world it's the end of summer.

We're not kidding. Last year, we got our first press release about a brewery's pumpkin ale Aug. 3. Days later, we saw pumpkin ales on shelves. This is it, folks: the last summer beer hurrah before the nation's beer drinkers are buried beneath a pile of malty seasonal offerings and holiday brews -- which start appearing well before Halloween.

So why are the lighter summer styles going away? According to the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, July is the last of the peak summer months for beer sales. Shipments that fester around 14 million to 15 million barrels through spring suddenly jump to about 18.5 million barrels in May and June before settling in a 18 million or so in July. By August, it's down to roughly 17 million barrels before collapsing to as low as 13.6 million by December.

Brewers realize their drinkers have a very specific window for certain 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. Those brewers put a lot of their seasonal production toward the front end just to make sure there isn't a whole bunch of summer ale lingering around after Labor Day. Also, those fall and winter seasonals aren't always easy to make. St. Louis-based Schlafly Bottleworks' Pumpkin Ale has 8% alcohol by volume, which means there's a whole lot of yeast doing its best Pac-Man impression on the Pumpkin Ale's sugar. That means it's wiped out after being reused only once, which means the brewery has to space out its usage a bit to stay in budget and avoid running out. It's a huge juggling act of supplies, kettle space and beer varieties that prevents Schlafly from just loading up the tanks for five weeks and limiting shipments to September and October.

Last year, Schlafly Bottleworks Production Manager Brian McBride noted that not only did the brewery step up pumpkin ale production 75% this year -- making it 10% of all the beer Schlafly brews -- but that kind of production took its toll on the brewery's yeast supply. They're far from alone, as a whole lot of the nation's nearly 3,000 brewers are racing to get their fall seasonals ready and out by the time the kids' classes are back in session.

In the meantime, brewers have a scant number of limited-release and seasonal offerings to push around this time of year. Just two brewers sent samples this time around, so this month's mailbag is going to be somewhat abridged:

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