PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- A nice dark, potent winter ale, holiday ale, porter or stout sure would have been nice during that cold snap the country just had.
Too bad many of its bigger breweries already think it's spring.
It's easy to harp on seasonal creep when pumpkin ales show up before Labor Day and holiday beer hits shelves as soon as the kids go back to school. In those instances, however, they're at least building anticipation for something specific. Pumpkin ales signal the arrival of fall and the change in the weather. Holiday beers are just keeping up with shoppers who start checking off their lists earlier each year.
But when rich, warm, wintry beers are replaced in some of the coldest months of the calendar by light, bitter pales ales and IPAs (thanks Deschutes), witbier and summery kolsch (seriously, Samuel Adams?) or Hefeweizen and honey bock (solid, Pyramid), the dark, gray days get more depressing. When a winter beer like Deschutes Jubelale is long gone from shelves by Jan. 6, the system is broken.
At least for the consumer. For the bigger craft brewers, this is working out just fine. Around this time of year, the words of warning that Boston Beer Company (SAM) founder Jim Koch shared with us about his Old Fezziwig Winter Ale a few years back always prove a bit haunting. He and his company, which produced 2.72 million barrels of beer in 2012, aren't taking the beer off the shelves because they just want the spring varieties out there. They're doing it because most folks who aren't yours truly run screaming from holiday beers almost as soon as the holidays are over.
"The basic reason -- and it's not that we can't get enough of the ginger or cinnamon or anything -- is that freshness is a big deal for us and this is a beer that has a season," Koch said. "Beer at its foundation is a performance art that exists in the moment of its creation and that's it, and Fezziwig is very much in that situation of being perfect for a certain time."
Oddly, that moment of perfection lines up with what's typically one of the softest spots of the beer sales calendar. According to the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, beer sales start sliding in November and typically don't perk up again until about March, when St. Patrick's Day gives them a brief boost. Even then, it's just an aberration before the summer peak season starts in May.