It’s a humid 79-degree evening in August, and already the pumpkin beer is on the shelves. Next to the seasonally appropriate Flying Dog Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale at Batch 13 liquor store on 14th Street NW, I spot a six-pack of Evolution Craft Brewing Company’s Jacques Au Lantern. Then I realize it’s everywhere: Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale, Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and Long Trail’s Pumpkin Ale.
It’s a little early, no?
Not really, the shopkeeper tells me. In fact, I should probably stock up now, he says, because some of these beers won’t be so easy to find come September and beyond when, you know, I’ll actually want to drink them.
Like “Jingle Bells” at the mall and candy corn at the convenience store, pumpkin beer arrives earlier and earlier every year. Before the leaves turn yellow and it’s time to start wearing socks again, many of the most sought-after brands will be long gone. That means restaurants and bars that don’t have a place to store extra kegs for a month or two are out of luck if they want to serve this seasonal specialty in the proper season. That makes the beer industry surprisingly similar to fashion: When you’re still wearing your winter coat, bikinis start popping up on the racks. And when you finally go on that August beach trip, all you can find are parkas.
Most pumpkin beers now arrive in D.C. in early August, but some debut as early as the beginning of July. “About four years ago, it would be late August,” says Tim Nelson, an area sales manager for distributor Legends Limited.
A big reason for the seasonal creep is that everyone wants to get their product to an increasingly crowded market first. New York’s Southern Tier Brewing Company, for example, does a big portion of its annual business from its highly popular Pumking ale, says Pizzeria Paradiso Bar Manager Sam Fitz. “For them, it’s a huge money-making time of year when they do lots of their sales. So it’s important for them to get their beer out on grocery store shelves before anybody else does,” he says. “If that means putting your beer out when it’s 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity so that you can guarantee you’re on the shelves in September, then that’s what they have to do.”