Pumpkins are not harvested until September and October...with maybe a few early ones harvested in late August. So why are pumpkin beers being released in early August and even July?
In 2011 I wrote "Why Seasonal Craft Beer Comes Out So Early: The Campaign for Seasonal Beer." This article covered what is known as "seasonal creep," and why it's happening. Pumpkin beer has lately been the most egregious violator of the beer seasons, and it's only getting worse. When I wrote the article back in 2011, you'd maybe see a few pumpkin beers in August. Now they're everywhere, even some in July like I mentioned, and it seems pumpkin beer season begins before September. What makes this particularly disconcerting is the fact that pumpkins in July may be the most seasonally discordant combination of all of the seasonal creeping beer styles.
So why is this happening?! Well...it turns out the answers is us. We, the craft beer drinkers, are to blame. The brewers are merely responding to consumer demand.
To get better insight into what's going on I used Google Trends, a tool that allows you to see relative search volume (meaning max search volume over the chosen time period is marked as 100) over time. My thought is that this is a good gauge for consumer interest, as it marks when people are organically searching for pumpkin beer on the internet. I looked at 2008 to present, August 2014. What I found was pretty interesting.
It turns out that interest in pumpkin beer by drinkers has moved significantly earlier over the past few years. Up through 2011, relative interest in pumpkin beer in August (17) was much less than in November (25). In 2012, though, pumpkin beer searches in August doubled (yes, doubled!) to 33 while November stayed fairly stead at 27. This is very much in line with what retailers have been saying, that once you start to really get into November, pumpkin beer season is on the wane drastically and you've got to get rid of remaining inventory. So pumpkin beer is showing up more and more in August because that's when we want it.
Beyond that, since 2010, interest in pumpkin beer has exploded during the months of September and October, seemingly prime pumpkin beer drinking time. With this in mind, brewers need to start preparing for the season by getting beer onto shelves in anticipation of demand, and to be the brand that drinkers look to when they're ready to sip on that pumpkiny, spicey goodness. If interest spikes in September, that's another reason to be on shelves for August.
Finally, if you look at October versus November, you'll see a massive drop. In 2013 in went from 100 to 30...that's a 70% drop in interest in one month. Then December is almost off the map, with a 9 in 2013 (a 91% drop in two months). Breweries are a business...a very expensive business with high overhead and low margins. Pumpkin beer can be a great way to help pay for your investment. But, if you want to hit the market at prime, that means you pretty much have to be done with pumpkin beers before November rolls around, or you're late to the game and yesterday's news.
Looking at it a different way, I also normalized the traffic to "Drink Craft Beer's Great Pumpkin Beer Taste Off."
I normalized this data for each year, so the peak of each year is 100. As you can see, it always happens in September or October, with an even harsher drop in to November and December.
So, when you wonder why pumpkin beer is coming out earlier and earlier, there are two reasons and they seem complementary:
- Probably the biggest, is that more people want to drink it earlier and earlier. If more of us are demanding pumpkin beer in August, brewers are going to comply.
- Pumpkin beer is a huge money maker for brewers, and they'd like to extend the season. If interest drops off in November, that's not where they can extend...going earlier allows brewers to get more time in market for pumpkin beers, often their best seasonal sellers.
Note: If you want to try a variety of pumpkin beers, as well as other beers and ciders from 25 New England brewers and cider makers, then you'll want to join us for Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest 2014 in Boston, MA on November 14 & 15!