By Mark Tichenor
It hits you like a kick in the gut.
You’re traipsing through the supermarket, savoring the cool tingle of air conditioning on your skin, your eyes adjusting from the bright sunlight outside when there it is: a display full of Halloween candy.
Do we really need these reminders of time’s fragility–of our own mortality–just to drive sales? Who the hell is buying Halloween candy three months before Halloween? Someone who hates children and loves to watch them cry as they chisel the wrapper off a stale “Now-N’-Later?”
Of course, this doesn’t happen with just Halloween, or just candy. These days, a whole spectrum of products gets shoved through the seasonal sales pipeline. It’s irksome that one of these categories is craft beer.
Brewers love seasonal trends, they’re an easy way to extend a product line and spike sales with limited release beers. We as consumers are used to seeing fall seasonals give way to winter ales and holiday beers, but this year it’s happening earlier than ever. It’s not even Oktoberfest season yet, but many limited-release Oktoberfest beers, having been pushed since early July, are now running out of stock. What can a retailer do but shrug shoulders and move on to the pumpkin ales?
Seasonal beers, like fresh vegetables, are best when enjoyed in season. To do otherwise is a bit jarring, like something is vaguely wrong with the universe. What temporal sense does it make to sit out on a patio under sunshine and 80 degree weather and enjoy a pumpkin ale? For that matter what sense does it make to ever enjoy a pumpkin ale? But that’s fodder for a future column…
Anyway, the point is that the year-round cycle of relentless distributor-driven seasonal sales cycle is just another step in the commoditization of craft beer, and another example of how the craft beer industry is turning into little more than a scale model of the big-beer industry. A market that grows this fast is wonderful, but it is a ravenous beast that must be continually fed.
In all fairness, craft brewing deserves huge kudos for, for the most part, not adulterating the quality or flavor profiles of the beer to please lower common denominators. If anything, craft breweries grew their market by demanding that consumers elevate their taste and truly gain an understanding of what is wonderful about beer.
Still, when artisan brews are retailed like cheap candy, it highlights the difference between what many consumers romantically think craft brewing is about, and what craft brewing is actually about. If your product is marketed the way mainstream macro-lager is marketed, you lose a crucial distinction between your product and macro-lager.
If the cycle continues to accelerate, it may not be too long before we truly get to experience Christmas in July, in the form of spicy, gingerbready holiday ales, enjoyed under a blazing summer sun.
In other beers
Trata has opened in the recently renovated Culver Road Armory. I haven’t taken the important research step of actually visiting the place, but I can tell you they have 40 taps, and their beer list has plenty of choices to please hardcore beer geeks and normal well-adjusted people alike. The food looks pretty tempting too. Find them online at www.tratarochester.com
The Rohrbach Brewing Company is aces when it comes to beer events. On Tuesday, September 11, they’re doing a food and beer pairing in the form of a tailgate party at their Buffalo Road brewpub. These events are a lot of fun and ALWAYS sell out, so get tickets with plenty of time to spare. More information at www.rohrbachs.com
The Genesee Brewery has opened The Brew House, a brewpub and interactive museum, at their St. Paul Street campus. The pub serves food, a broad selection of North American Breweries beer (including Genesee, Blue Point, and Magic Hat) and offers a spectacular view of the gorge and waterfall.
Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.