Marketing of Beer: Seasonal, and Fresh vs Aged
Do you drink different beers with the changes of the seasons? I don't drink them to correlate with the seasons, but I know many who do drink different beers with the seasons. My point is that if there are seasonal beers I like, I would drink them regardless of what season it is, providing that the seasonal beers are available. Since I brew my own beers, belong to a beer brewing club, and many of my friends brew beer-these beers that breweries make seasonally are available all year round. Do the cold weather months make you want to drink a spicy Holiday beer, or is it simply tradition reinforced by Madison Avenue advertising? My answer is maybe, but not necessarily. Do the fall months make your mouth water for pumpkin or pumpkin spices in your beer? Are white wheat beers or Kolsch beers better in the summer months? I drink wheat beers and Kolsch, and lightly spiced beers any time of the year. I don't care for green colored beer on St. Patrick's Day or any beer that has pumpkin no matter the season. It is not as though green dye in beer changes the taste, because I don't think it does, I just don't want to put that dye in my body. I do add different combinations of pumpkin spices in my Belgian Browns, Saisons, and Irish red Ales, and it does not matter what the season. I find that actually adding pumpkin overpowers the beer, so I am not a fan. These same spices also go well in a Rye IPA, but only use a subtle amount of spices so that the Rye flavor is not overpowered. Spice any beer with a light touch. A little goes a long way.
What was the inspiration to write about this?
A television commercial or advertisement from a large to medium sized east coast brewery about their seasonal beers got me thinking about this issue. In researching old world brewing, it made sense to time brewing of certain varieties of beers to coincide with the seasons of the calendar. Two main factors that caused this was daily average temperature and also the harvest seasons of foods and grains, as well coinciding with certain festivals. Also the beers in Europe, traditionally must be, and are aged before becoming mature enough to drink. This aging period might be 6-12 months. The practice of aging also brings up the topic of fresh versus aged beer, which will be discussed later in this blog. Today, due to the modern technology of refrigeration, beers can be brewed aged in virtually any month of the year. So, does drinking of “seasonal” beers out of season also make sense? My thinking is that beers that have a flavor profile that matches your palate, will taste good to you no matter what the month. This is just my opinion, and my beer tastes are very diverse. I know there are different opinions on the subject.
Old World Brewing
Lager beers and pilsners required ice caves to age after primary fermentation, so it made sense to make lagers to coincide with plentiful ice or appropriate fermentation temperatures. Belgian “wild beers” were and are introduced to to natural air to inoculate the beer with wild natural yeasts. The Belgian monks found that making beer in the hot months, produced unsatisfactory beer with unpredictable results and flavors due to the heat.
In Belgium, England and Germany, and even in the early days of America- the brewing of lagers, pilsners and ales-coincided with harvest the seasons of spring or fall to optimize beer quality by using fresh grains. Often beer beer would be consumed from a previous season. Aging of Belgian and German farmhouse ales were accomplished by either burying in the ground or aged in root cellars to keep them cool. I might add that in Belgium and parts of Germany that the quality of drinking water was so very poor, and beer was a good remedy for hydration in the summer months. Alcohol by volume of farmhouse ales were also very low purportedly at around 2-3%. Farm workers were allowed 3-5 liters per day for hydration. In these countries, in addition to using beer as a replacement for water-beer was and still is regarded more as a food than we now regard beer in America. The makers of beers and ales also made stronger ABV beers for their own consumption and to celebrate special occasions such as an marriage or birth of a child of their own family as well as wealthy or noble families close by who could afford the more expensive beer. Beer in the old days did not transport very well, so beers and ales remained very local. These beers most likely averaged 5-7% ABV or higher. The higher the ABV the more expensive it was to produce and purchase.
Fresh Beer Versus Advertizing
Does beer need to be fresh, or is it better aged? The answer to this question may depend on who you ask. Mega breweries promote this idea of beer freshness by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising to convince you of this notion. They also spent fortunes on trying to convince the public that bitter beer was spoiled beer ( which I interpret as a shot across the bow on craft beer Brewers and consumers that like hoppy beers ). This. was an ad campaign by Keystone Brewing with. The “bitter face”. This notion confused unsuspected beer consumers that the hoppy bitter flavor was an imperfection in craft beers. Now look where hops in beer are today. But let me say this-mega breweries yellow fizzy beer, already has little to no flavor comparatively speaking, and so it will not get any better in the bottle or the keg and may be more sensitive to off favors. If beer is stored under the proper conditions, then it should remain fresh tasting for a great deal of time. I think this tactic was just saying that this particular brewery was fresh when the other breweries were not fresh, which was probably false. Ask a Craft Brewer that does or does not distribute and they will tell you that beer must be as fresh as possible. Craft beer is brewed in small enough batches that the beer is consumed rather quickly, and is replaced by a new fresh batch. Due to small batches, Craft Beer that is consumed in a brewpub will always be very fresh. A homebrewer has two choices. Beer can either be consumed rather quickly and be fresh. Or beer can be stored for a long time, which I think makes most beers better .
These business practices involve the principles of accounts payable vs accounts receivable, which will also be discussed later in this blog. Ask some homebrewers who make a lot of beer and they will tell you that beer gets better when aged for months, 2 to 12 months for example-depending on the brewing style. Since the motive of a homebrewer is not about making any profit it doesn't cost anything to age beer, but the goal is instead to make good beer. I have personally noticed positive changes when aging some of my more complex beer, such as a Russian Imperial Stout.
Post Prohibition and Pre Craft beer brewing
I have always believed that after prohibition that American brewers, brewed beers with the philosophy that they would brew beer to offend the least amount of people and be refreshing to match the American climate profiles. Also these breweries sought lower production costs by using cheaper ingredients and in particular reduced hops, added adjuncts such as corn and rice to increase profits. For this reason mega breweries have made beer and ales with little to no distinctive flavor. In this regarded A-B Inbev uses rice in some Budweiser products while Miller-Coors uses corn or corn sugar. A reduction in the use of more expensive hops and using adjuncts that are cheaper than barely-lowered the cost of ingredients while increasing profits. This philosophy destroyed the original origins of of lagers, pilsners, and ales recipes brought to America from Europe, and destroyed the original American pre-prohibition brewery flavors. What draws people to, and what is responsible for the craft brew movement was and is taste. A return to the original flavors and brewing styles and flavors of the old world and getting back to pre-prohibition recipes helped explode the craft beer movement. Many Historic brewing styles have been revived and even given a unique Style 27 of both American and European styles by the BJCP as its unique regional brewing style. For example, Kentucky Common, American Gose, Roggenbier, and many more. Anchor Steam which fits in a sub style called California Common, reportedly has changed very little since is was first produced in 1896. Rumor is that many more old Historic styles will be added in the next BJCP revision. BJCP stands for Beer Judge Certification Program. Beer styles can be found on BJCP.org. BJCP also has a new category for just for pre-prohibition beer recipes. BJCP sets and defines parameters for flavor, color, mouthfeel, carbonation, and Alcohol by volume for each brewing style.
Most Craft Breweries spend very little on advertising as compared the mega breweries who spend 100s of millions to try to convince you of this or that. Craft breweries rely on the beer to do the talking. After all t is really all about the beer-don't be fooled by the hype or advertising.