Summer Ales & Winter Lagers: Why Are Beers Seasonal?

Beer Sessions

Ever fall in love with a beer, only to discover that it's a "seasonal" not to be seen again for another year?

It can seem cruel for a brewery to hook us on a delicious beer and then snatch it away again, but they have some good reasons for doing so.Back before refrigeration and shipping made it possible to lager beers in the hot summer months and save fresh hops through the winter, some beers were seasonal by virtue of what was available. Brewing was often a fall and winter activity: this was when the new barley was harvested and the workers themselves no longer had to put in long days in the field. The cooler weather also made it possible to store beers for longer, especially high-alcohol beers like stouts and doublebocks. By the next summer, lighter and quick-fermenting beers were brewed with what barley and hops were still left.

Even though we now have the technology to brew a dark, malty beer in the summer months, these seasonal tastes persists. Summers make us crave the crisp, light flavors of pilsners and pale ales. Cooler weather makes us turn to the heavier beers. Breweries brew according to what their customers will want.

Weather and available ingredients aside, seasonal beers also give breweries a chance to play. Every brewery has their flagship beers that are brewed day in and day out, all year round, and which give the brewery its financial backbone. Brewing a small batch of something special lets brewers experiment without much financial risk. If a seasonal offering sells really well, sometimes they'll start brewing it more frequently. If it flops, no major harm done.

And for us as beer drinkers, seasonal beers give us something to look forward to. I have a special love for the Winter Lager from Sam Adams and would probably drink it year round if I could. But the fact that I can only get it for a few months of the year makes it special.

And it's a treat to stumble upon a new beer from a favorite brewery. I know I might never see this beer again, so I'd better try it while I can. To me, these occasional offerings are what makes beer drinking dynamic and exciting!

Do you have a favorite seasonal beer that you look forward to drinking?

Related: What's the Difference? Ale vs. Lager Beers

(Image: Emma Christensen)

5 Comments