Where are the Seasonals?
I spent Thursday night supping Leeds Brewery’s Gathering Storm; and a lovely pint it is, too. Rich with burnt-malt smokiness and a slight hint of red-berry fruit in the finish, it’s a truly Autumnal stout. The guys from Leeds were ‘launching it’ for the year, handing out Oysters and generally putting themselves about. It became apparent during the night that they felt it was a ‘true‘ Seasonal – brewed between October and December, once a year. A cause for celebration. Something worthy of an anniversary.
This got me thinking. I started drinking Beer pretty much exclusively around 2003 – and even though this is relatively recently, I recall many, many more brewers brewing truly seasonal beers ‘back then’. What I mean by ‘truly’ is a core range, supplemented by four/five beers that (well, in my mind, anyway), matched the seasons. A zesty Spring ale, something ruddy and sweet in Autumn, something probably spiced (groan) around Christmas. Throw in the odd fresh/green hop beer in there and you’ve got what used to be the mainstay of a brewery’s production roster for the year.
Is it me, or does this practise not seem to be as prevalent these days? New breweries seem to have a much smaller core range – maybe one or two ‘flagship beers’ – and then a rotating cast of ‘Specials’ – a term bandied around much more than ‘Seasonal’. Does the modern ‘craft’ beer drinker simply not care about such a set of parameters to drink within? Do the younger generation of brewers find brewing to the seasons boring? Is brewing a ‘Seasonal’ beer simply not needed? As a concept, is it antiquated?
Or – to flip that round – are the Seasonals still there, just advertised less, or maybe even re-branded? If less people drink in pubs – opting to stay at home – are the one-off barrels (too small a run to justify bottling) being missed? For the bigger boys, could the growing trend to invest in smaller, pilot-style plants give the brewery the rotation and interest to snare a new market that a one-off ‘Seasonal’ once provided?
I hope that seasonals aren’t dead – I like the idea of waiting 10 months to get your hands on a beer you really like (Anchor Christmas springs to mind as a true ‘event’ beer). I suspect they aren’t – but where are they? Am I just not looking hard enough? Do I have to wait to go to events such as the excellent National Winter Ales Festival or Autumn-Hop Picking Events simply to dive into that season’s bounty?