Since the rise of large, macro breweries, quality was synonymous with consistency. Day in and day out, beer makers wanted their brews to taste the same, allowing consumers to know exactly what they were getting every time they strolled through the grocery store.
However, since the rise of the craft beer movement, beer drinkers have become more adventurous. Now when they shop, they’re more interested in finding something new rather than more of the same.
To put the rise of craft beer in perspective, consider these statistics from the Brewer’s Association:
- Between 2013 and 2014, there was a 19.4 percent increase in the opening of craft breweries.
- This brought the total number of craft breweries to 3,418.
Needless to say, craft brewing is growing in this country at a rapid pace. This is great news for those of us who like options when we drink. Craft beer shoppers choose according to a wide variety of factors, from complex flavor profiles to alcohol content. Recently, a new trend has caught on: choosing beers by season.
What Makes a Beer Seasonal?
A seasonal beer could be based on the structure of the beer itself. For instance, summer beers are light and refreshing, winter beers are dark and complex, while fall and spring beers fall somewhere in between. It could also be the flavors that dominate a particular brew.
Seasonal beers will often incorporate holiday-specific flavors or be designed to be paired with particular seasonal foods. Still other seasonal brews are driven by seasonal ingredients, reflecting the changing growing season by incorporating ingredients that typically become available during different times of the year.
Regardless of the reason, seeking seasonal brews is a perfect way to force yourself to try new things while also providing you with a broad knowledge concerning the ever-expanding world of craft beer. With that in mind, we have put together this handy guide to seasonal beer drinking, including the flavors and styles that are indicative of each season.
Summer Beer Styles
Obviously, summer conjures up images of beaches, warm weather and long days. The preferred beers of summer reflect this mood. They are light and drinkable, perfect for cookouts or cooling off after doing yard work. With that in mind, here are some of the best flavors summer beers have to offer.
- Fruit — Summer is a great time for fruit beers, especially when included in lighter, crisp beers. Fruit is refreshing and sweet, making it go down easy. Shandy is a particular style of beer that is popular in summer. Shandy is an even mix of lemonade and beer, resulting in an easy drinking brew that is also typically low in alcohol. Many brewers are also experimenting with shandies made with fruits other than lemons, adding more variety to an already-diverse offering.
- Wheat — Wheat beer and fruit go hand in hand. Wheat beers, such as Belgian wits and hefeweizens, have a hazy spiciness that is full of flavor but never heavy. Plus, they are often served with a slice of citrus, adding another refreshing taste. Needless to say, wheat beers go down easy on a hot summer day.
- Pale and Hoppy — If you’re a hop head, you’ll want to make sure you choose a hoppy beer that is also pale with a light malt body. Pale ales and their hoppier cousins, India Pale Ales, come in a lot of different varieties, not all of which are the perfect pairing for summer. Luckily, as more breweries are trying to cater their special releases to the seasons, they are making sure to include summer pale ales when the warmer months roll around.
- Classic Pilsner — In many ways, the classic pilsner beers your grandfather loves are great in the summer. They’re light, not overly hoppy, and very refreshing. However, if you’re an adventurous beer drinker, don’t let the term “pilsner” turn you off. There are a lot of fun pilsners out there that experiment with the classic flavor profile of this Czech style. So don’t be afraid to go with an old standby every once in a while, especially if you’re having a lot friends over while you fire up the grill.
Autumn Beer Styles
Things start to cool down come autumn. Fittingly, the beers of the season are less concerned with being refreshing — as such, many will start to play with a heavier body and more autumnal spiciness. Obviously, the flavors of Thanksgiving also come into play as well as seasonal ingredients. In fact, in many ways, autumn beers were the first seasonal beers to gain popularity.
- Pumpkin — It should come as no surprise that pumpkin, that most autumn-inspired food, dominates the seasonal beer scene every fall. Pumpkin beers allude to their pastry counterparts, often featuring large amounts of nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon. Pumpkin also creates a heavier body, giving these beers a more dessert-like feel. In fact, these seasonal beers are so popular, they are starting to be released earlier and earlier every fall.
- Maple — More recently, maple has become a popular flavor addition for fall beers. The syrupy flavor goes well with brown ales, making these beers less heavy than pumpkin beers, meaning they’re perfect whether you’re drinking them before or after dinner.
- Amber — Amber beers, whether they are ales or lagers, are slightly darker than pale beers. This slightly heavier maltiness is perfect for the fall, especially if you’re spending the day watching football. Supremely drinkable, they come in a lot of different varieties, so you can cater your amber beer to your specific tastes.
- Belgian — Belgium is famed for its Trappist beers, which can only be legally made by Trappist monks. These beers have long been hailed as the best in the world. They tend to be spicy and boozy. If you want to spend some time sipping on one beer and really exploring its flavor profile, Trappist ales are perfect come autumn.
- Oktoberfest — Autumn is also the time when Germany’s famed Oktoberfest, probably the greatest holiday dedicated to beer in the world, is celebrated. So it only makes sense that many breweries offer their own Oktoberfest beer. Oktoberfest beers are typically heavier brews that are well-aged with a deep amber color. If you want to really celebrate like a true Bavarian, find one of these beers and raise your stein.
Winter Beer Styles
Winter is cold and, understandably, a time to head inside and settle in for the long freeze. To mimic the extended nights of winter, winter beers tend to be heavy and dark. Plus, many winter beers get into the holiday spirit, incorporating flavors that pair well with winter feasting. Here are some of the flavors and styles to watch out for during the deep midwinter.
- Stouts and Porters — These two styles have a lot in common. Dark as night with a roasty flavor, they’re the heaviest of beers and leave you with a warm fullness that is perfect for hibernation. Plus, they come complete in a lot of different variations, so you can search for the best stout or porter for your particular tastes.
- Imperial — Among brewers, imperial is shorthand for extra boozy. Unsurprisingly, most people can’t have too many imperial beers in one night, meaning they are usually a bad idea if you plan on starting your drinking around noon. But in the winter, when there aren’t any cookouts or long vacation days to worry about, imperial beers become a lot more appealing. Plus, the extra alcohol content provides a pleasant warmth, helping make the cold nights more bearable.
- Bourbon — Another popular technique for winter brewers is barrel aging. This involves letting beer age in a used liquor barrel for months at a time. As a result, the oaky flavor of the liquor is imparted upon the beer. This technique works best on heavy, high-alcohol beers, so they are especially well-suited for the colder months.
- Chocolate and Coffee — Stouts and porters already have subtle coffee and chocolate notes. Many brewers play on these subtle flavors by actually adding chocolate and coffee to their brews. These heavy, dark flavors are perfect for the kinds of dessert beers that scream winter.
- Eggnog — This is a recent development, but for those of us who love to sip on eggnog every winter, it’s a welcome one. The creamy, spicy flavors of eggnog lend themselves well to heavy, dark beers. Again, these aren’t the kinds of beers you’ll want to drink fast and in large quantities, but if you want a nice dessert beer, eggnog-inspired brews are definitely worth a try.
Spring Beer Styles
Ah, the doldrums of the dark winter have ended! And even though much of the springtime is still chilly, most spring beer drinkers are eager to start thinking about sunshine and the outdoors. Unsurprisingly, the perfect beers for the season follow suit.
- Dry — Winter beers are sweet and heavy. Spring beers are the opposite. Although they aren’t as light as summer beers, they tend to be dryer, meaning more of the sugars have been fermented. This means the beer will be crisper and less cloying than typical winter styles.
- Saisons — Saisons are a Belgian style of beer fermented with wild yeast. They are often referred to as “funky” because of the complex flavor of the yeasts involved. Full of sour notes and typically low in alcohol, they are a great way to celebrate emerging from hibernation.
- Common — Don’t be confused. “Common” refers to a style of beer, not its interest level. This distinctly American style is made using lager yeast, which typically ferment at colder temperatures. However, unlike most lagers, common beers are fermented at the typical warmer ale temperature. The result is a wonderful hybrid of both styles. Known to be eminently drinkable, these are great beers for your first weekend spent outside.
- Fresh Hops — Spring is the start of the new hop season. As such, many breweries use this as an opportunity to start throwing some fresh hops in their brews. Usually much lighter than the resiny hops used in the autumn and winter, they make for a crisp and delightfully bitter beer. Plus, this is a great time to taste test different beers that boast heavy use of particular hop varietals, which can be surprisingly diverse in flavor.
- Bocks — Just because winter is ending doesn’t mean you want to totally rid yourself of darker malts. That why darker German bock beers are a great option in the spring. They’re not nearly as dark as stouts and porters, but they aren’t pale ales either. They are malty and sweet, but not too much for your tastebuds to handle. A bock can be a great transitional beer as you get ready for spring.
- Pine — Pine may seem like an odd flavor for beer, but during the springtime, there’s something to be said for a little evergreen in your beer. Most beers don’t incorporate actual pine needles into their brews — although there are a few that do! — but instead get these flavor notes from particular hop varietals. The freshness of a slight hint of pine is a great way to get in the mood for the end of winter.
Getting the Most Out of Your Seasonal Beers
Once you buy a seasonal beer, the next step is making sure it tastes its best. There are several ways to ensure you’re maximizing the potential of your perfectly selected beer. Here are some good tips for starters:
Use Proper Glassware
Just like for wine, there are specialty glasses designed to get the most out of different styles of beer. Pilsner glasses are tall and slender. Trappist beers should be served in wide-brimmed glasses that appear more like goblets. Some beers even come with the proper glassware depicted on the bottle.
If you’re going to invest in top-quality beers, grab a handful of style-appropriate glasses while you’re at it. Once you have a set of the necessary glasses, you won’t have to worry about buying them again.
Serve Them at the Correct Temperature
Despite what certain beer advertisers might say, beer should not be served ice cold. Of course, if you’re taking a beer outside with you while you mow the lawn, you can certainly make an exception for refreshment’s sake, but on the whole, you should serve your beer slightly warmer than you might serve a soft drink.
And just like glasses, different beers are best served at different temperatures. Again, high-quality beers will often put the proper temperature on the label, and when in doubt, you can also search online.
Know the Best Pour
If you’re truly ready to take your seasonal brews to the next level, it is time to consider a self-serving beer system. For the beer aficionado who wants full control over their beer selection, nothing can beat heading to the bar and pouring your own beer.
These fully automated systems are the perfect option for bars and tap rooms looking to offer the widest selection possible to beer-loving customers.