The Beers of Winter

Chris Ciskey, the beer manager at Yankee Wine in Newtown, CT, confirms the “deep and dark” character of winter seasonals. And the deepest and darkest would be Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, a strong imperial stout aged in Bourbon barrels. Released on Black Friday, his store’s supply generally lasts only hours—this despite the acquisition of Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2011, a move that infuriated craft beer purists.

“Flavor-wise, it’s still very good and highly sought-after,” Ciskey says. “Even for the geeks, it’s still so good and has such high value if they like to trade. People line up to get it, and they still make a big deal out of it.”

He personally looks forward to another imperial stout, Black Chocolate Stout from Brooklyn Brewery, but adds “in- evitably, there’s something new that I’m going to check out. For me, that’s when the Bourbon barrel-aged stuff starts to really pop out.”

At Kreston Wine & Spirits in Wilmington, DE, fourth-generation family member Jeff Kreston has noticed a contrasting trend, as some brewers explore less typical styles, including wheat beers and white IPAs, for their winter seasonals. As examples, he cites Winter Cheers, a strong wheat beer from Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania, and Accumulation, a white IPA from New Belgium in Colorado. “Probably one of the most popular winter beers out there right now,” he says about Accumulation. “It seems like the white IPAs—that style is a little lighter in body, but still heavy—are interesting to consumers.”

There are other hop-forward winter seasonals, notably Celebration Ale, the winter seasonal from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. First brewed in 1981, this potent 6.8% India pale ale, brewed as soon as fresh hops are available, is eagerly anticipated by festive hopheads every November. “It’s not a winter warmer; it’s just a danged good IPA,” says Morrison, who calls it her “hands-down favorite.”


But the classic rich, dark ales still draw a crowd. Kreston turns the seasonal appeal of Tröegs’ cherry-tinged Mad Elf Ale on its head, conserving a few kegs to hook up on the growler system for a Christmas in July event. “It flies out just as fast as it does at Christmastime,” he says.

Chris Ciskey is the beer manager of Yankee Wine, based in Newtown, CT.

Juggling the Seasons

When it comes to seasonal beers, allocation and availability are a challenge for retailers, but so is the timing. Despite some resistance from retailers and grumbling from customers, breweries are keen to be the first out of the gate with a new season’s special, moving their release dates earlier and earlier.

Chris Ciskey fingers Samuel Adams for “what we delicately call ‘seasonal creep,’” which sees pumpkin beers arriving in July, and winter seasonals by October. “Personally, I don’t believe in it. It kind of annoys me,” he says. “So I try to hold off as long as I can to try to make it make sense seasonally.”

Jeff Kreston uses email blasts to alert customers to early arrivals that may take them by surprise, then puts the winter beers up front as soon as they arrive. “You hate to have a customer coming in looking for a pumpkin beer in October or November, and they’ve already come out in the summer.”

“It’s kind of hard sometimes, because when the first winter beers come in, it starts killing off the Oktoberfest and pumpkin sales,” he says. “If I walk in and see Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, or the New Belgium Pumpkin, the appeal starts to die because people can see the next season’s beers already.”

But he’s philosophical. “I like seeing a seasonal gone. And it’s the same with the brewers: they want to get all the seasonal beer out of their brewery, and get to work on the next one. They only have so much room to make things, and we only have so much shelf space and room in the building.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here