Winterizing the Beer Program

Smoke & Barrel

Craft beer sales are typically highest in the winter season, when robust, high-alcohol brews are most popular.

In the same way that food menus seasonally shift, ditto for one’s beer selections. The transition into the coldest months brings forth a bulk of seasonal beers and a greater focus on more robust, higher-alcohol styles like barleywines, imperial stouts, and robust porters that may be available year-round.

Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, emphasizes the opportunities as well as the pitfalls in properly integrating winter beers into a beverage program. “The winter season is the highest time of the year for craft beer sales,” Herz says. But beer’s also a perishable product and in winter warrants even extra attention.

“That’s an important thing [for restaurants to note],” Herz warns. “Just because they build the menu doesn’t mean that the menu will sell. They have to properly preserve and present that beer as well.” It’s the challenge of both properly choosing one’s winter beer menu in the first place and doing the things required to bring your customers around to engaging with it.

Short-Term Decisions

While the particulars of winter beer purchasing will be very much a condition of one’s situation, Chris Lively, owner of

Ebenezer’s Restaurant & Pub in Lovell, Maine, offers some good general advice: “A) Obviously: Do a lot of research. B) Don’t buy anything unless you know what it is.” It’s a balancing act: Too large a seasonal shift can irritate customers and confuse staff.

Lively personally tends to stay away from the majority of holiday-specific seasonals, partly because the window for selling these releases is so much briefer than for non-seasonals.

“Once Christmas is past, it sure gets hard moving a beer called Noel,” he notes.

Some bottles can age for years (or even decades) with favorable and endearing effects, much as wine. But choosing beers that are actually capable of doing that—beers that won’t readily fall apart due to oxidation—isn’t as straightforward as looking at style or alcoholic strength. The average beer wasn’t built for aging. And most hoppy beers definitely weren’t.


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