Seasonal beer styles are an essential part of the craft beer industry. They introduce flavors coinciding with the seasons and keep things fresh and exciting for craft beer.
Craft beer drinkers highly anticipate seasonals, with more and more breweries getting in on the trend each year. This article answers what makes a beer style seasonal and covers the most popular seasonal beer styles.
What is a seasonal beer style?
Seasonal beers are a hit with most beer drinkers. So much so that some beer drinkers don’t think twice about whether or not the beer they’re drinking is a limited-time offering. What is a seasonal beer style, and why are they so popular?
A seasonal beer style is a beer brewed for a specific season in the year. These beers, especially seasonal lagers, are brewed proactively, sometimes months before their peak selling season. For example, Oktoberfest seasonal beers are commonly brewed in March because of the extensive lagering process required to ready them for fall.
Overall, breweries brew seasonal beers to complement the four seasons and their significant holidays. Christmas Ales, for example, hit the shelves in winter near the end of November, and the Shandy summer seasonals come out of hibernation around May.
Seasonal beer styles allow breweries to expand their beer portfolios and put helpful buffers between flagships and one-off releases. Some seasonal releases, like Samuel Adams Summer Ale, have become such staples in their respective seasons that they become flagships.
Breweries leverage seasonals throughout the year. A beer’s seasonality and limited availability create sharp demand when the time comes, which is especially helpful for breweries in slower months when beer drinking is at a yearly low.
May to August contribute roughly 40% of annual alcohol consumption in the US. Offering seasonals outside of these months is a win-win for breweries whose sales see a jump and for consumers who are happy to have, say, a warm and spicy winter ale during the cold holidays.
8 popular seasonal beer styles with examples
Beer seasonals are a perfect opportunity to match the vibe of a warm summer day or a chilly fall evening. There's a beer style for every season, from light and refreshing shandies during summer to dark and robust winter ales at the holidays.
Here are eight of the most popular and recognizable seasonal beer styles accompanied by examples (including Pittsburgh beers):
The shandy beer style typically comes around in the summer months. Shandies make those hotter months more bearable from late May to early August with their highly refreshing qualities and low ABV.
Shandies are traditionally made with a 1:1 beer-to-lemonade ratio using a Helles, pilsner, or blonde ale base. The sweetness from the fruit juice mixes with the light flavors from the lager and blonde ale beer styles for an enjoyable, approachable, and drinkable beer.
Popular Shandy craft beer examples:
Goose Island 312 Shandy
Hoppin’ Frog Turbo Shandy
Saugatuck Brewing Company Blueberry Lemonade Shandy
The Radler is another summertime favorite. Radlers are beers made with fruit juice, but not lemonade—otherwise, it would (technically) be a shandy.
Radlers, like shandies, use a lager, pilsner, or blonde ale base but use other fruit juices, most commonly lime or grapefruit. You’ll often see the radler and shandy style names used interchangeably.
Popular Radler craft beer examples:
Samuel Adams Porch Rocker
UFO Big Squeeze
You know fall is here when the Oktoberfests start popping up. Oktoberfest beers are malt-forward, bready, and caramelly. Oktoberfests made in America are considerably heavier and darker than those drunk at the annual festival in Germany, which are closer to the Marzen beer style.
Over time in America, the Marzen style evolved into Oktoberfest. It became the rich, biscuity, copper-amber-hued beer known today that harmonizes with a cool autumn breeze and crunchy fallen leaves.
Popular Oktoberfest craft beer examples:
Samual Adams Oktoberfest
Sly Fox Oktoberfest
Fat Head’s G’Suffa!
Marzen, or “March” in German, is a clean, somewhat malty style with a similar biscuity aroma and flavor to what’s found in the Oktoberfest style. Overall, Marzen is a lighter beer compared to Oktoberfest-style beer.
Marzens go through an extensive lagering process from March until late September, when the Oktoberfest celebrations start in Germany. Marzen is the traditional Oktoberfest (the German festival) beer style.
Popular Marzen craft beer examples:
Penn Brewery Marzen
Fresh Hop Beer
Like other seasonal beer styles, Fresh Hop beers come around once a year, but it’s not because the style fits the season, like a Shandy in summer or Oktoberfest beer in fall. No, it’s because of the mid-August to mid-September hop harvesting season.
Fresh hop beers use fresh hops (sometimes called wet hops or whole hops) instead of pelletized hops or hop extract. Freshly harvested whole hop cones impart a more authentic and potent hop flavor. These beers are generally limited in quantity because using entire hops in brewing is far less efficient than the pelletized alternative.
Popular Fresh Hop craft beer examples:
Wet-Hopped Head Hunter
Big Hop Harvest Ale
Like it or not, Pumpkin beers are one of the year's most recognizable, beloved, and anticipated seasonals. The pumpkin flavor, sometimes combined with cinnamon, brown sugar, maple, or other adjuncts, induces a cozy fall feeling, perfect for the season.
Many of these beers use real, whole pumpkins in the recipe, but some use a pumpkin extract. They use an array of malts, from slightly roasted caramel malt to dark chocolate malts, for a complementary sweet taste.
Popular Pumpkin beer examples:
Blockhouse Brewing Pumpkin Ale
Rivertowne Headless Wylie
New Holland Ichabod
When the snow falls and the fireplace crackles, may the spruce beers come out of hibernation. The evergreen-flavored spruce beers, brewed with spruce tips or oils, commonly come in the form of IPAs to complement their often sappy, resinous West Coast taste.
Different spruce tree species or other evergreen trees impart subtly different flavors to the beer, ranging from citrus and floral to straight-up spruce and pine.
Popular Spruce Beer examples:
Cinderlands Lotta Sap
Brew Gentlemen The Trees
Bell’s Wild Spruce Chase
Winter warmer is the beer style most synonymous with winter beer seasonals. This spiced ale is traditionally brewed with an English Strong Ale base. They’re notably dark with a dominant malt flavor and aroma.
Winter warmers and holiday ales are frequently used interchangeably—both styles have slight technical variations but taste similarly. Typical winter warmers use spice adjuncts, mostly nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, or clove.
Popular Winter Warmer craft beer examples:
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Harpoon Winter Warmer
21st Amendment Brewing Fireside Chat