By Fred Crudder, Foodable Industry Expert
Historically, there are certainly examples of springtime beer releases. Marzen is a traditional German style of beer brewed in the fall, matured over the long winter, and released in March. Also from Germany, a Maibock is a light-bodied version of a strong lager (bock) that is released in spring. In Belgium, the refreshing and funky Sasion style is brewed with a relatively high alcohol content specifically so it can keep over the winter. These beers were consumed as the spring planting began, when people knew that fresh supplies of grain were on the way to brew more beer. These examples, however, were born out of necessity. They were not chosen because of how perfectly they fit with spring weather.
Odd Man Out
One reason that spring beers suffer from an identity crisis has to do with who they are up against. Fall beers are hearty, sometimes spiced with cinnamon and other pie spices, or they might showcase the bounty of the year’s hop harvest. Winter beers are generally dark, strong, and complex. They are decadent and festive. When summer rolls around, the beers are light and refreshing, perfect for quenching your thirst on a hot day. All of these beers are not only suited perfectly for their seasons, they are eagerly anticipated by their fans. Spring beer? Well, they seem to suffer from being not as interesting as fall and winter beers, just taking up space on the calendar until the summer beers arrive.
Hot to Trot
All of that seasonal pontificating aside, there are also some less nebulous forces at work here. Breweries simply can’t resist the temptation to get their seasonal beers to market before the consumers have a chance to realize they want them. Every year the brewing industry laments the practice of jumping the seasonal gun, and every year the brewers keep doing it. The way this impacts spring is actually very simple. The first few months of the year are pretty quiet in most businesses. The holidays are over, consumer spending is down, and the chilly new year just sort of limps toward spring. When spring does arrive, these brewers are anxious to get the jump on each other with seasonal beers, and who has time for spring beer? Summer is right around the corner. That is why we see summer beers arrive in spring. Consumer spending and market competition combine to sort of squeeze spring out of relevance as far as seasonal beer is concerned.
Take Matters Into Your Own Hands
Spring as a season is extremely dynamic, with nature bursting into bloom. It seems like a complete waste to let it slip by without some sort of beery fanfare. Not to mention, if you are doing any sort of seasonality with your menu, you want your beer list to reflect that. Just because summer beers are on the shelf too early doesn’t mean that you have to have them on your menu next to your spring food, wine, and cocktails. So if the breweries can’t decide what they want to do with spring beer, then maybe the retailers can take matters into their own hands. Just like with the rest of your menu, do your own thing with your spring beer offerings. It’s easy.
A Lighter Touch
Like anything, you need balance. You will want to offer something for everyone to be sure all of your guests feel like you had them in mind when creating this menu. Let’s start with the lighter beers and work our way through the beer spectrum. When you think spring, you think “fresh.” So let’s get some beers with bright flavors, nothing too cloying. A traditional German-style hefeweizen is perfect: light and crisp, with hints of fruit and citrus from the unique yeast. They are traditionally served in tall glasses, showing off their vibrant orange color and cloudy appearance. Similar in some ways, and also perfect for spring are Belgian-style witbiers. The touch of coriander and other spices used in these beers harken to the blossoming flora of spring. Traditional pilsner beers are resurgent in popularity these days, and perfect for spring. Crisp and clean, with an herbal hoppy character, these beers are a great accompaniment to patio and sidewalk cafe drinking.
Go South. WAY South....
In this day and age, you cannot make a beer list without some of the hoppier offerings out there. This category of beers is the top dog right now, and continues to grow. Speaking of growing, they are not just growing hops in the southern hemisphere these days, they are harvesting them in the spring. Remember, their seasons are opposite ours in the northern hemisphere. Why not choose some beers that use these hops from Australia and New Zealand? There are varieties coming from Down Under that are extremely unique, very hip right now, and just plain delicious. Picture some of the names of these hops on your menu: Galaxy, Topaz, Wakatu, Pacific Jade, Nelson Sauvin, and Motueka, just to name a few. Talk about making things interesting. Beers made with these hops are not hard to find, and my hunch is that your salespeople have the resources--and the interest in your business--to find them for you.
Dark beers can be heavy and cloying as we all know, and that is not what we want in the spring. But many stouts these days come in a “nitro” format. This way of serving beer removes most of the carbon dioxide from the beer, replacing it with nitrogen. The result is a much lighter, creamier taste and texture. Carbon dioxide contains carbonic acid. It is what give soda (and beer) its “bite.” It also moves the beer around in your mouth, intensifying flavor impact. By removing that spark of carbonation, the beer is less intense, more refreshing, and the flavors more subtle. Try some dark beers in a nitro format for the springtime. They will be a novel addition and welcome change from the dark beers of winter, and they will also provide the necessary contrast to the lighter offerings.
One great thing about creating your own spring beer list is that many of these beers are well suited for summer. The transition from winter beer to spring beer is more of an overhaul, whereas switching from spring to summer is more like a tune-up. You can have fun showing your customers some new offerings, while at the same time shine new light on old favorites. Then, as spring warms into summer, you can drop the ones that stop selling so briskly, keep the ones that are, and bring in some new beers that are geared specifically for hot weather.
In the end, have fun making a beer list that shows your creativity and your establishment’s diversity. Your customers will notice. And if they can see that you care about your beer list, they will know that you care about them. Take it from this beer drinker, that truly matters.