Bring on the Bock (and more)

Springing forward
By JOSH SMITH  |  March 2, 2011

BEER_aprihop2_main

For New Englanders, the four seasons are an inescapable reality. The good news is that each season brings its own beer with it. Light, sessionable brews for summer, Oktoberfest beers in the fall, winter warmers, and in the spring . . . . Wait, what exactly is the style for spring seasonals?

Honestly, there really isn't one. The closest to an official spring seasonal would have to be Bock beers, which were traditionally brewed in springtime by German monks for sustenance during Lent. Bocks — along with the closely related Dopplebocks and Maibocks — are very strong, decidedly malty beers. ANCHOR BOCK BEER, VICTORY ST. VICTORIOUS, and SIERRA NEVADA GLISSADE GOLDEN BOCK are the most prominent seasonal examples. The latter is my pick for its lighter color, nice balance, and good drinkability (though I still prefer their previous spring seasonal, an ESB cleverly named EARLY SPRING BEER). And NARRAGANSETT has revived its Bock brew, which is hitting stores now in green 16-ounce tallboy cans.

The list of beer styles associated with spring doesn't end there. Wheat Beers, Fruit Beers, and more hoppy offerings all represented in the ranks of spring seasonals. Consider two of my other favorites: DOGFISH HEAD'S APRIHOP is an IPA flavored with apricots, the fruitiness both checking the hop bitterness and providing supreme drinkability. And SAMUEL ADAMS NOBLE PILS has a surprisingly assertive herbal hoppiness without scaring away those crossover drinkers that Boston Beer Company always appeals to.

So while they may be an eclectic bunch, many spring seasonals are worthwhile.But the very title spring seasonal is a bit of a misnomer. In a couple of weeks when the first day of spring rolls around (March 20), these specialty releases will have already been available for months!

In the uber-competitive craft beer marketplace, it's hardly surprising that an arms race of sorts takes place between brewers competing to debut their next seasonal offering. After all, there is only so much shelf space to go around. And to be fair, I've spoken with several liquor store representatives who swear they get calls inquiring about the release date of popular seasonals weeks in advance. So it makes sense that most spring beers debut in the dead of winter.

What really puzzles me is why the season itself is so short. Consider craft beer goliath Samuel Adams, from which many of their competitors take a cue. I saw their previously discussed spring seasonal, the Noble Pils, on shelves in January. If history is any guide, its run will be complete before the end of March. Compare that to the blockbuster SUMMER ALE which will run for five months, from April all the way to August.

Of course, brewers are looking forward to stretching out that summertime drinking as long as possible. But I would argue that people want a good flavorful beer during the spring months just as much. After all, nothing cures the winter blues like an easy-drinking beer outside on the patio! I cannot help but wonder if spring beers might hang on a little longer if there was a little more cohesion and character to the release.

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