From Frosty Flips to Spicy Brews



To merchants, restaurateurs and bar and tavern owners as well as their beer-loving customers, the expression “chill” or “chill out” has taken on a new, delicious meaning.

In an oxymoronic phrase, seasonal beer sales are scalding hot during wintertime!

According to IRI data – which monitors Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and BJ’s, drugstores, supermarkets, mass merchandisers like Target and Dollar, as well as selected independent beer, wine and spirits merchants – sales of seasonal winter and holiday-style beers rose 23% from November 2012 through March 2013 – a time period that coincides with brewers’ rollout of these wintry brews. Dan Wandel, principal, client insights, IRI, anticipates even stronger gains for this year’s holiday season given the fast-expanding universe of holiday and winter brews on offer compared to even a year ago. And it’s no “small beer” either: In dollar terms, IRI reports seasonal beer sales – spring, summer, fall and winter – are rapidly approaching $500 million annually. Commenting on this “snow storm of seasonal beer sales,” Wandel adds that all seasonal beers, from brewers large and small, are now well on their way to account for 4% of total U.S. beer sales in dollar volume, a stunning achievement given the segment’s near statistical zero score less than a generation ago.

9Winter-BeersRich Doyle, CEO and Co-founder, Harpoon Brewery, Boston, Massachusetts, concurs. As one of the first craft brewers to market a seasonal beer for the coldest months of the year, Doyle recalls, “We introduced Harpoon Winter Warmer in 1988 at a time when there were only two other Christmas Beers available in Boston…. The major thing that has changed is how many other brewers make them now.”  Together with its sister brewery in Windsor, Vermont, where winters are really frosty, this season Harpoon is selling its classic Winter Warmer alongside its ever-popular Chocolate Stout.


Seasonal beers, including those on sale during the holidays, help elevate the appreciation of all craft beers, says Jovina Young, brand manager, Blue Moon Brewing Company. Jovina explains, “Seasonal releases create an opportunity for both brewers and beer drinkers to experiment with unique flavors and ingredients, playing a very important role in helping people along their journey into the craft category.”


Jim_Kochstand2-1228.rJim Koch, founder and CEO of the Boston Beer Company, notes, “We were one of the very first craft brewers to have a year-round seasonal program and brewing beers for the season long before it was “the norm”. We are also very proud to have the #1 selling seasonal program.” All told in the last decade, the beer market has witnessed a blizzard of winter and holiday offerings. These seasonal releases now gush forth from the 2,500-plus craft

and major breweries now in operation across the U.S., according to the Craft Brewers Association; this is a record number in American history, the group adds. (And this number does not include the dozens of imported winter brews now available stateside._

Jim Koch, Founder & CEO, Boston Beer Co.

An Veritable Avalanche of Wintry SKU’s

 “Once temperatures begin to drop in November, 35% to 40% of our total beer sales are winter or holiday-style brews,” reports Branden Williams, general manager at Beer World, Kingston, New York. From cinnamon-and-spice spiked IPA’s to robust chocolaty stouts, Williams notes that of the more than 1,500 beer skus on sale (yes, that’s the correct figure; it’s not called Beer World for nothing) as of late November, the spacious store already features multiple case-stackings, packed shelves and glass-enclosed refrigerated displays offering more than 50 different domestic, craft, artisanal and imported winter and holiday beers, all chilled and ready to go.

And come January, Williams promises an even larger selection of “cool seasonal chill”, as he put it.


Williams says the three best-selling brands are: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, at $9.99 a six-pack and $14.99 for a 12-pack; Blue Moon Mountain Abbey, at $6.99 a six pack; and Harpoon Chocolate Stout at $9.99 a six pack.


Across the nation restaurateurs and pub owners tell a  similarly nippy story: At Rudyard’s British Pub, a renowned mecca for beer aficionados in Houston, Texas, general manager John Dunivin reports, “Pretty much all the brewers  come out with winter and holiday beers; we typically feature at least four.” Notwithstanding its British moniker, Dunivin chuckles when he names a pair of wintry seasonal Rudyard’s is now pouring: “Delirium Noël,” a Belgian Strong Dark Ale-style beer brewed by Brouwerij Huyghe in Melle, Belgium at $7 for a seven-ounce serving and “Yule Shoot Your Eye Out”, which is loaded with specialty malts, fresh ginger, cocoa nibs, orange peel and other holiday spices, from Karback Brewing Co. of Houston, for $7 a pint.

Please Do Tell – Winter Beers Transform Cocktails Too!

Jim Meehan, a renowned mixologist and managing partner of PDT (as in Please Don’t Tell), a cult bar with a speakeasy vibe in New York’s East Village, has enthusiastically resurrected historic winter-time cocktails called flips, whose origins date back to the American Revolution and even earlier to Elizabethan England. In Meehan’s take on the flip, called the “Great Pumpkin”,  he mixes Rittenhouse rye, grade-B (the darkest grade) Vermont maple syrup, apple brandy with Southampton pumpkin ale.  (In a pinch, Meehan says you may substitute a spicy winter ale in this recipe.) To this, he adds one egg, and all is then shaken to produce a creamy, winter warmer, topped of with a few strokes of fresh nutmeg.  It’s Meehan’s savory addition of spiced beer that makes modern a 17th century era flip.) This cocktail goes down for smooth for $15 at PDT.


Naturally, besides the “Great Pumpkin Flip” and Meehan’s killer “Black Flip” – a deeply hued concoction comprised of Cruzan Black Strap Rum, a thick Chocolate Stout, Demerara syrup, a whole egg and nutmeg, also priced at $15; see sidebar – PDT also serves a revolving cast of winter and holiday brews. Currently being poured are, says Meehan: Captain Lawrence Winter Ale from Elmsford, New York; Victory Prima, a German style pils from Victory Brewing in Downington, Pennsylvania; Omegang Abbey Ale from Omegang brewery in Cooperstown, New York; and Brooklyn Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale from Brooklyn, New York; each of these seasonal brews sell for about $7.

So, don your down coat, put your snow shoes on or throw another log on the Yuletide fire, but above all, don’t miss the opportunity to tap into the “chill” profits on offer by promoting “hot” wintertime brews. Happy Holidays one and all.


Jim Meehan’s Black Flip Recipe – Serves 1

2 oz Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

1½ oz Cruzan Black Strap rum

½ oz Demerara syrup

1 whole organic egg

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and swirl to de-carbonate beer.

Dry shake, shake with ice, and strain into a chilled fizz glass.

Garnish with grated nutmeg.

 SOURCE For Jim Meehan’s Black Flip Recipe:

by David Lincoln Ross

Editor’s Note: The author would like to thank the publisher and editors of Beverage Media for permission to reprint this article, which appeared in the January 2014 issue of Beverage Media magazine, page 46.

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