Though there’s still some time before it’s officially summer, craft beer lovers at Discount Liquors in Milwaukee have been stocking up on summertime brews for a while. “Customers know that the window of availability for summer beers is short and will pick them up before the season arrives,” says owner Marie Greguska, who adds that some shoppers purchase the beers as soon as they arrive, often as early as late winter. In addition to long-established summer brews like Samuel Adams Summer ale and Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest, Discount Liquors offers summer beers from local Wisconsin breweries like Earth Rider, generally priced at $15-$18 a 12-pack of cans or bottles.
Overall demand for summer beers isn’t as high as it was several years ago due to the proliferation in breweries and brands, but marketers and retailers note that the specialty brews—whether perennial offerings or one-offs—help build excitement and set the tone for the biggest beer-drinking season of the year. Boston Beer’s Sam Adams Summer ale was first introduced 27 years ago, and according to senior brand manager Jasen Holley, it’s still a draw. “Summer ale has become a highly anticipated fan favorite, and is one of our top-selling seasonal beers,” he says.
Summerfest is another original seasonal, first introduced in 1991. “It’s a legacy beer,” says Sierra Nevada vice president of marketing Lesley Albright. “Consumers like its sessionability and taste.” Indeed, the brew is so popular that fans were outraged that Summerfest was retired in 2021 and demanded its return via social media and focus groups. The brew returns this summer in 6- and 12-packs, as well as on draft. In addition to consumer demand, summer beers can be popular with retailers, says Albright, noting that purchasers of summer brews often add on year-round favorites, yielding a higher ring.
Summer-themed variety packs continue to resonate with consumers, brewers say. Boston Beer is releasing the Summer Ditch Days variety 12-pack ($17) this year, featuring Summer ale, Sam Adams Boston Lager Remastered, and the new Take-A-Day IPA and Summer Adventure lager. Light and crisp with hints of pineapple and lime, Summer Adventure is exclusive to the variety pack, Holley says. Similarly, Tröegs Independent Brewing’s Summer Better ($23) 15-pack this year includes Summer’s Here pilsner, which, according to co-founder Chris Trogner, is only available in the variety pack.
Instead of offering summer-specific labels, some brewers are opting instead to simply provide lighter-style beers during the warm-weather months. “As a general rule, emerging craft brewers are catering more to rotational styles, rather than committing to seasonals,” says Marc Gelsomino, beer and wine manager at Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, Vermont. Still, the store continues to stock leading summer brews, such as Sam Adams Summer ale and Sierra Nevada Summerfest, generally priced $17-$19 a 12-pack of cans or bottles.
Year-round beers that connote summertime vibes typically see a bump in sales in the third quarter. That’s the case for Tröegs’ Sunshine pilsner, Trogner says. First launched as a seasonal in 2002, Sunshine was expanded to year-round distribution ten years later, with sales growing each year, according to the brewer. This year, Sunshine will be packaged in 19.2-ounce cans, thanks to a recent canning line expansion at the Hershey, Pennsylvania brewery.
Promotional events can also drive sales. Dena Wimette, director of marketing at Waitsfield, Vermont-based Lawson’s, says the brewery will host retail events in the Northeast on June 21 to celebrate the summer solstice. “We had a great response to last year’s events,” she says. “This year we have a number of events and on-premise activations on tap to share the sunshine with our fans across the Northeast.” Sierra Nevada is also aiding retailers in promoting Summerfest and its other beers this season with an umbrella “Go Summer” merchandising campaign, Albright says.
Beverage Warehouse is a big believer in promoting summer and other brews during the third quarter with events like in-store tastings and promotions tied to the Vermont Brewers Festival, which runs in July. “Because summer is the big beer-selling season, we buy in big, put up stacks, and promote,” Gelsomino explains. Trogner advises other retailers to do the same. “With any seasonal change, it’s a good opportunity for retailers to refresh their stores,” he says. “And for the summer, that means lighter and brighter beers that capture the summertime mood.”