Sunday, August 20, 2017

Is Seasonal Creep real and have we hit Peak Pumpkin?

If you're going to buy a
pumpkin beer it better be
Schlafly's Pumpkin Ale
The end of summer is a great time of the year. Sweltering heat and humidity, swarms of mosquitoes, and school traffic back on the roads. Oh, and also, pumpkin beer! And along with pumpkin beer comes the age old tradition of complaining about pumpkin beers being released in July and Seasonal Creep.

I think Aaron Robison, the Marketing & Events Coordinator at Central States Distributor, put it best this year:


I agree with him that complaining about seasonal creep is almost as annoying as seasonal creep at this point, and people just need to get over it. Although I do like the fun of the scavenger hunt of which pumpkin beer hits the market first. Which, by the way, I'm pretty sure was Ballast Point Pumpkin Down in KC this year. It was on the liquor store shelf before the end of July. (Side note: I'm not entirely sure what they mean by "bucking the trend" considering they're perpetuating the trend of releasing pumpkin beers super early and also the beer is--in their words--a malty Scottish style with pumpkin in it. This sounds like basically every pumpkin beer I've ever had.)


But the flurry of tweets this year got me thinking: Is seasonal creep actually real? My gut feeling said yes, but I'm an engineer, damn it, and I need CHARTS. So I turned to my trusty Google Trends. (If you've never played with Google Trends, prepare to waste the rest of your day doing so.)

First I went after the obvious choice: Pumpkin Beer. My conclusion: seasonal creep IS real for pumpkin beer. A secondary conclusion: 2013 was Peak Pumpkin. The curves in the chart below show how many of the Google searches for pumpkin beer over the entire year happen in which months. The black line is October, blue is September, Green is November, and so on. So in 2006, 47% of the searches for pumpkin beer that year happened in October. In 2013, only 37% of the searches for pumpkin beer that year happened in October.


You can see that in 2004, there's very little interest in pumpkin beer until September, October, and November. Roughly 90% of the Google searches that year for pumpkin beer happened in those 3 months. By the time we hit 2013, almost 90% of the Google searches happened in August, September, and October. So the relative search interest in pumpkin beer shifted a whole month earlier in ~10 years.

Put another way, in 2006, only about 38% of the yearly interest in pumpkin beer happened in the summer time. By 2013 about 55% of the yearly interest in pumpkin beers happened in the summer time. So seasonal creep for pumpkin beers is indeed real.

The second chart here shows that interest in pumpkin beer also peaked in 2013. There was a meteoric rise in interest from 2008 to 2013 and an equally meteoric fall since then. So, thankfully, we have passed Peak Pumpkin, and can move onto more interesting things in our lives (like Oktoberfest beer).


On that, note, I wondered--ok so Seasonal Creep is real for pumpkin beers--how about Oktoberfest beers? The answer: seasonal creep doesn't exist for Oktoberfest beers. The chart below shows the same monthly comparisons by year as the pumpkin beer. You can see that there's been a slight uptick in interest in Oktoberfest beers when comparing 2005 & 2006 to the last 10 years, but basically since 2007 the relative interest by year has been very constant. Basically, the relative number of searches picks up in August, peaks in September, and drops off in October. This is all as it should be, considering the One True Oktoberfest (in Munich, Germany), actually happens in the 2nd half of September and not in October, contrary to popular belief and the name of the festival.


And although it appears we've also hit Peak Oktoberfest, it hasn't had quite the metoric rise and fall of pumpkin beers. Which is good, because Oktoberfest beers are awesome and I hope the decline in popularity in the last couple years can stabilize and we can have a healthy interest in Oktoberfests until the end of time (as it should be).


Christmas/Winter beers were basically the same--no real change in release times for the last 15 years (although I didn't go to the trouble of charting the data because seriously guys, I do actually have a life outside the beer blog). Also, Irish beer has absolutely zero seasonal creep. And after looking at the Google Trends data on Irish beers--good luck trying to sell out your Irish beer stock after March.

Beyond that, I actually had a really hard time finding specific beer styles that I could test seasonal creep on. Most "summer" beer styles are also year round styles (think wheat beers, pilsner/lager beers, sours). There aren't really any true "spring" beer styles or "fall" beer styles (outside of the two above) that I could come up with.

So my conclusion is that Seasonal Creep exists: but only for pumpkin beers. And hopefully not for much longer.

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