When it comes to drinks, few things say fall is here like a seasonal beer release. Pumpkin, Oktoberfest-style beers, and other flavors associated with the autumn weather are go-to drinks for consumers in September and October. There has historically been a large spike in the seasonal beer category’s share of beer sales in the fall, and that’s expected to continue in 2021. Though the window to capitalize on consumer interest in seasonal beers is short, there’s a data-led way to prioritize what people are searching for.

Tracking Category Trends 

According to Nielsen, seasonal beers—which includes all seasonal releases, not just autumn ones—were the overall top-selling beer category in 2014 and 2015. The seasonal category has since lost its status, but while the overall percentage share is modest, don’t count out fall seasonals when it comes to products that can reliably attract customers and drive sales.

In beer, like in other food and beverage categories, pumpkin is one of the most prominent fall flavors. Oktoberfest-style beers released in the fall also are among top sellers. 

In the past 12 months, the seasonal beer category has accounted for a three percent share of the alternative/ specialty beer category, and just a one percent share of total beer sales. The percent share of seasonal beers sold on Drizly doubles in the months of September and October, however, to a six percent share of the specialty beer category and a two percent share of the total beer category. 

“Seasonal beer has consistently seen share gains during the fall months over the past several years,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “Though they represent a relatively small portion of the overall beer category, it’s a reliable category to expect gains during the fall months.”

In terms of format, bottles of fall seasonals accounted for a 77 percent share of sales in 2020, compared to bottles holding only a 32 percent share of total beer sales last fall. Six-packs were the most popular size format with a 52 percent share of sales in fall of 2020 (compared to 32 percent share of total beer sales last fall), followed by 12-packs, which had a 36 percent share of seasonal beer sales. Larger formats, like 24- and 30-packs, made up just a two percentage share of seasonal beer sales in 2020.

Fall seasonals come in quick and are sometimes sold just as quickly. Zachary Mack, owner of ABC Beer Co. in New York City, stocks between 20 and 35 fall seasonal SKUs with a focus on Oktoberfests and Marzans, dark lagers, and pumpkin beers. The store gets most fall seasonals by late August or early September, and popular options are out of stock by mid-October. In recent years, pumpkin beers have hit ABC Beer Co.’s shelves in September and “are almost completely sold out weeks later,” Mack says.

Fall’s Top-Selling Brands and SKUs

A few brands that have long been making pumpkin beers top the list of the best-selling seasonal SKUs on Drizly.

Dogfish Head has been brewing and distributing our Punkin Ale since the early days of the craft beer renaissance in the mid-90s,” says Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head’s founder and brewer. “It has been our highest-volume seasonal beer every single year of our 26 years of existence. I think it stands out in the field (or pumpkin patch) because it’s brewed with real pumpkin meat, real freshly ground spices and real brown sugar, and is fermented to a hearty 7% ABV.”

Samuel Adams OctoberFest, which was the top-selling fall seasonal beer on Drizly in 2019 and 2020, is another long-standing fall SKU retailers can rely on to draw sales. The recipe has by and large remained unchanged since it was first brewed 30 years ago, says Matt Withington, the director of marketing for Samuel Adams.

Drizly’s Top-Selling Seasonal Beer SKUs, September/October 2020 

  1. Samuel Adams Octoberfest Seasonal Beer
  2. Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
  3. Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
  4. Montauk Pumpkin Ale
  5. Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin
  6. Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale
  7. Dogfish Head Beer Punkin Ale Seasonal Beer
  8. UFO Seasonal
  9. Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Wheat
  10. Harpoon Seasonal Series

Regional Standouts

Consumers in the Northeast have historically made up the largest market for fall seasonal beers purchased on Drizly. In 2020, the top three states for fall seasonals were Massachusetts (31 percent share), New York (14 percent share), and New Jersey (11 percent share). Together, the top three states made up a 56 percent share of fall seasonal beer sales last year. 

The states with a higher percentage share of fall seasonal beer sales is slightly different than the states that led overall sales on Drizly during the same time period in 2020. New York led overall Drizly sales last fall with a 21 percent share of sales, followed by Massachusetts (12 percent) and California (11 percent).

“The focus in the Northeast is likely due to both the regional breweries which produce these beers, as well as the signficant seasonal shift that happens during autumn in that part of the country, which spikes consumer demand for fall flavors,” Paquette says. 

The Future for Seasonal Beers

A clear set of core breweries with long-running SKUs dominate fall seasonal sales on Drizly, but those aren’t the only brands to note. Limited releases from established brands can be a draw in the fall, too.

“Many of the top seasonal SKUs in fall have remained stable year-over-year and will likely be reliable sellers for retailers,” says Paquette. “However, special releases offer an opportunity for retailers to set themselves apart from other stores and attract consumers seeking something new or a specific limited release.”

The fastest-growing brands for seasonal beers in 2021 to date are Cisco Brewers, Thirsty Dog, Hardywood, Bale Breaker, and Avery Brewing Company. These are the ones to watch if they release fall seasonals this year, Paquette says. Additionally, new products may piggyback off of the popularity of other drink categories like hard seltzer. Shipyard released a Pumpkinhead Seltzer this year, and Bud Light released a pumpkin spice-flavored seltzer as well.

Though pumpkin is a best seller, there are other fall seasonals to watch out for when diversifying options. Calagione notes that the Dogfish Head expanded into seasonal fall flavors outside of pumpkin with releases like the s’mores-flavored Camp Amp, which is again coming out in October 2021. The key to strike the right balance between new releases and reliable favorites. ABC Beer Co., for example, devotes at least 25 percent of its shelf space to products that never change while cycling in newer releases. 

“The latest version of a beer shopper is nothing if not adventurous,”says Mack. “Keeping things moving on the shelf keeps people interested in general since they always want something new, or at the very least, will be happy to see it creep back as part of a four- to six-month release schedule. That being said, not providing any kind of static selection is a huge mistake: There simply always has to be space for familiar brews because there are days when that’s all you want. True beer fans know this as well as good beer buyers do.”