Brewers association

Seasonal beer management: best practices for distributors

Sales of specialty and seasonal beers from small, independent craft brewers are arguably the most diverse and exciting group of brands that beer distributors bring to market. However, what do you do when your loudest customers want those shiny, shiny things, but you have to make a living with cool brands by selling more than one keg to an account? Here are some ideas and guidelines that will help you make informed decisions, enable repeat success, maximize market capture and minimize exposure.


This powerful beer group is making a major impact in the chain and convenience store channels. Nearly 20% of craft brewers’ sales are made up of seasonal beers. In the five months between July and November, almost 60% of all seasonal beers are usually sold out. There is nothing like this category in any other alcohol category. In 2015, the total sales of this segment, which is only a small window into craftsmanship, almost eclipsed the $17 million!

To keep great products fresh on the shelf and the dollars that come with it, it’s essential that it’s a collaborative effort. We must work together to understand what, how and when.


What is specialty and seasonal beer, really? There are several classifications that these beers fit into. These differ if the beers are tied to a holiday, time of year, brewing whim, or market demand.


Seasonal beers tend to be more traditional styles that are directly tied to a time of year. Some examples include Winter Warmers, German-style Oktoberfest (Märzen), Pumpkin and Biere de Mars. These beers are usually only produced in sufficient quantities to make it to the very end of the season. For the rest of this article, this category will be divided into seasonal (linked to a season) and holiday (linked to a public holiday). Seasonal beers have a 3-4 month window, and holiday beers usually have a 1-2 month window.


This category includes beers produced once or possibly a few times a year. They are not tied to a season but they recur. They can be the same beer every release or be completely unique every year. Examples: anniversary beers, extra BIG IPA and barrel aged beers. Although these styles are free-form, they recur and are usually not brewed again until they are completely sold out or a specific release date arrives.


Everything is allowed here. These beers are completely unique. Usually they don’t come back and you reserve that volume to play every year. Occasionally, these beers rise through the ranks to become specialties and, in some cases, a year-round product.

Determine how much

This is highly variable for each brand in your portfolio. Factors such as total production volume, brand history, capacity, distribution footprint, packaging capabilities, and market demand all need to be considered. To avoid liability, these three measures will significantly reduce the risk of over- or under-commitment:

  • Foster synergy with suppliers and distribution in advance to get an idea of ​​how the segment has sold in the past, brand by brand.
  • Consider any new brands in the portfolio that will contribute category volume with a new release.
  • Get a good count of your accounts and make sure you can deliver what buyers expect. Try to get commitments in advance.

If you are able to numerically quantify the above, you will be leaps and bounds in reaching the inventory numbers you need to have successful burnouts. Data is your friend here; don’t be afraid to pull out a calculator or spreadsheet!

Better packaging for the product

As your supplier grows, so do the packaging options. Have a good understanding of what your brewers are capable of and plan to do. Help control and use the volumes determined in the process above to come up with a mix that works. The caveat here is that, depending on your market, consumer behavior is rapidly changing from 22-ounce bottles to six-pack bottles and now cans. Behavioral change creates the potential for more packaging options that are channel and volume friendly as consumers become more comfortable with buying craft beer.


Since these beers tend to have a longer availability window, larger kegs and 6-12 packs are a viable option. Higher volume packages are more common.


These styles of beer are going to require a more even mix of small and large kegs. As for the packs (bottles or cans), if you work with a lager retailer like Kroger or Costco, you can go with 6 packs, mix packs and what a small brewery might offer, which is more probably 22 ounce, 750 milliliter bottles or other single serve unit. Some breweries may only offer draft.

The speciality

These beers will tend to move down the packaging scale to smaller kegs, more 22-ounce or 750 bottles, and higher prices. Bottles or draft only are not uncommon. Choose a mix of packages and consider sticking to this one. This will contribute to predictability in the future and consumer expectations.

The special one

Anything goes here, but generally these beers will follow the same pattern of the specialty category. Every brewery and every beer is different and should be treated appropriately. Below are some examples of how to approach the subject of calendar, release dates and sales.


Below are examples of how to approach the subject of calendar, release dates and sales. Note: Every brewery and every beer is different and should be treated appropriately. These times are not set in stone, but are based on common brewing and release dates in practice today.

Category Brew date Release date Out of stock at the Brasserie Out of stock at the distributor Avoid
Holidays (e.g. Christmas theme) 60 days before the season (Sept – Oct) Between previous holidays (early November) 21 Novemberst December 15e Any remaining inventory after the holidays
Seasonal (e.g. winter theme) 60 days before the start of the season (October) 1 month before the season (Nov.) Mid-season (Jan.) Beginning of the last month of the season (early February) Stock remaining the last 3 weeks of the season
Specialty (e.g. Double IPA) 45 days before release Whenever Within 2 weeks of liberation As soon as possible (less than 30 days). Inventory exceeding brewery expiration dates
Single (eg Barrel Aged Stout) 12 to 6 months before release Anytime, especially between seasonal/holiday outings. Within 2 month of liberation Style dependent

Marketing resources

Qualitative market research has the Internet’s most robust content program dedicated to seasonal beer releases from small, independent craft brewers.

Publication schedule and calendars

These are must-haves! The more informed your customers and distributors are, the better you will be able to meet demand and match production rates. See some examples.

Sell ​​sheets

These apply more to seasonal beers and recurring specials. Single beers are often sold by hand to accounts.

This article was written by the Market Development Committee as part of the BA Insider, a free electronic publication sent out quarterly by the Brewers Association. Each issue covers topics relevant to craft beer distributors.