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Fall Beer and Wine Review

The arrival of cold weather brings richer notes and the return of holiday beer and wine favorites
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Allagash's North Sky  stout
Allagash's North Sky stout is one of many fall beers that convey seasonality through name and design.

As growers wrap up their harvests of grapes and hops, the seasons are also changing for finished wine and beer products. Grocers shifting out displays of summery seltzers and refreshing ales are making room for different and new varieties from local, national and international suppliers.

Given the fact that the rollout of pumpkin spice offerings has become a harbinger of fall in other drink categories, it’s not surprising that similar-flavored adult beverages have started hitting store shelves and will continue through Halloween and Thanksgiving. In late summer, for example, The Fresh Market, based in Greensboro, N.C., revealed that its roster of fall-themed products would include pumpkin beer. 

Many beer makers are bringing back pumpkin brews that are part of their usual rotation, and others are introducing new twists on this autumn favorite. New Belgium Brewing Co., based in Fort Collins, Colo., is mixing it up with Atomic Pumpkin, featuring classic cinnamon spice and pumpkin, along with a spicy habanero pepper flavor. Boston-based Samuel Adams is touting its Jack-O, made with a balance of cinnamon and nutmeg, with citrus tones for added brightness. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, of Milton, Del., is getting a start on the season with Punkin Ale, made with real pumpkin meat and available this year for the first time in cans.

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Keystone  light brand
The Keystone light brand is taking a different approach to fall themes with a hunting pack and promotion.

Layering Up

Beyond the pumpkin spice flavor profile, brewers are adding more layers in other ways during the cool season. As always in this category, evocative product names are designed to grab attention at the shelf, such as Flannel Friday from Boston’s Harpoon Brewery, featuring notes of caramel and roast, and Williamsport, Pa.-based New Trail Brewing Co.’s Flannel Weather New Zealand-style hazy double IPA. The Belgian-style brewer Allagash, located in Portland, Maine, is also going for imagery with its North Sky stout, which features a roasted chocolate flavor that plays off the Belgian yeast. 

Another way to make a beer name stand out on shelf is to co-brand it. For example, in time for the fall tailgate season, the University of Southern California Athletics group is teaming up with SoCal brand Stone Brewing to produce a Stone Fight On! Pale Ale. The drink is available at stores, restaurants and bars in the region, in addition to the Los Angeles Coliseum and Galen Center, which are home venues for the USC Trojans teams. 

[Read more: "Progressive Grocer Names Best New Products of 2023"]

“Stone beers are popular nationwide and across the globe, but SoCal is where we started and is home to our biggest population of fans,” says Erin Smith, VP of marketing at Escondido, Calif.-based Stone Brewing. “We’re thrilled at the opportunity to create a beer that instills local pride in that cross-section of craft beer drinkers and USC fans and alumni. It’s our hope that this beer is enjoyed year-round for its incredible flavor, and that it truly adds to the game-day experience across all USC sports.”

Likewise, the Keystone brand from the Molson Coors Brewing Co., in Golden, Colo., is gearing up for sweater weather with a co-branded fall campaign centered on a popular autumn pastime. To kick off hunting season, the brand is tucking bright-orange cans into seasonal packs of Keystone Light and partnering with Columbus, Ga.-based hunting lifestyle brand Realtree to offer hunters a chance to win merchandise like coolers, jackets, flannels and beanies. 

Other craft brews are infused with different signature tastes of the season. Genesee Brewing Co., based in Rochester, N.Y., is promoting its Cran Orange Kellierbier, already available in many stores and complementing its traditional Oktoberfest variety.

Smoky flavors are also finding their way into beers, bringing to mind bonfires and the deeper flavors that arrive with autumn. Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing Co. is introducing a Smoked Porter beer. Other beermakers are also going Old World in this way, offering German-style rauchbier made with smoked malts. 

Winemakers are similarly getting into the spirit of the season. In addition to promoting fuller-bodied wines that pair well with heartier meals as the weather turns, retailers can merchandise wines that have a holiday link. For instance, in addition to its pumpkin beer, The Fresh Market is highlighting a Spellbound Pinot Noir and Ghost Pines Red Blend with a Halloween aesthetic. On the supplier side, Omena, Mich.-based Leelanau Cellars is bringing back its Witches Brew Spiced Red Wine as the leaves in its vineyards turn color. 

Oceano Wines
As low-ABV products and the "sober curious" movement gain traction, Oceano Wines has come out with a premium nonalcoholic wine variety

Rollouts Roll Back 

The early push to swap out seasons is arriving earlier than ever, with some CPGs and grocers moving to fall flavors and merchandise in early August and narrowing those displays in late September and October to make way for holiday items.

According to Tiffany Benning, brand manager at Genesee Brewing Co., the company is tinkering with a summertime start. “There has been an ongoing debate for years about when we should release our fall beers,” she notes, “so we decided that it’s time to let the fans have the floor. We want to hear if people are ready or not.” This year, Genesee is asking consumers to message the company directly on social media platforms to share their opinions.

Just as pumpkin, apple and Halloween-inspired beers and wines are creeping into assortments earlier, so are holiday offerings. Look for brands like BuzzBallz, based in Carollton, Tex., to get the festivities going as soon as possible; last year, BuzzBallz’s wine-based Chillers included an eggnog variety featuring a rich vanilla flavor and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg over an orange wine base. 

Also Trending This Season

In addition to seasonal varieties cropping up, there are some other beer and wine trends of note as the year comes to a close. 

The push for sustainability continues as beverage brands and grocers work to hit their environmental targets. According to data from Chicago-based NielsenIQ (NIQ) alcohol products with attributes such as “eco-friendly certified” and “responsibly sourced” grew at a faster rate than other products within the total beverage alcohol sector last year. 

Imperfect Foods, for its part, is joining Delanco, N.J.-based parent company Misfits Markets in offering shoppers wines that align with the e-grocers’ sustainability values through a variety of organic and sustainable options. The companies began a Rescued Wine program, selling wines with labels that have been lightly marked or scuffed and are no longer bound for store shelves. 

Among mainstream grocers, Safeway and its parent, Albertsons Cos., have recently added a curated collection of wines called Vine & Cellar that can be directly shipped to consumers’ homes.

“We are launching Vine & Cellar to give our customers and fellow wine enthusiasts the ability to discover and shop regional and specialty wines from smaller vineyards that are not usually available at national supermarket retailers,” explains Curtis Mann, Master of Wine and group VP of alcohol for Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons.

Meanwhile, even as people get together for occasions like tailgating and holiday parties, some of them are looking for lower-alcohol options. According to a survey commissioned by New York-based NCSolutions, 34% of U.S. consumers report that they’re trying to drink less alcohol in 2023. The survey also showed that 36% of consumers have tried nonalcoholic beer and 12% have sampled alcohol-free wine. NIQ reports that dollar sales of nonalcoholic drinks rose 20.6% between 2021 and 2022, and that 82% of nonalcoholic beer, wine and spirit buyers are also purchasing products that contain alcohol.

One new entry in the field comes from Oceano Wines, a Paso Robles, Calif., winemaker that recently added its first ultra-premium nonalcoholic wine. Additionally, earlier this year, the venerable Dutch brewing company Heineken, whose U.S. headquarters is in White Plains, N.Y., introduced Heineken Silver, a lower-carb, lower-calorie 4% ABV product. 

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