Two years ago, we were sipping cask conditioned Frostbite, lovingly poured for us at the Speakeasy in Carrboro. This was a very fine situation. Frostbite had just become a 12 ounce bottled product, and it was also available on regular co2 lines scattered across the triangle. Cottonwood Brewery products kept the brewery in high regards on my North Carolina brewery list.
Now we are rounding the mid point of winter with at least two mild snowfalls under our belts, and Frostbite hasn’t set in. The local beer stores are still selling Cottonwood Pumpkin. In fact my local Harris Teeter has a ton of the orange stuff left. Enough that they’ve added an extra row to give it more room on the shelf.
The rumor has been started that this years batch is being held up by distributors who want the stores to sell their back stock of pumpkin to make room for the frostbite. A telephone call has confirmed that the brewery is brewing this beer (I was told they brew as much of this as they do of the pumpkin), and some has been spotted in draft accounts outside of the triangle (one on tap in Virginia!). Mutual Distributing in the Triangle has also confirmed that they have this beer in stock.
This beer is known for it’s hoppiness. Frostbite is the dream child of Don Richardson, ex-brewer for Carolina Beer Company. As far as I know they’re still using his original recipe. The beer is ultra hopped and malted as much as possible in order to keep it under the legal 6% limit.
Hops in the past have been used in a preservative fashion when it comes to beer. But this doesn’t mean that hops keep their freshness for a long time. Most mid alcohol hoppy beers are made to be consumed fairly soon. They may have extra preservative qualities, but the point of a hoppy beer is to enjoy the hoppy flavor. The hops present in an IPA are no longer put there to help it survive a long voyage. They are put there because people enjoy the flavors and aromas.
Personally, I feel like this Frostbite situation is a bad sign of things to come from Cottonwood/Carolina Beer Company. Not only did they brew way too much pumpkin to satisfy demand. But it appears that they didn’t brew enough Frostbite soon enough, or it’s also wasting away on a shelf. I know that the pumpkin was seen by many as a good spiced beer, but it’s now going on 4 or 5 months old. The Frostbite could probably stand up to that type of aging, but 5 months on a grocery store shelf under fluorescents?
So not only might the distributors be allowing old beer to stay in the market. But they’re possibly holding one back ‘aging’ it in a fashion that doesn’t help the product. This beer needs to be consumed. And personally, I’m not positive that I want to drink up all the old pumpkin to make room for the newly old Frostbite.