Once upon a time, European and some of the more traditional American breweries would produce a batch of special beer (i.e., something other than their standard offering) at certain times of the year. The early spring often saw bock beers appearing on the shelves, and in December there might be a number of "winter" brews.
With the advent of the craft brewing movement, many breweries are producing seasonal beers year round, usually a rotation of four types, corresponding with the season. Some are producing as many as seven or eight.
One of these is Sam Adams, which currently produces seven seasonal offerings. It's become fashionable among beer snobs (yes, there is such a thing) to sneer at Sam Adams, but the company deserves a lot of credit for showing that there was a market for craft beers, and demonstrating that they could be distributed at a national level. Plus, they make a number of pretty good products (Sam Adams Light is the only light beer I'm willing to drink).
Available from January through March is their Noble Pils. A light-colored lager made in a classic Czech/German Pilsner style, it features a citrusy nose, flavors of malt and freshly baked bread, a medium hoppiness, a clean finish, and is a good example of what a lager beer should be. Retailing for a little over $9 for a six pack, I picked some up at Fred Meyer on sale for $6.99.
Here in Oregon, Deschutes also has a number of seasonal offerings. From their "Bond Street" series of high-end beers (available only in 22 ounce bottles), is "Hop Henge" IPA. This is a "double" (also called "imperial") IPA, which has more of everything - malt, hops (especially hops) and alcohol (8.75%). Dark amber, with a big, citrusy, piney nose, it treats the palate with biscuits, various citrus fruits, pine, pepper and, of course, hops. It's bitter enough for the hop heads, but there's enough other stuff going on to not scare off those with less extreme tastes. Available from January through April, it's not cheap (about $5 for the 22 ounce bottle), but serious IPA fans consider it worth every penny.
A more reasonably priced offering, again from Deschutes, is the "Red Chair NWPA". Of the three, this is definitely my favorite. Medium amber, with aromas of citrus (grapefruit and a little orange), flowers, and spicy hops, and rich, bold flavors of caramel and toasted malt, along with a bit of orange rind. Perfectly balanced between sweet and bitter, it's a truly great beer. I wish they made it year-round, but it's only available from January through April. Kathy liked it too, so I went back to Fred Meyer and picked up two more six-packs while it was still on sale ($6.99).