It’s that time of year, the long, hot days of summer are making many of us think ahead to fall. And as true Americans, we can’t have fall without pumpkin. This flavor has taken over everything from coffee to candles and desserts to beer. Even if you aren’t a pumpkin fan, it is hard to deny their popularity. But will will see less pumpkin beer this year?
Towards the end of July, I noticed pumpkin beer had not made it onto shelves yet which was quite different than past years. What was happening? I was used to having this seasonal beer pushed down my throat before temperatures had even started to decline.
Then I recalled seeing quite a bit of marked down pumpkin beer in January of the past two years. There had to be a correlation. So I started to ask around and do some research.
Less Pumpkin Beer In Cincinnati
My first stop was to talk to a couple local breweries that have packaged their pumpkin beer in the past.
Rivertown Barrel House & Brewery was one of the first craft breweries in Cincinnati, Ohio and their pumpkin beer is a local favorite. I know that I always ended up enjoying quite a few of them myself every year. But they are no longer bottling it as of this year. Competition, low demand and a short season made this a style they had to walk away from for now.
In fact, they have moved away from the idea of seasonal beer completely and are shifting to Limited Edition beer. They describe these as “brewed for people who embrace change and the flavors that accompany them.”
But they do have some of their highly rated Sour Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin that will be making appearances on draft throughout the season. Check out why Draft Magazine ranked it #3 on their list of pumpkin beer.
MadTree Brewing is another local brewery that canned their Pumpcan beer in the past. However, this will be the final year for it in cans. And they are only canning in 2017 because they have left over cans from last year.
You’ll still be able to find it on tap because they believe it is a great product and customers want it. But the past few years have proven that pumpkin beers have lost their ability to sell at a rate that justifies packaging.
Instead, MadTree is canning another popular fall beer called Pilgrim. It has been a tap only offering in the past and is made with walnuts, cranberries and vanilla.
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The Rest Of The Craft Beer World
So just in Cincinnati, two of the largest breweries are making a drastic changes in their approach to pumpkin beer. This new strategy isn’t exclusive to my area or new to this year. This Forbes article from last year references many other breweries from across the nation that saw the need for less pumpkin beer starting last year.
But don’t think for a second that this was an easy decision. For many breweries, a seasonal beer can represent a significant portion of their overall sales for that period. Less pumpkin beer is a scary thought to a company when it represented 15% or more of their overall production. So replacing this is key and as described above, both Rivertown and MadTree have a plan in place to ensure their sales continue as less pumpkin beer is sold.
We Only Have Ourselves To Blame (Or Thank?)
Pumpkin spice in everything was the mantra for the past few years. While I am sure some companies will be able to continue to capitalize on this trend (like the PSL at Starbucks); there is a point when supply out paces demand. Sometimes demand decreases while other times supply increased too far.
In the case of pumpkin beer, I think it is a little of both. At one point, this style of beer was made by a handful of breweries. When others saw that pumpkin beers were selling out, they joined in. As more breweries joined in, demand appeared to keep up.
So to be more competitive, some breweries decided to release their pumpkin beer earlier to capture the market. This meant mid-summer launches of their fall products. It is often called “seasonal creep” and is the same reason you see Christmas trees in September. The strategy is to get your product onto shelves and capture the sale before someone else does. It’s a valid and often effective method.
I like pumpkin beer but if I start drinking them in July, I won’t want it in November. And let’s remember that November should be the prime time for pumpkin beers.
So we demanded it, they made it but in the end we didn’t want as much as they thought we did or for as long as a time period as they tried to sell it to us.
So we can thank ourselves for helping teach our industry about seasonal beers. Sales prove seasonal beers sell best during their assigned season. So many breweries are shifting back to supplying these beers during those months.
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The Future Of Pumpkin Beer
Let’s be serious, pumpkin beer isn’t going anywhere. Plenty of people (myself included) enjoy drinking this style of beer. I will miss my local breweries producing pumpkin beers but I also look forward to their new offerings.
But the reality is there will be less breweries making pumpkin beer this year and less produced overall. This isn’t the end of this style and I am confident that everyone will be able to find plenty of pumpkin beer on shelves.
The breweries that are able to adequately align their release schedule and production with consumer demand will still find success selling this style. But it won’t be easy; predicting demand is a tough job. For many, it will make more sense to brew something more unique that can capture the attention of the ever changing craft beer consumer.
But I would not be surprised if in a few years there is another run on pumpkin and more breweries gets back into this style just to see if fade out a few years later.
For this year, if you can’t find your favorite pumpkin beer on store shelves, that doesn’t mean they didn’t make it. Check out their taproom, I have a feeling that less pumpkin beer in stores will not mean less pumpkin beer in taprooms.
And even if there is less pumpkin beer than past years, I am confident there will be more than enough to go around and last us long into the winter months.