It's hard out there for a pumpkin ale.
The pumpkin beer category went through stable sales and volume growth beginning in 2005, spiking in 2013, but since 2014 has dipped to an all-time low in 2015, dropping 10% in sales and 13% in total volume.As a consequence:
What has been dramatically dubbed “The Great Pumpkin Debacle” and the “Great Pumpkin Backlash” of 2015 has led wholesalers and distributors to stock fewer pumpkin-flavored brews this year... Brewers are also making adjustments. Ithaca Beer Co. has discontinued Country Pumpkin, which launched in 2011, and Samuel Adams, which usually cranks out two pumpkins, slashed production to just one. Southern Tier, Shipyard Brewing and Harpoon Brewing are significantly scaling back as wellLook. I have never been a fan of the pumpkin beer on the totally reasonable grounds that a great many were invented to appeal to people who don't like beer. They are sweet, simplistic, and most-dubiously, spiced. This is an historical accident dating back to a moment in 1985 when Bill Owens, founder of Buffalo Bill's, added pumpkin to a beer in an effort at colonial recreation. He learned then what brewers ever since have discovered: pumpkin doesn't have much of a taste. What, he wondered, would make it taste more pumpkin-y? Spices, of course (which actually makes it taste like pie, not squash, but let's not get too far afield). And thus was born an American tradition.
But that tradition was born. The thing is, humans often make or consume things seasonally that would otherwise not necessarily thrill them: cranberry sauce, Peeps, fruitcake. We do this because marking the seasons is an ancient act and it makes us happy. We do this in beer, too, but there aren't many beer types that scream, with such precision and specificity, a certain moment so clearly. Pumpkin ales are a form of harvest beer linked to our native flame-hued squashes and, sort of, Halloween. And some of them aren't too bad.
Breweries probably over-marketed these things, seeing them as a vein of autumnal lucre to mine, and if I have to see any more of the ubiquitous Elysian pumpkin ads that have been infesting social media, my head will explode. (Nothing spoils a quaint, community-based celebration more than multinational beer bucks.) But it would be a worse world that trudged on without the annual appearance of a now-classic pumpkin beer. I am never going to love them, but I would hate to see them disappear.
Pumpkin beers aren't dead (yet); long live pumpkin beers!