According to Jim McCune, executive director of the craft beverage division at New York-based ECG Group, the pumpkin beer tale started back in 1985 with Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, California, who became the first brewer of commercially-released Pumpkin Ale in the US.
“Thirty years later, walk through any store in the USA from late August to November and pumpkin-flavored everything is everywhere,” McCune told BeverageDaily.
“Pumpkin beer went from a brewing experiment to a seasonal beer phenomenon.”
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.
According to Nielsen data, seasonal brews account for 18% of craft beer sales, and sales of pumpkin-flavored are estimated at 10% of the craft beer market.
Overexposure leads to backlash
“The Great Pumpkin Backlash” occurred in 2015 when the combination of fewer people drinking pumpkin beer combined with breweries increasing their pumpkin beer production, McCune said.
This created a large surplus of pumpkin beer that sat untouched on store shelves past the fall and winter seasons.
US consumers simply drank too much of it and the push to get pumpkin beer on the shelves as early as July backfired as it created a backlash from craft beer drinkers complaining about the “seasonal creep.”
“Some craft breweries were hit hard by pumpkin beer’s recent decline, and will most likely react by brewing less of it for Fall 2016,” he said.
Ithaca Beer Co. discontinued its seasonal beer, Country Pumpkin, which it launched in 2011. Samuel Adams, which usually produces two pumpkin beers per year, cut back to one pumpkin beer in response to the fatigued market demand.
“We drank too much of it,” McCune said.
“The aromatic flavorings of pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, and allspice tend to have a demarcation point. People simply got bored of that flavor, and only a break from it can reset the desire.”
New breweries take different flavor route for fall
Other brewers such as Maplewood Brewery & Distillery in Chicago, which launched its craft beer business two years, recently announced its new products for Fall 2016, none of which include a pumpkin beer.
"Pumpkin beers seem to be something you get into when you first discover craft [beer] and you'll eventually move on from the style," Maplewood Brewery & Distillery brewer and brand manager Adam Smith told BeverageDaily.
Other craft brewers such as Category 12 Brewing are taking clear shots to smash the pumpkin beer craze by releasing its new Zombie Repellent (Anti-Pumpkin) Ale for fall.