Pumpkin beer backlash? That was so last year. Unperturbed, Shipyard Brewing Co. is currently releasing its Pumpkinhead fall seasonal to U.S. retailers. The pumpkin spice beer debuted in 1997 at Federal Jack’s brewpub, (Kennebunk, Maine) which was started by Shipyard Founder Fred Forsley. Shipyard then launched Pumpkinhead (not to be confused with this) in 22-ounce bottles in 2002. Today the beer is one of craft beer’s biggest-selling seasonal beers and a longtime leader in the nation’s pumpkin spice beer category.
Despite a recent pumpkin beer backlash and shrinking sales of about 10 percent over the past three years for packaged fall seasonals (according to 2014-2016 IRI data), Forsley doesn’t buy that pumpkin-beers-are-dead predictions. “We’re going to squash that thinking,” he said, “and grow our Pumpkinhead sales this year.”
“Pumpkin spice beers,” he added, “have been a huge part of our sales and history for 20 years now. We were selling them long before it was cool, and we’re selling them now when it is allegedly uncool. But Pumpkinhead is still very cool with its fans across the country.”
Shipyard is conducting efforts to boost its 2017 Pumpkinhead sales. The brewery is expanding a Pumpkinhead Rimmer program that had a successful debut last year at New England grocery chain Kappy’s. This year two more northeast grocery chains — Hannaford and Market Basket — are carrying the rimmer kits, which hold a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar and a circular tray for dusting the mix onto the rim of a glass.
The glass treatment was started years ago by innovative bartenders throughout New England and has become a popular tradition.
“In about 90 percent of our draft Pumpkinhead accounts,” Shipyard President Bruce Forsley said, “When you ask for a Pumpkinhead the bartender will ask, ‘Do you want the cinnamon sugar rimmer on your glass?’ The cinnamon sugar rimmer has become the trademark Pumpkinhead presentation, so we’ve made it easy for bartenders and for beer lovers who want to create it at home.”
To further build on-premise sales (where 2017 seasonals have 5.9 percent growth according to Nielsen/CGA data), Shipyard is selling its rimmer kits to on-premise accounts and emphasizing Pumpkinhead’s role in mixology programs. Shipyard is conducting a campaign that instructs bartenders on how to create 20 different Pumpkinhead beer cocktails, one for each of the beer’s 20 years.
“Pumpkinhead is a fall classic,” Forsley said. “We are still convinced that the fall seasonal market is heathy and growing and Pumpkinhead is the category’s leader.”
Pumpkinhead is a refreshing amber ale is made with pale malt, malted wheat, U.S. and European hops and Shipyard’s house ale yeast. It is fermented in the brewery’s unique large-scale open fermenters. At just 4.5 percent ABV, Pumpkinhead is a super-sessionable pumpkin beer with ample body, subtle pumpkin pie spice notes and a gentle bite of hops on its finish.
Marty Jones is longtime evangelist, publicist and status quo smasher for craft beer. His creative ideas, promo efforts and questionable jokes have played a key role in the success of some of the top beer endeavors in Colorado and the United States. Follow him on Twitter @martyjonesinc.