Year after year, Linus awaited the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, and year after year, he was disappointed. Pumpkin, it turns out, is a damn elusive squash—and this is a fact known not only to Starbucks and fictional cartoon characters, but now to craft beer brewers, too.
It seems the Great Pumpkin Shortage of 2015 (yes, that happened) has turned into a problem for purveyors of spicy, autumnal beers in 2016. The lingering effect of last year's pumpkin deficit is being felt now as some brewers are reporting problems in sourcing pumpkin puree for their fall pumpkin beers. And Linus thought he was let down by the big gourd!
According to Draft, Nebraska Brewing Co. is one brewery that is feeling the pumpkin pain. Its largest seasonal release is a pumpkin ale called Wick for Brains. This year, the brewer's pumpkin source reneged on an order of 5,000 pounds of gooey, orange puree—the stuff that gives Wick For Brains that ineffably earthy and spicy taste.
Nebraska Brewing's president, Paul Kavulak, describes the horror of being temporarily pumpkin-less: "We did end up finding a supplier, but not until after a few years were dropped from my lifespan trying to figure things out. We bought enough for maybe the first two batches and then went back to buy more—being good disciples of Just in Time Inventory—and were told they were out. We had to brew [Wick For Brains] five times this year, so you can see the panic that set in. My guess is that this is going to be an issue across the board."
Similarly, the brewer at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery was told that their supplier was out of pumpkin this year. That Virginia brewery was forced to source pumpkin puree from Florida.
As Draft points out, many pumpkin beers are made well ahead of time and so a crisis may be averted. MUNCHIES reached out to Paul Gatza of the Brewer's Association, who told us that although the association doesn't track pumpkin specifically, he knows that brewers are getting "toward the end of the 2015 crop," which was a lean. He also pointed out that "some seasonal pumpkin beers have hit the market already for fall 2016, so some companies are able to get pumpkin/pumpkin puree."
Julia Herz of the Brewers Association Craft Beer Program added that pumpkin beers are certainly getting more and more popular. She said that in October, they rival IPAs, the top-selling craft beer style in supermarkets across America. In fact, she says, "In 2016 the Brewers Association evolved the pumpkin beer style guidelines that will come into play at the upcoming Great American Beer Festival competition in October and created a Pumpkin Spice Beer category."
Most Americans certainly seem to want their pumpkin beer, even if that results in a massive strain on growers and the market. The rest of us will just have to grin and bear it, all while secretly hoping that there's an even bigger pumpkin shortage next year.