Today is the big day! Pallets of what has been referred to as “liquid pumpkin pie” are miraculously appearing at grocery and specialty stores throughout much of our distribution footprint today, as we begin the kick-off of 2013 Schlafly Pumpkin Ale! For most of the Pumpkin Ale fanatics out there (we know who you are), today is almost like a national holiday. We looked on with great interest this morning at Schlafly Bottleworks as an enthusiastic couple actually filmed themselves purchasing the very first case off of our retail pallet! But alas, not everyone is thrilled about the release of our Pumpkin Ale. Gasp! Filtering through all of the Pumpkin Ale online chatter, you will also come across a number of comments stating that it is simply “too soon” for Pumpkin Ale. In fact, there has been a lot of talk throughout the craft beer industry in general on the topic of “seasonal creep”, a term referring to how some breweries are seemingly releasing their seasonal offerings earlier and earlier each year. In light of both the national discussion on the topic, as well as concerns raised by some of our own fans, I wanted to take the opportunity to address this directly, as it relates specifically to our Pumpkin Ale.
Running a brewery is hard. The reality is that there are a ton of moving parts involved with operating a brewery of any size. It just so happens that in our case, we are operating a 50,000 bbl. regional craft brewery that brews over 60 beer styles a year and bottles almost half of that … and our capacity is currently completely maxed out. Logistics and scheduling is an intense juggling act for us right now and we feel incredibly lucky to have the dedicated team in place that we do, because we ask a ton of them and they get put through the ringer fairly regularly to make sure that there is Schlafly Beer on shelves. It also turns out that our Pumpkin Ale, love it or hate it, is probably the most anticipated and talked about beer we produce, and there never seems to be enough to go around. You all have asked for more Pumpkin Ale and we do our best to try to give you what you want, so that means figuring out a way to brew more Pumpkin Ale…and that means brewing it in the Summer. We’re not trying to be first to the market and we don’t have any market research telling us that we should release Pumpkin Ale in August. Our release schedule is what it is because it is literally the only way we can make this work if we’re going to increase how much Pumpkin Ale we can get to our fans. We live in St. Louis after all… I can assure you that we know that August is still Summer.
To more specifically address our release schedule and how it pertains to our Pumpkin Ale, I went straight to the source and asked Schlafly Bottleworks Production Manager, Brian McBride for details. Here is what he had to say:
There are 2 critical issues with Pumpkin Ale:
1) The small time frame in which we sell Pumpkin Ale
2) Yeast supply.
Time Frame - Our plan is to increase brewing of Pumpkin Ale by 75% (not quite double). That means that Pumpkin Ale will account for almost 10% of our brewing at Schlafly Bottleworks in 2013…more than Hefeweizen or Kölsch!
This year our first Pumpkin Ale brews were in the last days of June. Over the course of the last 6 weeks, Pumpkin Ale has accounted for 44% of brewing here at Bottleworks. We’re halfway. We can’t brew more than 50% Pumpkin Ale due to yeast issues (see yeast supply below). So to get halfway by August, we have to start in June.
It’s a good thing that we’re halfway, too. Beer distributors like to get their seasonal products up front. Some smaller players in the Pumpkin game might want 100%, but most would like to see 50-60% of their seasonal product before they kickoff the season. This way, they don’t have to worry about how much they have and whether they’re going to run out. They can send their people out into the world and make big display stacks of Pumpkin Ale in the shape of a Jack O’Lanterns (or whatever they want to do).
We could start another month later and get halfway by September, but then we’ve got another big seasonal release that has a life of its own. Oktoberfest! If we waited any longer to brew Pumpkin, we wouldn’t have enough tank space to make the Oktoberfest that we’ll need in September and October.
Yeast - If we were to brew all of the Pumpkin Ale that we need and ship it all in September and October, we would have to stop brewing everything else and fill all of our tanks with Pumpkin Ale for 5 weeks. There are several problems with this scenario:
a. 8% Pumpkin Ale is tough on yeast: We can only harvest yeast from a batch of Pumpkin and reuse it once. The second time, it is too stressed to reuse. So, we would quickly run out of out American Ale yeast.
b. We would run out of other yeast as well: We can’t just stop brewing Pale Ale and Kolsch. Yeast is a living organism. Just like all living organisms, it requires beer to survive (wait, did I mix that up again?).
c. We would have old beer: If we didn’t brew Pale Ale for 5 weeks, we would have to brew and package that beer ahead of time. So, we would have a bunch of 5-week-old beer just hitting our supply chain. We like tasty beer and Pale Ale is more tasty when it is fresh.
So there you go. If you’re excited for 2013 Schlafly Pumpkin Ale…go get some! It’s tasting fantastic. If you think it’s too early for Pumpkin Ale…don’t go get some. It will still be on shelves for the next couple months (hopefully) and you can pick some up down the road. Either way, rest assured that we are passionately committed to nothing short of providing you with the best possible beer we can. We sincerely appreciate your support. To paraphrase the Bryan Adams classic…You know it’s true: Everything we do, we do it for you.