Just look at pumpkin beer – because it’s hard not to… it’s everywhere! It wasn’t many years ago when the pumpkin brew was something of a red-headed stepchild in your favorite local beer store come fall, always outnumbered by the staple of the season: the traditional Oktoberfest.
But that’s no longer the case.
Today, we live in the era of craft beer. And with an ever-growing number of new brewers seeking to win our favor – be it in a pint or a six pack – they’re going beyond the expected Oktoberfest options, putting a renewed emphasis on the “season” in seasonal.
I’ve yet to come across a frothy pint of pumpkin beer that pleases me, but I must be in the minority. Everybody from big brewers like Blue Moon and Sam Adams to a number of craft brewers are filling shelves with the stuff. Fortunately, for those of us who’d rather the pumpkins stay on porches and out of beer, there are some other interesting fall choices.
A new fall favorite of mine is Sweet Yamma Jamma, a sweet potato ale with candied yams and spices from Minneapolis-based Indeed Brewing Company. It’s the perfect hearty accompaniment to any warm fall meal, and is dangerously tempting enough to serve as a meal in itself.
Harpoon Brewery’s seasonal Grateful Harvest Ale isn’t available within a reasonable driving distance of me, but I have to admit I’m intrigued. It’s an amber ale brewed with cranberries, so a seemingly perfect complement to your Thanksgiving dinner. And if you’re on the fence about it, perhaps the $1 they donate to a local food bank for every six pack sold will sway you.
Another curiously interesting option is Oregon-based Harvester Brewing’s seasonal Squash Ale. The beer features not only squash but also roasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg.
The availability of these increasingly exotic beer options can be chalked up to a couple factors. First, it stands to reason that a larger number of breweries will lead to a wider array of choices and please a more diverse range of taste preferences. I learned this when I tried my first (and last) jalapeno beer a couple years back.
Second, the unstoppable growth of breweries in the U.S. is naturally going to lead to more competition. The craft-beer honeymoon is over for most people, meaning breweries need to do more and more to gain some distinction and make waves in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Think of it as Darwinism with malted barley.
Showing some panache and playfulness in your beer-making abilities and putting out more adventurous options will do that. And so will a host of other things – small-batch brews that can generate some buzz, tastings and brewery-based events that integrate you brand into people’s social lives, giving back to your community to connect with people at an emotional level and building a strong web and social media presence so you’re always present in the lives of today’s connected generations.
In other words, craft beer can no longer be sustained on its name alone. Brand image, creative marketing and reputation all are increasingly important. And remember, craft beer may have all the buzz, but big beer is still king.
Of course, the question now lingers: Who’s going to give us a gravy beer?