As an early adopter of fall in North America, Maine has been busy with longstanding change-of-season rituals as varied as digging out stored ski gear, going to that same apple-picking orchard or closing camps and cottages; saying goodbyes to the Florida-bound neighbors without noting that 20-below keeps the riffraff out, and we shift not only fashion but food (bring on the root veggies!) and drink – those summer suds must finally give way to the soul-searching amber of deep-winter whiskey ... or, you know, whatever.
Of course, we don't just jump straight into January self-medication season, thank Gaia.
That's what seasonal brews are for, right?
Which brings us to the most traditional of Maine seasonal brews: Pumpkinhead.
"Traditional" because Shipyard Brewing helped pioneer the craft-brew seasonal idea some 20 years ago, following the now-familiar path of being available draft-only for a while and hitting the retail shelves in 2002. That crafty history is vital, and worth setting down.
These days, Pumpkinhead (which, by the way, is more "pumpkin pie" than pumpkin) is one of the nation's best-selling seaonals. So it made industry news nationally when Shipyard decided to delay its release to September 1st to combat "season creep" – that trend that, when applied to retailers, has given us Christmas displays not only before Thanksgiving but darn well next to the 4th of July flags.
Perhaps worse, the newcomers for fall beers had begun to push the warm-weather seasonal beers off the shelves while many of us were mourning summer's passing with stage-one grief: denial. Shipyard founder Fred Forsley was widely quoted saying "enough is enough" for the seasonal creep.
That is a bit odd, of course. Fans of the 'head will be thinking they can recall that it was certainly one of the beers pushing its way into more than a few late-summer concerts ... but Shipyard confessed to being part of the creep.
“Over the past few years craft brewers – Shipyard included — have steadily pushed up the release dates of seasonal beers to the point that these beers are now out of season," said Forsley in his announcement. "This push has stripped these beers of their context and fun and angered our customers. So we’re going to put our seasonal beers back in season and try to end this foolishness.”
Bruce Forsley, Fred’s cousin and Shipyard’s sales director, made the "Otter from Animal House" case against seasonal creep, saying it is "... screwing up seasonal beers for everybody" and adding that "... if these beers come out at the right time and stay through their intended time slot, we think consumers and retailers will be happier and the beers will sell better.”
Fred Forsley even gave a nod to the old-school tradition of planning ahead like you have to do with those self-extinguishing Trader Joe's candles (official candle of the drinking man and late-night football) that disappear with the spring thaw: “Pumpkinhead is a holiday beer that was designed to be enjoyed from early fall through Thanksgiving and into the Christmas holidays. And if you wanted it with Christmas, you stocked up in late November before it left the store shelves. That’s our focus this year.”
So, 'Head fans, you have been warned.
Pumpkinhead notes: They tell us the beer is made not with skull fragments from Sleepy Hollow nightriders (see the label) but "... with a dash of malted wheat, U.S. and European hops and an English ale yeast." It's a good beer to have when you're going to have more than one and your Trump-supporting uncles are coming to dinner, with just 4.5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). It certainly lives up to its billing as "super-sessionable" and you either think it goes over-the-top with the pumpkin-pie spice thing, or you're a good American like the rest of us.
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