This is the Bumpin’ Pumpkin Beer Q&A sessions. I had the pleasure of speaking with Barb Miller and the crew at Midnight Sun Brewing up in Anchorage, Alaska. These guys are great! They not only have supported Bumpin’ Pumpkin with insight over the past three years, but have also supported our readers with delicious pumpkin beer! Not to mention this year they provided more than needed – thank you guys for the gifts along with the samples! Enjoy!
It’s 2016 and the shelves seem to be saturated. What differentiates your pumpkin beer option from the others this year?
We’ve been making two pumpkin beers for many years: TREAT Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter and Trickster Belgian-style Pumpkin Ale. Although they are both brewed with pumpkin and spices, these two beers are night and day in color, texture and flavor. Trickster is perfect for enjoying during fall activities and gatherings. It accompanies hardy fall meals because it’s lighter and more effervescent. TREAT pairs well with desserts but it can also be dessert — it’s dark and rich. The cacao nibs definitely add another layer of flavor. TREAT and Trickster are uniquely distinctive pumpkin beers — and they continue to stand out as annually recurring fall favorites.
It’s no secret America has driven a fairly strong craft beer revolution around the world at this point. What role, if any, do you feel pumpkin beer has played in the craft beer revolution?
When we first began brewing in 1995, we made traditional European ales and lagers. At some point in the early 2000’s, we – like other breweries – started twisting things up a bit. We began oak-aging beers and adding non-traditional ingredients into our beers. But our first pumpkin ale was based on a recipe I had created and brewed for my first child in October of 1992. We served it at our first Halloween party and it was a big hit so I knew we were onto something special. The funny thing is Mark (MSBC President) said we will never make a pumpkin beer at Midnight Sun. Bottom line is we make beers we love – beers that interest and and intrigue us. Luckily our fan base agrees and rides along with us. In regards to a revolution, it’s all about them.
Many of the breweries I’ve contacted this year are surprisingly not making pumpkin beer. Why do you think this is? Is it because of the labor, the market, a fall in demand, or otherwise?
First, there was a pumpkin shortage so it was not as readily available to all brewers — and there are many more American craft brewers now. Second, once a flavor profile goes “trendy,” I think independent craft brewers are over it. They want to bust into new territory. There is “pumpkin spice” everything on the market this time of year. We are still brewing our pumpkin beers because we love them and they are still in demand.
Many have remarked that the past spring saw the first really noticeable overflow of pumpkin beer inventory. It’s not uncommon to find pumpkin beers on shelves well into the spring. However, Greg Avola of Untappd did a research for Forbes that found a 50% increase in spring time check-ins of pumpkin beers in 2015. I too have seen everything from Pumking to Roadsmary’s Baby on shelves still and we’re almost a year later. In your opinion, just how badly was distribution overestimated this past year, if at all? Did you guys see growth or have you found your numbers have stagnated?
Seasonal beers, especially with seasonal labels, need to hit the market early and hopefully sell out before the season is over — not because the beer will go bad but because consumers move on to the next seasonal beers. We had TREAT and Trickster available after the fall season last year but the consumers that love those beers kept coming in to buy them. Our sales on those two beers have grown annually. We distribute in AK, WA, OR, CA, HI and NY. We brewed more TREAT this year then ever and we brewed it earlier. We’ll see the results in the next few months.
What methods do you employ in making sure that you obtain the pumpkin ingredients needed to sustain a good pumpkin beer year after year? Over the past year many have reported a shortage of pumpkin puree. Have you guys experienced any struggle in terms of ingredients and if so, where has it made you reassess your strategy for the fall season?
We ordered early this year as we experienced the shortage a couple of years ago and could not get the quantity we needed to fill distributor orders. Order early.
Can you give us general insight into the process you’re following in order to create your pumpkin beer this year?
Sorry I don’t have a sexier story here but we add pumpkin puree to the mash and spices in the kettle.
No worries! If not pumpkin spices, what seasonal ingredient(s) do you believe could make a meteoric rise in the beer industry in the coming five years?
Here in AK, crab apples are plentiful this time of year. This is the second year that we’ll be brewing Buzzwinkle Sour Crab Apple Ale, brewed with crab apples from a tree in my yard. Last year we brewed 15 BBLs with 90#. This year we’re brewing 30 BBLs with 200#. Every region in the US has something with which to brew and celebrate — not just fall but all seasons.
Have you tasted any other pumpkin beer options on the shelves this year? If so, which ones other than your own have you been impressed with?
I always liked Elysian’s pumpkin beers and they would have a crazy fun pumpkin beer fest. Not sure what’s going on there this year. I’m not certain but is seems that Midnight Sun is the only Anchorage brewery that makes pumpkin beers. I support local, meaning Alaska, as much as possible. Who’s more “local” to me than Midnight Sun?
I appreciate you taking the time to speak on behalf of everyone at Midnight Sun Brewing. Also, thank you for such an awesome sample package this year! You guys sent along such a wonderful package for review! I sincerely appreciate it. Love you guys, and best of luck this season!
Thanks for reaching out to us Patrick! We’re looking forward to your reviews and commentary. Cheers!