Pumpkin beer, older than you think and bigger than you know
Pumpkin Beer comes a long way, and with it a billion worth segment in the industry. Learn more about its origin here.
Bill Owens, was a photographer who suddenly decided to change his life. The first thing he did was this experiment which consisted in creating pumpkin beer. Little did we know, his experiment ushered in America’s pumpkin-flavored industry.
This kind of beer, combined with other fall beers like Oktoberfests, brown, ales and darker ales, is worth approximately 1 billion dollars according to an estimate from the Brewers Association in the US. In the fall season about 1 of every 7 craft beer purchases is a pumpkin beer or a related fall seasonal drink.
Bill Owens, craft beer world and brewpubs
But it wasn’t until 1970s that Bill Owens actually entered the craft beer world. Owen made his own beer to save money, but contrary to our current days Federal law prohibited any type of home-brewing until 1978. And in fact, commercial brewers were just as rare. Statistics reveal that in 1980 there were only 92 breweries that operated in the country. More surprisingly, in 1873 there were about 4000 breweries. Only 8 of them were smaller craft breweries. But they all had a common problem: the business model, aside from the dominance of Miller and Budweiser and the legacy that Prohibition left.
Owens did the right thing. He believed that by adjusting the business model he could succeed as a craft brewer. His goal was to produce and serve beer on site, avoiding distribution costs. In 1982 Owens formatted a business plan and testified in front of the California state legislature for a bill. The goal of this bill was to legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages brewed on-site, as long as food could be purchased.
Next thing he knew, Owens opened Buffalo Bill’s, known as one of the country’s first brewpubs.
Brewpubs revolutionized the way people drank beer, diverting attention from brands like Miller and Budweiser and not being obliged to purchase a six-pack. Buffalo Bill’s became renowned in the country appearing in newspapers as The Atlantic and Los Angeles Times.
The Pumpkin Beer revolution
Godfather of the pumpkin drink, Owens wanted to stray away from the path of lagers and stouts. His idea behind the pumpkin beer was born from inspiration, after reading that George Washington (beer maker too!) added squash and pumpkins to his fall ale. Owens planted pumpkins in his yard and baked a few at his brewery, adding them to the mash of grains and water. To find the right flavor, Owens added pumpkin pie spices into a percolator turning it into a juice. The result was a spicy and sweet beer: the Punkin Ale.
The early batches became popular at the brewpub and in 1986 he renamed the beer Pumpkin Ale. It was sold at grocery and liquor stores, being the first beer he distributed. This experiment made of Owens the first person to sell a pumpkin-infused product to consumers.
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