Despite the headline of this article, pumpkin beer will never die. By that I mean even though beer drinkers are not buying it like they did 3 years ago, it will not stop being a staple of the fall beer season.
For reasons that escape me, the American public became obsessed with pumpkin flavored everything sometime in the last 5-10 years. Once the calendar said September, people just had to have pumpkin flavored lattes, beer, Kleenex. I could even take the easy position that this obsession leads to riots, but when you read these articles it becomes clear that this was a bunch of drunken privileged assholes looking to break some shit.
This year continues the trend of pumpkin beer sales falling sharply. For brewers, trends like pumpkin beers can become a black hole. You must make pumpkin beers because the drinking public wants them. It sells really well. You sell out of what you made, so the next year, you up your production. You sell even more. So, you up your production again for the following fall and to get ahead of your competitors you put it a little earlier than they do. This time you sell less and you and your distributor have a bunch of pumpkin beer left over long after the season has passed.
That is the danger of chasing trends. It is a seductive yet fickle thing. In a competitive marketplace like brewing, it can be even harder. You must keep your market edge by responding to your customers in a way that stays true to your core values as a brewer. Brewers successfully navigate this by staying true to their process and who they are. Make no mistake. Brewers must respond in some way.
The worst thing you can do as a response is to throw together some pumpkin recipe and pump something out just to have a pumpkin beer. Consumers, in general, can see through bullshit like that and craft beer drinkers, in particular, see through it and the will respond with scorn and ridicule that will be worse than just not making the beer.
There are two better responses from brewers. Take your time and create a pumpkin beer that fits who you are as a brewer. Or, eschew pumpkin all together and choose another fall style or use another staple of fall foods like sweet potatoes.
The best brewers see these types of trends before they develop. They don’t so much respond to consumer demand as help influence that consumer demand. Consumers do not know what they want or need until someone gives it to them. Sours and goses have taken off in the last 2 years because a few brewers were interested in them and made good ones and people responded.
I don’t want craft breweries to become what they rebelled against. Those of us who are in the craft world love it because brewers, good brewers, have a curiosity and a sense of adventure that shouldn’t be handcuffed by chasing trends.