My, oh, my, look at the time. Is it pumpkin beer season already? Much to the chagrin of many detractors on Facebook, the annual offerings of pumpkin beers have started to show up on shelves and at bars. Second only to IPAs, pumpkin beers have to be the next wildly debated beer style in the country today, but this year’s debate comes with a new twist: talk of a pumpkin shortage has many news outlets asking, “What will happen to the pumpkin beer?”
The situation could have serious ramifications for Halloween party planning or what we consider bringing to Thanksgiving dinner. But I say, hold on: Could these reports be a bit overblown?
Reports of a pumpkin shortage date back to October 2015 when analysts warned of a canned pumpkin shortage due to weather, Time reports. As it turned out, there was no shortage of pie filling for Thanksgiving 2015, but that has everything to do with the reignited concerns this year.
“What the experts missed is that Libby (major producer of canned pumpkin) typically produces far more cans of pumpkin filling than it needs for just the holiday season, reserving cans for the rest of the year,“ explains Fortune online.
But last year the company, “made the tactical decision not to reserve any of its inventory for future months, instead shipping its entire stock to retailers across the U.S. before Thanksgiving. The company says it now has no holdover inventory. Once those cans disappear from retailer shelves there will be no more until next year’s harvest.”
Flash forward to today, when this year’s harvest and that reserve of 2015 canned pumpkin dwindles and reports say another wacky weather pattern this spring pushed pumpkin planting later. Some craft brewers are feeling the pinch. Paul Kavulak of Nebraska Brewing is one of them. He told CNBC that his brewery was unable to source the entire amount of pumpkin puree from a single supplier, however, eventually found what he needed for their Wick For Brains.
“Pumpkins, like other agricultural products, are often critical to small and independent craft brewers,” says Chuck Skypeck, Technical Brewing Projects Manager at the Brewers Association. “Any change in the supply chain for brewing ingredients, like inclement weather, can have a serious effect on production.”
“That said, never underestimate the flexibility of craft brewers to overcome challenges,” Skypeck continues. “A shortage may act as a catalyst to innovate or shift the focus from one seasonal ingredient to a substitute ingredient that beer fans may love even more.”
So will we see fewer pumpkin beers this year? Bart Watson, Chief Economist for the Brewers Association, does not think so.
“It’s a little bit of a tightening of the market rather [than] a shortage,” Watson insists. “People are still going to see plenty of pumpkin beers on the shelves this fall.”
If you’re still concerned, despite Watson’s expert analysis, here are three more silver linings to consider:
1. There are no reports of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice or clove shortages.
Pumpkin shortage?!?! But I love pumpkin beers! What am I going to do without that uniquely spice-laden flavor of the flesh of pumpkins? Wait a minute — pumpkins aren’t spice-laden.
Many consumers seem to confuse pumpkin spice for the flavor of pumpkin. The classic pie spices blend perfectly into beer, so much so that they provide the impression of pumpkin pie right in the glass. Some of your favorite pumpkin beers don’t even have pumpkin. Therefore, if your favorite pumpkin beer doesn’t use pumpkin, there is no reason to worry about a pumpkin shortage. I guess we can start worrying when we hear about an allspice shortage.
2. Canned pumpkins don’t seem to fit the essence of craft beer anyway.
It seems like most of these reports center around the shortage of one large player in the pumpkin industry. While I’m not saying that brewers don’t or can’t or wouldn’t want to brew a beer with year-old canned pumpkin, I’m saying that if a shortage nudges them in a direction, they may have to find a smaller, more local source for pumpkins — and that’s okay with us beer lovers.
3. Seasonal creep avoided?
There are some people who love pumpkin beers and some that detest them, and then there are some who don’t like them showing up in August. In addition to limited supplies of pumpkins, a delay of the normal pumpkin harvest might be a boon for consumers frustrated by seasonal creep.
4. Alternative bounty abounds
While news reports suggest that we might have a tough time finding pumpkin beers this year, I hope that you aren’t too worked up unless you actually experience it (which again, isn’t likely). Brewers who are determined to put out a pumpkin beer this year are going to, and I hope I have highlighted the bright side to a “tightening of the market.”
It is also good to remember that there are plenty of styles and ingredients that help make the most of our fall time craft beer enjoyment. In addition to Oktoberfest styles and fresh and wet hopped beers, there are beers that ditch the pumpkin for squash or other fall ingredients that help you get in the spirit of the season.
I am glad that craft beer is a beverage that remains connected to a seasonal harvest so much so that people are willing to flip their lid if they cannot get one of their favorite seasonals. It is that connection to agriculture that harvest time is all about. Small and independent brewers pay homage to that connection every time they brew. In a world where so many people do not truly know where their food comes from, it is great that a beer style can remind them that what we eat does not just manifest itself onto a shelf in a can.
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