Is Pumpkinhead Ale responsible for the pumpkin spice craze?

Press photo courtesy of Shipyard Brewing Company.

Press photo courtesy of Shipyard Brewing Company.

Pumpkin spice is becoming omnipresent.

When the leaves start to turn, Shipyard Brewing Company releases Pumpkinhead Ale, only whipping up the pumpkin spice frenzy more. In the BDN Newsroom, we asked the question: “is Pumpkinhead responsible for the explosion of pumpkin spice?”

The timeline checks out. Pumpkinhead was first brewed in 1996, while Starbucks developed their pumpkin spice latte in 2003. While the hype around the latte has reached the point of pre-release fan passes, people are equally crazy about Pumpkinhead, according to Shipyard’s owner Fred Forsley.

“I love that people love it so much, almost fanatical,” Forsley told the BDN in a phone interview. “It’s pumpkin pie in a bottle.”

The Shipyard website calls Pumpkinhead “a crisp and refreshing wheat ale with delightful aromatics and subtle spiced flavor.”

Pumpkinhead’s popularity began at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunk, the birthplace of Shipyard Brewing Company. Head brewer Mike Haley developed the style after being inspired by Buffalo Bill’s Brewery’s Pumpkin Ale.

But, which one is better? It’s unsurprising what Forsley thinks.

“I’m biased, but it was a good beer,” he said.

Both beers have a 2.9 out of 5 rating on Beer Advocate, but Pumpkinhead has around 1,500 more reviews and ratings than Buffalo Bill’s. Interestingly, Beer Advocate’s owners Jason and Todd Alstrom have weighed in on both beers.

They kind to Buffalo Bill, giving it at a 3.1 out of 5. But, they weren’t too kind to Pumpkinhead, rating it 1.58 out of 5.

“Hands down one of the worst Pumpkin Ales that I’ve ever tasted, and ranks up there with my worst beers ever,” Todd Alstrom wrote in his review. “Save your money. Avoid this beer at all costs. This is not what New England style Pumpkin Ales are about.”

But, these self-appointed beer experts don’t speak for the general public.

“This is one of my favorite beers ever. It is not too pumpkin-y and still tastes like beer without being weak,” Beer Advocate user jkeymaginnis said of Pumpkin Head. “If you take your time with this beer you’ll understand how good it is.”

What does Forsley think about Shipyard starting the pumpkin trend? He agrees, at least for brewers.

It seems that more people drink Pumpkinhead, at least looking at reviews on beer rating websites. While Buffalo Bill’s has been brewing for longer, Pumpkinhead could be more influential.

Press photo courtesy of Shipyard Brewing Company.

Press photo courtesy of Shipyard Brewing Company.

“I definitely think it helped,” Forsley said. “I think other brewers followed our success and the category got crowded with too many beers.”

Forsley said that the beer is popular in Massachusetts, but it is distributed all the across the country. He said that 78 percent of the beer’s sales are out of state. The beer is available until November.

Should Shipyard get the credit/blame for launching pumpkin spice everything to the mainstream?