PORTLAND — For beer-drinkers around Maine, the arrival of Shipyard Brewery’s Pumpkinhead beer means it’s time to dig the fall sweaters out of the closet and put away the patio furniture.
The nearly 20-year-old Portland brewery’s seasonal beer has become a staple for fall in Maine, but lately, the beer has taken off outside of the state, too. The brewery announced that this year it will add two more months to the brew cycle in an attempt to keep up with demand.
“We’re still bound by capacity,” Bruce Forsley, Shipyard’s business manager, said. “The demand is more than our capacity.”
Shipyard usually stops brewing Pumpkinhead, its most popular beer, around Halloween, but this year, it will brew into late November. The brewery on Newbury Street extended its capacity earlier this year in anticipation of brewing more of its biggest money maker, and plans to extend capacity again in the near future. The company plans to ship 400,000 cases of Pumpkinhead this year.
Demand for Pumpkinhead outside Maine now eclipses Shipyard’s in-state sales. The beer is available in 35 states and demand is growing steadily, particularly in Massachusetts and Florida.
So what makes this spiced wheat beer so popular?
“Pumpkinhead is a transition beer for people interested in getting into craft beer,” Forsley said.
While overall national beer sales were down last year, craft beer sales were up 12 percent, and new microbreweries have been popping up across the country to meet demand, according to the national Brewers Association.
Forsley said that for many people, Pumpkinhead is the only microbrew they drink, sticking to the offerings from large breweries like Budweiser and Coors the rest of the year.
But the company hopes that after people try Pumpkinhead and make a connection with the brand, they might be more apt to try Shipyard’s other beers, like Export, or SeaDog Blueberry.
Shipyard spokeswoman Tami Kennedy said Pumpkinhead also seems to appeal to both men and women, unlike some other fruit beers, which tend to have a majority of female drinkers.
“Palates are changing,” Kennedy said. “We pair wine with food. Well, now, people pair beer with food.”
“We’ve created a generation of sophisticated beer drinkers,” Forsley added.
To make Pumpkinhead, the brewery doesn’t just toss some pumpkins into the brew kettle. The beer is made with a natural concentrated spiced pumpkin extract, which is added to a wheat beer during the brewing process.
“The tannin in the pumpkin skin balances the sweetness of the cinnamon and nutmeg,” Forsley said.
Forsley said both he and Master Brewer Alan Pugsley initially doubted that a pumpkin beer could ever be popular when they started brewing it at Federal Jack’s brewpub in Kennebunkport in the mid-1990s. But now there are 15 to 20 other breweries that also brew pumpkin beers.
The company has even started brewing a specialty pumpkin beer, Smashed Pumpkin, a big-bodied beer with a higher alcohol content.
The brewery at 86 Newbury St. employs 60 people. But with brewpubs all over Maine, the company employs between 700 and 800 people.
Currently the 19th largest craft brewery in the country, Shipyard has ambitions to look more like the larger microbreweries, such as Sam Adams, in the future, using Pumpkinhead as a jumping-off point, Forsley said.
“Eventually,” he said, “we want this to be a national brand.”
Shipyard Brewery Business Manager Bruce Forsley sits on cases of Pumpkinhead beer that will soon be on the way to stores from Maine to California. The spiced pumpkin wheat beer is the brewery’s most popular, with demand outweighing the Portland company’s production capacity.
Bottles of Shipyard Brewery’s popular fall brew, Pumpkinhead, make their way from the bottling machine to boxes, to be shipped all over the country.
Shipyard Brewery’s business manager Bruce Forsley in the grain storage warehouse, where people who used the old warehouse for raves and parties painted mural-like graffiti on the wall before the brewery took over the space in the mid-1990s.
Shipyard Brewery Business Manager Bruce Forsley stands in between boxes and kegs of the popular fall brew, Pumpkinhead.