Pumpkin beer is great. Pumpkin beer sucks. You're a snob if you drink pumpkin beer. You're a snob if you don't drink pumpkin beer.
The beer-drinking world finds itself unexpectedly divided on the merits of pumpkin beer. At least that's the takeaway from a Twitter war of words that erupted on Monday night after Beer Advocate — a company that publishes a website and magazine and hosts festivals and events for "beer enthusiasts and industry professionals who are dedicated to supporting and promoting beer" — retweeted a disparaging joke about the craft seasonal variety beer.
The joke that started the great pumpkin beer war
Outrage amongst the pumpkin beer supporters
And sales statistics suggest that pumpkin beer supporters seem to have a point.
According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, year-over-year craft seasonal beer sales through the week ended August 11 increased 14.8% to $325.4 million, second only to craft IPA beers in dollar sales. That breaks down to 9.85 million cases at an average price of $33.05 per case. Precise data for pumpkin beers alone could not be obtained, as sales figures aren't broken down that specifically. But as a fall variety, pumpkin beer sales would fall into the craft seasonal segment along with winter and summer ales, for instance. Overall, the 29 categories of craft beer tracked by IRI generated $1.8 billion in sales through the week ended August 11.
But, according to Julia Herz, the craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, IRI's numbers only tell a small part of the sales story. IRI tracks sales in supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations and other venues that utilize a UPC code to register purchases. As a result, its figures don't include sales at craft breweries themselves, stores with under $2 million in annual sales, and purchases that are consumed on-premise, Herz said. When those sale are tallied, the overall market for craft beer is much larger. Indeed, according to Brewers Association figures, craft beer sales totaled $10.2 billion last year, or roughly 10% of the approximately $99 billion U.S. beer market.
Herz said a fuller picture of the popularity of pumpkin beer can be gleaned from looking at the entries for that style of brew in the Great American Beer Festival. In 2006, for instance, the number of pumpkin beer entries in the festival totaled just 7; by last year that figure had grown to 63.
"That speaks to the relative popularity of pumpkin beer for brewers," Herz said. "If they weren't selling commercially, why would they brew them?"
Taunts from the pumpkin beer haters
Egging on the fight from the sidelines
Finally, a voice of reason with a plea for peace
For his part, Todd Alstrom — who along with his brother Jason founded Beer Advocate in Boston in 1996 — said that he "underestimated the passion for pumpkin beer that some of our followers have, and overestimated their sense of humor."
"That said, I wasn't shocked as it's the Internet and I expected some form of a reaction and learned long ago that people love to overreact online," Alstrom told Buzzfeed in an email about the incident.
Alstrom said the joke helped generate nearly 200 retweets and a lot more laughs.
"Mission accomplished. Drink a beer. It'll be OK," Alstrom said, adding, "For the record, I dig a good pumpkin beer."