Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale has hit the stores and pubs of the nation, and a lot of people are really happy — the drinkers as well as the brewers.

Pumpkinhead is big business. When I toured Shipyard’s brewery in late June, brewmaster Alan Pugsley told me he was just beginning to shut down all other brewing and ramp up production of the Pumpkinhead.

The first trucks started leaving Portland for other parts of the country in mid-July, and it sort of stealthily makes it to market — with Shipyard building up a buzz and people on the Shipyard Facebook page reporting on where they have found it.

During the tour, I found out a lot of surprising things about Pumpkinhead. It is by far Shipyard’s best-selling beer, making up more than 15 percent of its annual sales despite being on the shelves only from mid-August to late fall.

Tami Kennedy, in charge of publicity for Shipyard, said the Pumpkinhead sales vary each year, and it could reach 20 percent of sales.

“And the good thing is that they are all new customers,” Kennedy said during my tour with Pugsley. “The people who drink our other beers generally don’t drink Pumpkinhead.”

A perusal of the Facebook page would confirm that.

“Pumpkinhead is out in NH for sure!” said a posting from Joel VanPatten. “Seriously, this should be available all year! No offense but I don’t care for the other Shipyard offerings and would easily purchase this year round if available.”

I am not a Pumpkinhead fan. That does not mean it is a bad beer. I just don’t like the particular mix of spices and malt that makes up the mix. Other people in the Features department said they like Pumpkinhead, but it is a beer they will drink only one of per evening.

For my tasting, I bit the bullet and tried this year’s version of Pumpkinhead, going to Dock Fore at 336 Fore St. to buy a pint so I wouldn’t have leftovers hanging around my refrigerator. (Note: Dock Fore’s happy hour runs 3 to 7 p.m., and you get a pint for $1.95.)

The spices immediately bring pumpkin pie to mind, although I don’t taste any actual pumpkin. There is a slightly sour aftertaste. It is a golden color, without much of a head. Although I like pumpkin pie, I don’t like the Pumpkinhead — mostly because, to me, that malt and hops flavors don’t survive the spices.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t well made. It has a good body, and the mouth feel is excellent. At 5.1 percent alcohol, it is about the right strength for a good drinking beer, not too high in alcohol.

While on the pumpkin theme, I also tasted Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin, which I bought as part of a 22-ounce four-pack of Pugsley’s Signature Series. It is 9 percent alcohol, a darker orange color but not quite the color of a pumpkin, and sweeter than Pumpkinhead. I enjoyed this a bit more than the regular Pumpkinhead, probably because it is even further away from traditional beer — and thus I could judge it on its own. But still, it is not something I would rush out to buy again.

I think I’ll stick with the more traditional Shipyard varieties — with Old Thumper in the lead.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

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