When Ron Jeffries began brewing the original test batches for Jolly Pumpkin Brewery in Dexter, Michigan, a pale ale was considered “really crazy” in the craft beer industry. But Jeffries took crazy to a new level when he turned his evolving business plan into a craft brewery focused on sours ales, unfiltered and unpasteurized beers.
“We saw a spot in the market for French and Belgian beers. No one in the US had an emphasis on sours,” explained Jeffries – so he and his wife Laurie opened the sour-focused Jolly Pumpkin Brewery in 2004.
As it stands today, Jolly Pumpkin is one of a few breweries that ages ALL of its beers in oak barrels and is the only US brewery to make its name brewing primarily sours and wild ales. And Jolly Pumpkin’s Ron Jeffries has forgotten more about sour beer than most humans will ever know.
He began brewing professionally in 1995, and quickly became a well-known and respected brewer in Michigan’s emerging craft beer scene. Driven and dedicated, he progressed from brewer, to craftsman, to artist.
Although the brewery has seen phenomenal success over the years, Jolly Pumpkin (which now runs seven restaurant and beer operations throughout Michigan) has had its share of challenges.
From the distribution side, Ron struggled to find wholesalers who wanted to distribute sours to begin with. The brewery didn’t brew IPAs and what they did do was considered eclectic.
From the customer side, he repeatedly received emails from customers warning him that they had a “bad batch” of JP beer and that it had turned sour (he sometimes receives those emails today). When Jeffries opened its doors almost two decades ago, “the consumer wasn’t there and the consumer education wasn’t there.”
When American Craft Beer ACB sat down with Ron back in 2012, the conversation naturally drifted to the brewery’s memorable name….
“Jolly Pumpkin was the goofiest name on the list,” Ron offers as an explanation. As Ron and Laurie sat on their porch sipping beer and brainstorming identities for the brewery, Jolly Pumpkin was the name that stuck, despite the fact that the brewery did not brew any pumpkin beers for the first five years of its existence.
It was at the request of Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, that Jolly Pumpkin first ventured into the pumpkin beer arena. Elysian asked Jeffries to craft a pumpkin sour for their annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, and he sold every last pumpkin batch at the festival that year. Thus was born Jolly Pumpkin’s seasonal pumpkin beer, La Parcela, one of six seasonals that Jolly Pumpkin now produces annually.
Besides their self-described “eclectic and weird” name, Ron spent time reflecting on what else has made Jolly Pumpkin and the craft beer industry as a whole successful over the past decade. He attributes much of the industry’s success to the culture and personalities of the brewers themselves….
“Brewers get the local movement,” Jeffries reflected, “pretty much every craft brewer I’ve met is civic-minded, convivial and environmentally conscious.” Ron calls this alignment of common values the “aloha spirit – if you have that and go out in the community it will come back to you.
“We’re all connected by a liquid river of beer and the enjoyment that goes along with it.”
All image credits; Jolly Pumpkin Brewery