Brewing Exceptional Beers Behind the Scenes

All About Beer Magazine - Volume 36, Issue 5
November 1, 2015 By - -

Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
(Photo by Irene Tomoko Sugiura)

Ron Jeffries

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales

Dexter, Michigan

Sitting in his backyard, drinking Belgian sour, Ron Jeffries had a wild and yeasty epiphany. The 13-year brewing veteran sat on the verge of opening his own French- and Belgian-inspired brewery when a bit of encouragement from his wife persuaded him to focus on sours alone. This last-minute change to his business plan would shape not only Ron’s future, but also the future of sour beer in the U.S.

In 2004, Jeffries founded Jolly Pumpkin Artisanal Ales in Dexter, Michigan. Being one of the first, if not the first, breweries in the country to produce solely barrel-aged, wild-yeast fermented beer, Jolly Pumpkin, part of Northern United Brewing Co.,faced an uphill battle.

“It turned out it was a really, really challenging marketplace. Nobody was drinking sour beer, and a lot of people didn’t understand it,” says Jeffries, recalling how difficult it was to sell enough beer to stay open early on.

But the relaxed, go-with-the flow Jeffries was not deterred. That same year, Jolly Pumpkin’s Oro de Calabaza won Gold at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), kicking off a wave of media attention and success that would lead to Jolly Pumpkin being sold in 44 states and nine countries.

Jeffries’ artistic vision—manifest in the funk and complexity of Jolly Pumpkin’s ales—paved the way for changing palates and a new appreciation for sour beer in America. “It was like a light switch; all of a sudden there was this huge interest,” says Jeffries. “The country became aware of the flavors created by wild and sour beers. Now, with more and more local breweries making their interpretation of [these lesser-known] styles, you can go down the street and buy a gose.”

–Oliver Gray

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