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Originally published Wednesday, October 12, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Belly up to the bar for ... pumpkin beer?

Anheuser-Busch, the nation's largest brewer, has rolled out a pumpkin-flavored beer, Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale, for fall. This is the first...

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Anheuser-Busch, the nation's largest brewer, has rolled out a pumpkin-flavored beer, Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale, for fall. This is the first time the company has offered seasonal beers on tap.

Anheuser-Busch has quickened the pace of new products this year as it seeks to drive up sales in a sluggish beer market.

Although the company faces increased competition from Miller Brewing, a unit of SABMiller PLC, it sees a bigger threat coming from distilled spirits. Spirits have been growing in popularity among younger adult drinkers who are looking for the wide variety of colors and flavors typically found in mixed drinks.

Under development for the past year, the new program will offer different beers to match each of the four seasons, something micro-

breweries have done for years.

Using pumpkin for the fall beer seemed a natural choice, said company spokesman John Costello. "I like to describe Jack's as a wicked blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and real delicious pumpkins."

Though pumpkin might seem unusual, Anheuser-Busch contends today's beer drinkers are adventurous enough to try the brew.

"This is just another way for us to offer our core consumers the flavor and variety they seek," Costello said.

When drinking the beer, consumers get a balanced taste of spices and slight sweetness of the malt and pumpkin, said Florian Kuplent, a brewmaster at the domestic brewing unit.

"It's a well-rounded beer that goes with food very well," Kuplent said. "You could serve it with turkey and as a dessert beer."

To attract customers, the company created a special "tap marker," a handle that is typically embossed with the brand's name and emblem. In this case, the tap marker features a painted figure of a scarecrow with a jack-o'-lantern head.

Anheuser-Busch originally planned to have the pumpkin-flavored drink available only on draught. But the brewmasters convinced the marketing department that the beer should be part of the Michelob Special Sampler Collection, a seasonal package of bottled specialty beers that Anheuser-Busch has offered every fall since 1997, Costello said.

Although this fall's offering is being bottled, upcoming seasonal beers will be available only on tap.

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