University of Michigan Alumni Association

The M Den: You Bowl Tour Headquarters.

Ron Jeffries is Alumni Brewmaster

Ron Jeffries is the brewmaster for Jolly Pumpkin, a brewery located in Dexter, MI, with a storefront in Ann Arbor. Jolly Pumpkin is known for Belgian-style sour beers, which was a risky proposition when Jolly Pumpkin was founded ten years ago. 

"We decided we would be the first brewery that does 100 percent opaque, sour beers...It was kind of a leap of faith. We didn't know if there would be a market for the beer."

The Challenge of Sour Beer

Ron expected the market to be huge, since no one else was making this kind of beer--for good reason. Ron makes his beers with naturally occuring yeast and bacteria. According to him, some wild yeast makes terrible beer, and it takes time to perfect the process. 

"I was completely wrong. Very few consumers were thinking about the type of beer we were making. For the first few years, it was hard to sell enough beer to stay in business. People didn't understand what we were doing."

Even during the lean years, Ron would receive letters from craft beer fans, praising him for bringing this beer to the States. He also received letters from the unconverted. 

"We got a lot of emails saying, 'Hey, just letting you know--your beer is sour. I think you got a problem at your brewery.' We still get some of those letters today."

A Community Force

Jeffries' innovation paid off. Jolly Pumpkin won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in its first year. This attracted a lot of attention to the brewery, from the press and his colleagues. 

"We were different. What we were doing looked insane. It was insane, because it wasn't commercially viable at the time."

Thanks to their national attention, Jolly Pumpkin was able to distribute to markets that were ready to try their "insane" beer. It is also inspired breweries across the country to try what Jolly Pumpkin was doing. 

"There's an email in my inbox right now from a brewer looking to start making sour beers. I'm very open and free about what I do, and trying to help people succeed with their vision."

It's clear that there is a real sense of community in the craft brewing world. Ron enjoys helping the community move forward. And he's not scared of someone stealing his secret recipe. 

"I know it's not going to be the same. Even if you did exactly what I do, it wouldn't be the same, because we are all individuals."

Ultimately, Ron attributes Jolly Pumpkin's success to the success of other brewers. He depends on them to make great sour beer, which in turn motivates consumers to try his product. 

On Guinness

Guinness is famous for their irish stout, and on St. Patrick's Day this is the go-to beer for those celebrating. 

Irish stouts are generally black in color, low in alcohol, light-bodied, and smooth. So what makes Guinness special?

"Guinness is made by tradition, and it's probably as popular as it is for St. Patrick's Day because of a lot of marketing."