The Original Halloween Craft Beer: Pete’s Wicked Ale. In the 1990’s, almost every beer geek was drinking Pete’s Wicked Ale for Halloween and all year round. Pete’s Wicked Ale was a brown ale and was the second best selling craft beer in the ’90s. I was fortunate in 1988 to drink some right out of the bright tank at the August Schell Brewing in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Pete’s Wicked Ale was named after co-founder Pete Slosberg stumbled upon while trying to clone Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. Pete’s, along with rival Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, accounted for more than one-third of all “craft” beer produced domestically by the early 1990s
History of Pete’s Brewing Company – FundingUniverse
Pete’s Brewing’s signature product, Pete’s Wicked Ale, was the result of experimentations that began in a kitchen in Belmont, California, in 1979. Inside the kitchen were a five-gallon container, a big kettle, and a garbage can. It was the realization that the same equipment could be used to make beer and wine that prompted Peter Slosberg, in whose kitchen Pete’s Wicked Ale was born, to begin brewing beer. Originally, Slosberg had his heart set on creating his own wine, but the fermentation process was too slow for his liking, so he converted his homespun equipment to another cause and tried his hand at brewing beer.
Slosberg’s aspirations in 1979 were far less ambitious. His hours spent in the kitchen with kettles and garbage cans were those of a hobbyist; time spent away from a professional career that provided for his full financial support. Slosberg started brewing beer to fulfill a passion, not to start a brewing company. He started his professional career with an academic background in engineering, then worked as a cab driver in New York City before making a name for himself as a marketer for high-technology companies.
Slosberg worked as marketing executive during the day and toiled in his Belmont kitchen at night, experimenting with various recipes for brewing beer that harkened back to an era when German purity standards were followed strictly. Although he had forsaken a hobby as a vintner because the fermentation process took too long, Slosberg demonstrated considerable patience with brewing beer. He tinkered with one recipe after another, giving samples to friends and soliciting their suggestions. For seven years Slosberg searched to find what he considered the perfect brew, and once he had, Pete’s Wicked Ale and Pete’s Brewing were born.
1986 Birth of Wicked Ale
When Pete Slosberg settled on his recipe in 1986 that would become famous as Pete’s Wicked Ale, he was working as a marketing manager at Santa Clara-based Rolm Corporation. By this point, after seven years of laboring over various recipes, Slosberg was ready to turn brewing beer into more than a hobby. He took a sabbatical from Rolm and struck a deal with Palo Alto Brewing Co. in January 1986 to brew beer according to his specifications. Next, Slosberg completed the difficult task of raising the money to finance the production and distribution of his first batch of Pete’s Wicked Ale by convincing a group of corporate investors to shell out $50,000 and make Pete’s Brewing a going concern. By the fall of 1986, Slosberg was ready to put Pete’s Wicked Ale to the test and wriggle into the entrenched $40 billion-a-year beer market.
By December 1986, the first 200 cases of Pete’s Wicked Ale had hit the market, retailing at between $5 and $6 per six-pack. They quickly disappeared from store shelves. The following month, 400 more cases of Pete’s Wicked Ale replenished store shelves, and they were quickly shuttled home by customers as well. Bottles of Pete’s Wicked Ale, with Slosberg’s English bull terrier, Millie, on the label, grabbed customers’ attention; the quality of the beer induced them to buy more. Slosberg was happy, but he remained cautious. “We are waiting to prove the concept, then we will build a brewery,” he remarked to a reporter from a local newspaper. “We think we have a hit.” As Slosberg and his investors bridled their confidence and suppressed the desire to celebrate the success of their fledgling enterprise, disaster struck, checking any grand plans Slosberg had imagined.
Pete’s Brewing’s brewery, Palo Alto Brewing, filed for bankruptcy in January 1987, squelching the opportunity for Pete’s Brewing to increase production totals to meet demand. Panic set in as all those gathered together at the deli in Mountain View were now forced to scurry about, enlist help, and do what they could before the sheriff came to lock the doors of Palo Alto Brewing. “We had to scrounge for people and work the weekend before the door was padlocked,” Slosberg remembered. “We had to scour the West Coast for our particular bottle, then we had to go in and bottle, filter, and pasteurize. It was fun for about two hours.”
So began a six-month transition period for Pete’s Brewing just as the company was sprinting from the starting block. They were difficult months, to be sure, but Slosberg used the time wisely and began rebuilding. Intent on avoiding the prospect of a contract brewer going belly up again, Slosberg selected a veteran in the brewing business when he contracted with the 130-year-old, New Ulm, Minnesota-based August Schell’s Brewing Co. to produce the next batch of Pete’s Wicked Ale. Slosberg also went after new financial help and raised $400,000 from new supporters. By May 1987, when 1,400 cases of Pete’s Wicked Ale were scheduled for delivery to Silicon Valley, Pete’s Brewing was back in business and its flagship product was making a name for itself among beer connoisseurs. Pete’s Wicked Ale was voted the top ale in the “1987 Great American Beer Festival” in Colorado and ranked as one of the top five beers in the United States. In 1988, Pete’s Wicked Ale repeated its achievements, quickly earning a reputation as a premium microbrew.
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