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Boston Beer's Pumpkin Smashing Bud, Coors

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Anheuser-Busch-Inbev (BUD) and Molson Coors (TAP - Get Report) may have watered down the pumpkin ale market, but Boston Beer Company (SAM) is still getting gourd-sized growth from its seasonal beer batches.

In recent years, Anheuser-Busch's Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale and Molson Coors' Harvest Moon Pumpkin ale have gone head-to-head with such microbrews as Brooklyn Brewery's Post Road Pumpkin, Shipyard Brewing's Pumpkinhead Ale and Sarnac Pumpkin Ale in a seasonal showdown for shelf space. This year, however, Boston Beer's Samuel Adams line has added its Harvest Pumpkin Ale to the fray just as the big brewers struggle for stability.

Sam Adams
Boston Beer's Samuel Adams line has added a Harvest Pumpkin Ale to an already crowded pumpkin-beer market.

It's only available three at a time as part of a seasonal 12 pack, but the beer press has loved it. Beer Advocate readers rate it a B+ and RateBeer gives it an 89 out of 100. That's the same score Beer Advocate and RateBeer readers gave the revered Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's Punkin' Ale and just shy of the A- and 98 rating each site gave to Southern Tier Brewing's Pumking -- the unspoken gold standard of all pumpkin ales. Jack's Pumpkin Ale and Harvest Moon, meanwhile, take home a C- and C+, respectively, and a 24 rating.

It's just the latest reminder that, when battling among the microbrews, the two big brewers often find themselves overmatched. A 2.2% drop in U.S. beer sales between 2008 and last year scarcely scratched the nation's nearly 1,600 craft breweries who, according to the Brewers Association, saw volume bubble up 7.3% from 2008 and sales pour in at an increased 10.3% from the year before.

Those numbers have held this year, as a 2.7% drop in overall beer sales in the first half was accompanied by a 9% increase in craft beer brewing volume and a 12% increase in the little guys' sales. That took some of the fizz out of Anheuser-Busch, which lost 0.1% market share last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

That may not sound like much, but it was accompanied by 2.15 million fewer barrels of production. By comparison, that was a 2% decrease for Bud when a 2.8 million barrel decline in the same period was a nearly 10% loss for imported brews. Boston Beer, meanwhile, produced little more than 2 million barrels last year.

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