Pete's Wicked Ale
The hardcore fans will pull for his Springfest or Multi-Grain rye, his casual fans might prefer a swig of his Summer Brew, but Pete Slosberg's greatest gift to small brewers was the brown Pete's Wicked Ale that made him famous.
To remember Pete's Wicked is to be haunted constantly by the potential and sporadic failure of the first microbrewery push. Slosberg co-founded Pete's Brewing in San Francisco in 1986 but, as the name suggests, Slosberg was the very public face of the company. He was every bit as charismatic as Boston Beer founder and Samuel Adams brewer Jim Koch. He appeared in his brewery's ads, he wrote books and made himself one of the primary ambassadors of what was then known as microbrewing.
Unlike Koch, Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman, Bell's Brewing founder Larry Bell and, until recently, Anchor Brewing's Fritz Maytag, Slosberg didn't want beer to be a life sentence. In 1998, Gambrinus acquired Pete's Brewing for about $68 million. Pete's Wicked Ale, a 5.6% alcohol-by-volume brown ale that was smooth, sweet and accessible, was thrown into a portfolio that included Spoetzl Brewing's Shiner Bock, BridgePort Brewing and Trumer. The slow deterioration began and by 2011, Gambrinus pulled the plug on Pete's due to slow sales.
It wasn't a tough death to predict. As Jeff Alworth, author of the Portland-based Beervana blog, noted at the time of Pete's Brewing's demise, tastes had shifted. Brown ales, amber ales, mild lagers and other maltier beers that once served as craft beer flagships fell out of favor as hoppier IPAs, obscure styles such as Gose and Berliner Weiss and more complex Belgian styles hit increasingly refined palates. With nobody at the helm to innovate the brand or its styles, Pete's Wicked was stuck in the '90s.But so what? People still drink Newcastle, don't they? Brown ale doesn't have to be a death warrant, does it? Maybe it does. Pete's contemporaries survived because they changed with the times. Grossman's fastest-growing Sierra Nevada brand is his hop-heavy Torpedo. Samuel Adams has found success with constantly rotating seasonal selections. For a brief while, Slosberg made a line of chocolate called Cocoa Pete's Chocolate Adventures. More tellingly, however, he moved on. Those who miss his ale and those heady days connected to it are loath to do the same.