February 1987: Grateful Dead Get Delicious with "Cherry Garcia"

Jerry Garcia in 1987
Photo Credit
Larry Busacca/WireImage

On Feb. 15, 1987, a couple of guys named Ben and Jerry first released Cherry Garcia - their ice cream flavor that paid homage to the bearded, bespectacled frontman of one of the most popular bands in rock history. But as deliciously successful as the concept has proven to be, the idea of offering tribute to Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia wasn’t actually one that came from the minds of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

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For many years, it was said that the flavor could be traced to a suggestion scribbled on a postcard sent to the company by a couple of Deadheads from Portland, Maine. While that’s true, it’s not the whole story...and trust us, the whole story is way better.

From the Ben & Jerry’s website:

Sometime in 1986, a fan up in Maine left the idea for Cherry Garcia on a board in her local scoop shop. The employees either missed it or dismissed it, because the flavor suggestion never made its way to Vermont. Luckily our fan was persistent. She followed up with a postcard to our main office in Burlington:

Dear Ben & Jerry’s:
We’re great fans of the Grateful Dead and we’re great fans of your ice cream. Why don’t you make a cherry flavor and call it Cherry Garcia? You know it will sell because Dead paraphernalia always sells. We are talking good business sense here, plus it will be a real hoot for the fans.

Some months after the launch, Ben and Jerry were sitting up in Burlington going through the week’s collection of fan mail. They opened one envelope and a Cherry Garcia pint lid fell out. A closer look revealed a note scribbled in familiar handwriting. “I’m glad you made the flavor,” it said. It was signed by Jane Williamson, and the handwriting matched the anonymous postcard that sparked their creativity.

Wheels were set into motion, Jane was found and contacted, and she was invited to our next shareholders’ meeting as the guest of honor. She received a standing ovation along with a year’s supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Addressing shareholders, she said, “I can’t think of a better company I would like to have sponsor something I thought of.”

 See? Way better!

Ah, but what of the ice cream itself? How did Ben & Jerry’s land on the flavor’s precise contents?

“My first concept of Cherry Garcia was to chocolate coat the cherries and throw them in,” Cohen told The New York Times Magazine in 1994. “It was really difficult for me to get a supplier who would make chocolate-coated cherries. Once we finally did, we tried them in the ice cream and they were lousy. We tried different chocolate coatings, thickness, cherries and it was still lousy. So we separated the chocolate from the cherries, because it was cracking off in the machinery. Next, I wanted whole cherries, but they wouldn't go through the machinery. Finally, we agreed on a combination of whole and half cherries.”

Best. Concession. EVER.

These days, the flavor has gotten so popular that Ben and Jerry’s have even expanded the line to offer Vegan Cherry Garcia and now even Chocolate Cherry Garcia!

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering how Jerry Garcia himself felt about being immortalized in an ice cream flavor, he was appropriately honored...and neither Cohen nor Greenfield were particularly surprised.

“It’s a good flavor,” said Cohen. “Plus, he gets his royalty.”

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