The Anonymous Beginnings Of Ben & Jerry's Popular Cherry Garcia Flavor

There are reasons why Ben & Jerry's has climbed its way to ice cream royalty, namely an ever-changing repertoire of creative flavors. From the psychedelic rock band-inspired Phish Food to Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream, the ice cream giant is no stranger to pop-culture influences. With its history of corporate activism championing progressive issues like environmental conservation, inclusive hiring practices, public housing, and more, the Ben & Jerry's Foundation has fittingly been a fan of historical iconoclasts. (The brand even had a flavor inspired by rock 'n roll activist Wavy Gravy.)

It's no surprise, then, that one of Ben & Jerry's most beloved and enduring flavors is inspired by the Acid King of Rock and Roll himself, Jerry Garcia. In case you haven't tried it (somehow), Cherry Garcia is cherry ice cream with chunks of fudge and bing cherries. The first eight pints Ben & Jerry's ever made were shipped directly to Garcia for approval which, per his wife and publicist, he gave enthusiastically. The flavor first hit the market on February 15, 1987, the same year the Grateful Dead went on their iconic "Dylan and the Dead" tour with Bob Dylan, and "Touch of Grey" hit No. 9 on the charts. Cherry Garcia remained the brand's number-one bestselling flavor for a decade straight. (Until 2013, when half-baked fans went crazy for Half Baked.) But, the original idea for the now-brand-synonymous flavor didn't come from Ben Cohen or Jerry Greenfield: It came from an anonymous fan. Here's the story.

Nameless Deadhead screams for ice cream

In 1986, a patron at Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop in Maine left an anonymous note for employees. The message? Invent Cherry Garcia. When the employees never responded to the suggestion, the tipper sent a postcard to headquarters in Vermont. "We're great fans of the Grateful Dead and we're great fans of your ice cream," read the postcard. "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."

Cohen and Greenfield were immediately into the idea. They thought Cherry Garcia would be the first ice cream flavor to ever be named after a musician until learning about the forgotten Bing Crosby ice cream of the '50s. Still, Cherry Garcia's creator remained anonymous until a few months after its release, when Ben and Jerry were mailed a pint lid signed "Jane Williamson" — and the handwriting matched the postcard. After tracking Williamson down, the duo gave her a year's supply of the stuff and invited her to their next shareholder meeting, where she was met with a standing ovation. Originally, the flavor used vanilla ice cream instead of cherry, but either way, fans have been enjoying Cherry Garcia for nearly 30 years, and it's all thanks to Williamson.