This Day in ’87: A Touch of Grey and a Taste of Cherry Garcia

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
This Day in Music

31 years ago today, The Grateful Dead released one of the most successful singles of their career, but despite what you may have read elsewhere, it wasn’t on the same day that an ice cream company debuted a flavor named after their frontman.

The idea of offering an ice cream flavor that paid tribute to Jerry Garcia wasn’t one that came from the minds of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, but its origins seem to be a little murky depending on where you read. For years it was said that the flavor could be traced to a suggestion scribbled on a postcard that was sent to the company by a couple of Deadheads from Portland, Maine

The Ben & Jerry’s website, however, says something different:

“In 1986, a fan anonymously posted the idea for the flavor at her local Scoop Shop in Maine and then followed up with a postcard to our main office in Burlington. Our flavor hero remained anonymous for a while, but we finally found her. Jane Williamson 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.”

“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.”

Cherry Garcia was first officially offered to consumers on February 15, 1987, but for some reason today’s date also gets bandied about as being the day the ice cream became available. We’re guessing that it’s because a lot of articles were written about the release of “Touch of Grey,” which hit stores on this date in 1987, and most of those articles talked about what a great year the Grateful Dead were having, citing the debut of Cherry Garcia as one of the other reasons.

Yes, 1987 did turn out to be a pretty great year. “Touch of Grey” became the Dead’s only top-10 single and is still one of the band’s best-known songs, while Cherry Garcia is still readily available in the freezer section of a store near you.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering how Jerry Garcia himself felt about being immortalized in an ice cream flavor, he was honored. “It’s a good flavor,” said Cohen. “Plus, he gets his royalty.”