By Jeff Maisey
For just over one week in late February, Norfolk-based Smartmouth Brewing Company’s limited release Saturday Morning IPA with marshmallows was the most famous beer in America.
Talk about going viral: national media outlets always looking for bizarre news rushed to post a brief story in hopes of getting clicks and shares, and by all accounts it worked brilliantly.
With the headline “A Lucky Charms Beer Now Exists. Here’s How a Virginia Brewery Made it Happen,” Esquire writer Sarah Rense penned, “These days, when it comes to weird food, ask and you shall receive. Oreo is releasing Game of Thrones-themed cookies. Taco Bell debuted spicy steak fries. And a brewery in Virginia introduced a beer inspired by Lucky Charms cereal.
“Smartmouth Brewing Company,” Rense continued, “brewed up a new IPA using marshmallows just like those colorful, dehydrated chunks of sweetness you’d pick out of the Lucky Charms box. It’s called Saturday Morning, because that’s what Saturday mornings used to be for: Rushing downstairs at an ungodly early hour early to pour yourself the first of six bowls of sugary cereal while watching bad cartoons on the WB. Ah, the good old days.”
USA Today used the headline, “Lucky Charms? A Virginia brewery’s new beer is a twist on the popular cereal.”
Smartmouth president Porter Hardy IV said his management team were analyzing how their good fortune exploded into the news that even Jimmy Fallon used during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show.
“There are a couple different paths that we figure it might have happened,” explained Hardy. “It really blew-up once People (magazine online) and USA Today picked it up. From there it was like the snowball going down hill.”
The recipe and concept for Saturday Morning IPA was the work of head brewer Jimmy Loughran, who wanted to make a beer with marshmallows.
The label design and tagline “Ridiculously Delicious” was the work of former Smartmouth marketing director, Erik Leach, now working for New Realm Brewing Company in Virginia Beach.
While Hardy insists his company never said the beer would taste like a bowl of Lucky Charms, the imagery and tagline all but implied it. General Mills, the makers of the cereal, had its lawyers contact Smartmouth about the beer, and ultimately gave them the okay for a one-time release.
“Then it became about trying to manage the message,” said Hardy regarding his team’s efforts to downplay the connection the day before hundreds of enthusiasts from as far as Ohio and California lined up for a four-pack of 16-oz cans. “All that being said we were really fortunate for it to catch fire like that.”
Smartmouth Brewing Company did not hire a national PR or other marketing firm to generate the fevered buzz. In some ways it resembled the work of Marty Jones, who helped Wynkoop Brewing in Denver gain national notoriety for it Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout made with bull testicles, but that wasn’t the case either.
“It was all done in-house,” Hardy said.
You could say they got lucky and scored their pot of gold.