S A L T L A K E C I T Y, Feb. 8, 2002 -- It's 9 a.m. and Greg Schirf is drinking beer. Not just any beer. Schirf is downing Polygamy Porter.
It's a dark, rich brew that has become a runaway best seller here in the land of teetotaling Mormons. "Like I've always said," Schirf explained, "you have to be creative if you're going to survive in the beer business in Utah."
Schirf, the founder of Wasatch Brewery in Park City, created the beer — which features the slogan "Why Have Just One?" — in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
He reasoned that a lot of people coming to Utah for the Games would be curious about Mormons — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and their previous practice of "plural marriages." He also believed poking fun at polygamy might cause a stir that would result in lots of publicity. He was right.
Booming Sales, Despite Blocked Ads
Salt Lake City's biggest billboard company refused to lease boards to Schirf. Dewey Reagan, who operates Reagan Outdoor, said that since polygamy is illegal, he was "offended by the message."
Others say Reagan did not want to lose bigger clients who "were the ones really offended by the campaign."
Although Schirf wasn't able to advertise much, local newspaper and television stories created a bonanza of free publicity. His business boomed.
Local advertising executive Paul Kirwin, who designed the Polygamy Porter ad campaign, admits controversy was always part of the plan, but he is careful to draw the line. "For example," he says, "making fun of the Book of Mormon would not be OK. But making fun of a practice that the church itself banned more than 110 years ago is fair game."
The beer, which is sold mostly in Utah and in a couple of Southwestern states, is now Schirf's biggest seller. But he is quick to put it in perspective: "We like to say that we make in a year what Budweiser can spill in an afternoon."
Schirf's e-commerce trade has exploded. He says he once sold about $1,000 worth of beer "merchandise" (mugs, T-shirts, baseball caps, etc.) a month. Now he says he sells more than $50,000 worth. "The Polygamy Porter T-shirts are our best seller, " he says. "One guy from Japan ordered 5,000 of them for resale."
Schirf is not the only businessman capitalizing on "polygamy advertising." Brighton Ski Resort, near Park City, has billboards that run through March promoting its new four-person chairlifts. The slogan reads: "Wife. Wife. Wife. Husband. High Speed Quads."
‘Unfair and Misleading’
Not everyone is amused. The official comment from the church is a stern "no comment." And some Mormons said they were worried that outsiders would get the wrong opinion of them.
"I think it's unfair and misleading," one woman said outside the Tabernacle in Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. "If people somehow think it [polygamy] represents the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it does not."
Another church member was less critical. "You know, you really have to laugh at yourself a little bit and sometimes not take yourself so seriously," he said.
As for the beer itself?
"Awesome," said one middle-aged woman at the Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City.
"Great idea," said another customer.
"Wonderful merchandise," said still another.
What's next? Schirf wouldn't say, though his friend Paul Kirwin said they've come up with several ideas "while sitting around and, well, you know, drinking a beer — or two."