Before May 2019, Joe Kelly had only tried Natural Light twice. Neither experience ended well.
His first run-in with with extremely light, incredibly cheap, and universally derided beer concluded with him violently ill and hanging limply out his buddy’s 1984 Toyota Corolla on the side of a rural Kentucky road. His second encounter -- at a 2004 football game for his alma mater, the University of Louisville -- included arguing with his friend about that year’s American League Championship Series. It intensified when his pal spiked an empty can, which then struck a cop sitting on a horse. It ended when his friend was summarily charged with assaulting the officer.
“So at that point I’m like, ‘y’all, bad shit happens when you drink [Natural Light],’” Kelly said.
It wouldn’t be farfetched to think that the 36-year-old Kelly, who’s now part-owner of FDKY BBQ in Louisville and hosts a radio show for ESPN Louisville, would never touch the watery lager again. Hell, most Natty Light drinkers quit it upon finishing college, when they graduate from their days of plowing their way through a "dirty 30," then returning the cans to buy more.
Yet life’s funny sometimes. This year, 15 years after his last run in with Natty/the law, Kelly found himself enthusiastically shotgunning a Naturdays -- Natural Light’s recently released strawberry-lemonade beer -- in front of a bouncy castle at his friend Biscuit’s barbecue in the spring of 2019. Not only that, he was loving it.
But the revelatory moment almost didn’t happen: he passed up purchasing a case at a gas station on his way to the party.
“I mention to Biscuit, ‘Dude, I almost got a rack of Naturdays,’” Kelly said. “‘Those things got to taste like horse piss, right?’ Biscuit says, ‘I dunno, brother, but we’re going to find out. There’s a 30-pack in that fridge over there.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, you snagged some?’ I crack one and I took the first sip. It was fucking amazing.”
Thus, the shotgunning. But Kelly was so moved by his first Naturdays that he took to Twitter to let his 5,500-plus followers know about the glory he’d just tasted. But what surprised him more than the unexpected deliciousness of Naturdays itself was the response: In the ensuing days, his mentions began to flood with people who were also -- without any hint of irony -- extremely into the beverage.
“The age range is hysterical, man,” Kelly said. “I’ve got college kids who will hit me up, and then I get hit up by another guy who’s a recent retiree from Titleist, he was big up in their sales, Tweeting me daily with pictures of him chugging Naturdays at the golf course.”
The unspoken truth that Kelly stumbled upon was that Natural Light, in the form of Naturdays, had somehow created the beer of summer 2019. And not just for Kentuckians named Biscuit, either. The beer, released this spring, even won the people’s choice award at the Missouri Beer Fest in March, besting a bevy of meticulously brewed craft beers. Through a mix of savvy branding, grassroots energy bore out on social media, and the fact that it made a honest-to-god good strawberry-lemonade beer, the brand might’ve elevated itself with the demographic that seems most averse to it: adults.