During the COVID-19 pandemic, when movie theaters were shut down, leaders of Memphis-based cinema chain Malco Theatres were looking for ways to maintain awareness of their brand.
They started selling popcorn to the general public in 5-pound bags — picked up curbside at theaters or delivered via Grubhub — and people bought them up.
Malco then partnered with Brim’s Snack Foods to make Malco-branded bags of popcorn, which have proven to be a hit. Malco’s popcorn is now sold at three major area retailers: Kroger’s, Walgreens and Wal-Mart stores.
“We liked the idea of people thinking about going to Malco, even when they’re grocery shopping,” said Larry Etter, Malco senior vice president.
So, Etter thought, what’s the next step?
That next step is beer.
Last month, Malco rolled out a branded pilsner, Malco Audition, at its theaters, and will monitor the reviews to see if it’s a smash or a flop.
“Hence the name, Audition. This is basically our tryout. The general public will tell us if they approve or don’t approve. And if they do, we’ll have Act Two,” Etter said.
About Malco’s Audition Pilsner
Malco wanted to brew a beer that would appeal to a broad movie-going audience, something more Marvel than art house.
More Modelo than Hopsecutioner.
“I wanted to do something light,” Etter said, “and kind of in the middle of the road.”
Audition, 4% ABV, is an American-style pilsner brewed with Mexican lager yeast.
It’s an easy-drinking beer — light and crisp — that was contract brewed by Memphis craft brewery Grind City Brewing Co.
To start, Grind City brewed enough beer to make 100 cases of Malco Audition.
Audition is packaged in 16-ounce cans, or full pints, instead of the more standard 12-ounce cans.
“If you’re sitting in a movie for two-and-a-half hours, 16 ounces goes a little bit longer,” Etter said.
The cost? It’s $5 a can, which is $2.50 cheaper than the other local craft beers sold at Malco theaters, such as Wiseacre’s Tiny Bomb, Memphis Made’s Fireside or Crosstown’s Siren.
If Audition passes the audition — and people really like the beer — Etter said Malco would consider selling the beer in local stores.
Malco also might try out other beer styles, such as an IPA, wheat beer or a seasonal.
For now, Malco has sent Audition to theaters in three states — Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi — so look for it at your local theater.