BEER NUTS® are popular snack foods produced exclusively by the BEER NUTS® company based in Bloomington, Illinois. The family-owned company can trace its history back to the late 1930s, when a father and son team, Edward and Arlo Shirk, assumed control of a small candy shop in downtown Bloomington called the Caramel Crisp Shop. One of the recipes they inherited was for a sugar-and-salt glazed redskin peanut snack called "Redskins." Redskins were often used as a free enticement for thirsty customers to purchase the shop's popular homemade beverages.
The Shirks later marketed their sweet and salty peanut snacks to a local chain of liquor stores, which created the first association between their product and alcohol. A local beer distributor suggested the Shirks rename their product BEER NUTS® as a way to tap into the lucrative beer and beer accessories trade. Packages of BEER NUTS® were often made available to bar customers as a perfect complement to the complex flavors of beer. Despite its unusual name, there is no actual beer or beer ingredients in BEER NUTS®.
Eventually BEER NUTS® grew in popularity until the Shirks had little choice but to market their snacks nationally. Besides the original redskin peanuts, BEER NUTS® can also be found in almond or cashew form, each glazed with the original sweet and salty flavor or a variety of spicy blends. The original redskin peanut variety still remains popular as a bar snack or party mix ingredient at tailgate parties and other festive occasions. BEER NUTS® are also popular toppings for ice cream sundaes.
The trademarked BEER NUTS® refers specifically to the snack product produced in the Bloomington factory by the Shirk family, but some use the term "beer nuts" to describe any form of nut served communally in bars and taverns. Bartenders frequently offer free salty snacks such as nuts and popcorn to customers in an effort to increase thirst and sell more beverages. The unique saltiness and sweetness of BEER NUTS® makes it ideal for this purpose, although many people buy the snacks in vacuum-sealed packages at grocery stores and enjoy them at home.