How the Bandit, Coors and a bunch of Makers changed the course of booze history


So last night, while attempting to explain the plot of Smokey and the Bandit to my husband, it occurred to me that I didn't really understand the back story that spawned this, one of my favorite childhood films. Why did Bandit and Snowman (and Fred) have a long way to go and a short time to get there? There was beer in most parts of Georgia by the 1970s. And even if you were trying to get booze to a dry county, why start in Texas and only give yourself 28 hours?

Thanks to Wikipedia and the very helpful Stephan Zielinski, I discovered the awful truth—Smokey and the Bandit is centered around America's brief love affair with Coors Banquet Beer.

All that work, for Coors? It's true. Wikipedia explained that the beer wasn't available East of Oklahoma at the time. But I didn't get the full extent of what was really going on until I read a 1974 Time magazine article sent to me by Zielinski. If, like me, you didn't begin drinking until the late 1990s, this is going to come as a shock, but, once upon a time, Coors was apparently the best American breweries had to offer.

Gerald Ford had a case of it tucked away in his luggage when he returned to Washington last month from a vice-presidential skiing trip to Colorado. President Eisenhower had his own steady supply airlifted to the White House aboard an Air Force plane. Actor Paul Newman refuses to be seen drinking any other brand on the screen. Until a court made him stop, Frederick Amon, 24, used to drive a refrigerated truckload every week from Denver to Charlotte, N.C., where he sold it to restaurants and country clubs for as much as $1 a can, better than triple the retail price of about $1.50 a sixpack.

The object of that foaming frenzy is Coors Banquet Beer, brewed from the waters of the 70 to 80 springs around Golden, Colo., 15 miles west of Denver. Unlike most U.S. beers, Coors contains no preservatives or stabilizers and is not pasteurized; if left unrefrigerated and allowed to get warm, it will spoil in a week. It is probably the only beer that is kept cold from the brewery to the customer. But its lack of additives and its brewing process greatly enhance its taste. For many connoisseurs, Coors is the Château Haut-Brion of American beers.

There were connoisseurs of Coors, y'all. Let that sink in.

Besides explaining why that truckload of unpasteurized, preservative-free Coors had to get from Texas to Georgia so damn fast, the Time article also spent a few inches discussing the Coors family's business plan and predicted trends in the American beer industry.

It's easy to forget, with the variety available today, but craft beer is a pretty recent thing. From Prohibition through the 1970s, America's breweries were consolidating, and choice was shrinking. In 1974, there were only 60 breweries left in America, with most of them making the same style. 660 breweries had gone out of business since 1934. And nobody expected that ever-narrowing path to diverge. In fact, Bill Coors told Time that there would only be three major breweries left in the United States by 1990. His plan was for Coors to be one of them. At the time this article was written, it was clear to everybody that mediocre, watered-down pilsner was the way of the future.

And yet, here I sit, more than 35 years later, with a tall glass of Belgian-style black ale. Ironically, from Colorado.

I have Makers to thank for this change of tipsy fortune—people who wanted to make their own beer at home, just because they liked that sort of thing. They're the ones who got Prohibition-era laws changed, opening opportunities for bars and small companies to make their own beer, in a wide variety of styles. It was slow going. Places like Kansas didn't legalize brew pubs until the late 1980s. It wasn't until 2009 that the good folks at Free the Hops managed to convince the state of Alabama to legalize beer with an alcohol volume above 6%. (You'd be surprised how much good stuff the old laws banned.)

But I have to wonder: How many of those Makers were inspired to brew something amazing when they discovered that "not terrible" was a possibility? After all, Smokey and the Bandit was one of the most popular movies of 1977. After that, it was no secret that beer could be at least slightly better. Within three years, brewery consolidation had ground to a halt and begun to reverse. Today, there are more than 1400 breweries in the United States. Even Coors—successfully the third largest brewer in America—sells a selection of craft beers under different labels. I don't drink Coors Banquet Beer, but I suspect I owe it a toast or two. It, the DIY community, and an old rascal called The Bandit.

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  1. As a member of CAMRA(Campaign for Real Ale) I hope you received permission to use that photo. Any legal action can be avoid if you send me beer.



  2. Great article! My father shared some of the story with me a few years ago. He’s retired now, but back in his days as a long-haul truck driver he would pick up cases of Coors and bring them back to Ohio if he had the room. It was never large amounts though, maybe 6-8 cases tops. He sold the beer to friends and family for enough of a profit to make it worth the trouble. He was always more of a High Life man himself.

  3. It could be that Coors tasted better back then – if you could transport a Coors from ’74 to now and compare it to a craft pilsner, you may actually be impressed. Or maybe not. Given a choice among the big brews, I’ll take a Coors – I do think it’s the best of the worst. Personally, my favorite cheap mass-produced summertime beer is Hamm’s. Clean, easy drinking, and a good solid belt of nostalgia when you sing the song.
    Also, props to Anchor Steam for being early on the “good beer” wave, and continuing with their small batch distillery!

    1. No. Coors has always been swill. But at one time, all other beers were even worse swill. I know. That’s when I came of age. Ask me about Schaefer, Drummond Brothers and Tuborg Gold. Your import choices were pretty much limited to Heinekin, Beck’s and Lowenbrau (yes, it once came from Europe).

      Coors was also the last canned beer to give up the need for a church key.

  4. sorry….you lost me at the first sentence. You had to explain Smokey and the Bandit to your husband???

    1. Anon, my husband led the tragically sheltered childhood of an engineering-minded boy who never much liked fiction. While I was watching He-Man & Dukes of Hazard, he was having washing machine manuals read to him as bed-time stories. I’ve had to catch him up on a lot of things.

        1. True. We compliment each other that way. He fixes and builds things around the house. I help him communicate with the humans.

  5. I wonder how much of the appeal was psychosomatic, knowing it didn’t have preservatives, knowing it wasn’t available on the east coast, perhaps people tricked themselves into believing it was great (admittedly, maybe it was great too, or just better than the crap everyone else was brewing.) Yuengling was brewing a pretty decent porter (perhaps the only porter made in the US then) in Pennsylvania at least since the early 60’s; The Bandit could have saved the trip to Texas and gone to Pottsville, PA. instead.

    1. No, it always sucked. After graduating from college in Michigan in 1979, I took a road trip with a couple buddies out to the West Coast. Naturally, we bought a six of Coors the first chance we got, which was Iowa in those days (the Mississippi River was the demarcation at that time). We bought one or two more as we headed West, but had pretty much permanently switched to Ranier beer by the time we reached Washington state. We decided it was overrated and was only popular because people weren’t accustomed to what was described as its bright, clean taste – which we soon realized were a euphemism for watery.

    1. I think CAMRA is printed on the pint glass. The photo credit is at the bottom of the post…it was up on Flickr as a CC licensed image available for commercial use. If it’s been posted on Flickr in error, let me know. I’ll get a new one.

    2. It’s from Flickr (cc licensed and correctly accredited), it’s an Englishman’s home brew stout that he’s clearly poured into a pint glass he’d got at least a couple of years before from the Great British Beer Festival, hence the CAMRA logo on the glass.

      But in short – the picture is from Hampshire. South coast of England.

  6. Oh, I am really getting old. Old enough to remember when Anchor Steam Beer was the only beer that had any flavor. A treat worth a visit to San Francisco!

    And old enough to remember that some of the credit goes to our friends across the pond, and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)

    I now live in Vermont, more or less a microbrew paradise. There are at least three great artisanal breweries within drunken stumble of my home, and perhaps a half-dozen pub breweries at twice that distance. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m so happy to be living in the 21st century.

  7. I remember when getting your hands on some Coors was a big deal. Even back then I didn’t understand what the big deal was.

  8. No, Coors was always crap. The appeal here in the East was entirely due to the fact that we couldn’t buy it in the local “packy”. It had no flavor then, and it has no flavor now.

  9. Maggie, please remind your husband that this is only one of the doubtless hundreds of reasons why you’re such a catch.

    You had to explain the plot of Smokey and the Bandit to him. Not the other way around.

    Next thing you’ll have us believe you listen to Rush or Black Sabbath or something.

    Rule on, lady. Rule on.

  10. My father-in-law tells us how he used to drive from Cocoa Beach, Florida to Boulder, Colorado and back just to pick up a small pickup truck load of Coors. He’d get back and sit on the beach and sell out in a day! Used the proceeds to finance his bar, also on Cocoa Beach.

    I also have friends from Oklahoma City that used to drive down in the mid-90s to pick up “6 percent” beer across the border in Texas. Three percent was all they could get up north.

  11. “After all, Smokey and the Bandit was one of the most popular movies of 1977.”

    I think you’ve had one too many.

    1. “After all, Smokey and the Bandit was one of the most popular movies of 1977.”

      I think you’ve had one too many.

      Second-highest gross of 1977, beaten only by Star Wars, according to IMDB.

      Where were you? Watching Annie Hall? ;^)

    2. 20th Century Fox actually moved the release of Star Wars because they were afraid of Smokey and the Bandit.

      Maybe they were on to something, since both were released in May and Smokey was the 2nd-highest grossing movie that year.

      But yeah, I always assumed the allure was that it was so hard to get. I sneaked a couple of swigs when I was a kid, and I’ve had it as an adult, and I had the same impression of the stuff both times.

  12. East of Oklahoma? Nope. At that time, all alcohol in Oklahoma had to be bought at state-government controlled liquor shops and they didn’t carry Coors. I remember my parents loading up the entire car with cases of the stuff every time we went to visit family in Colorado. They would wrap up the 6-packs and give them as xmas gifts! It wasn’t until about the early 80’s that I remember Coors being a regular staple in our fridge and the 3.2% version being sold in supermarkets.

  13. Say what you will about Coors, Bud, Miller, and the lot, but give them credit where credit is due.

    Turns out that style of beer is amongst the most unforgiving of beers. Every step has to be tightly controlled to maintain the flavor and clarity. There’s not much to mask hops being off, bad yeast, oxidation, particulates, or anything else. Even the best craft brewer would be hard pressed to make a few bottles of what these guys make by the millions of gallons.

    Knock the style of beer, but the brewmasters and distributors have their act together. And to a degree, smaller brewers benefit. Availability of high quality, low cost ingredients and distribution systems is good for everyone.

  14. Old man speaking… The Coors thing was caused by scarcity. In the ’70’s my brother brought some back east from out west. It was OK. It wasn’t my favorite. We drank a lot of whatever dark beer we could find (and that’s what it was called then, dark beer, not porter, stout, or schwarzbier.) Sometimes we would go to the Brickskeller and sample exotic beers from all over. I had my first Sierra Nevada there circa ’82 or so. The late seventies were golden, we could legally drink at 18 (like kids now though we started way before then,) pot was cheap (I’m struggling to recall but I think it was like $90 a 1/4 lb.) Of course Nancy Reagan ruined every thing. The drinking age went up and pot prices inflated to ridiculous levels. In protest I joined Drunks Against Mad Mothers (DAMM.) We ended up going underground for a few years, drinking whiskey and gin, smoking hella grown-home, dropping acid and listening to hardcore.

  15. > East of Oklahoma? Nope. At that time, all alcohol in Oklahoma
    > had to be bought at state-government controlled liquor shops and > they didn’t carry Coors.

    Wrong. You could buy Coors in OK, in any convenience store back gthen (I know, I worked in one). Only thing was, it was 3.2 beer. If you wanted 6.0 Coors, you could buy it at liquor stores, though many didn’t carry it because it require cold storage. That was in the early 70s.

  16. I want to know more about Frederick Amon. Who brought the court case? Coors? Colorado? The state he was driving to?

  17. Yes. My father used to bring this back in the early 70’s-80’s to serve at parties. It was a huge deal back then. I thought most people knew about this. America used to have regional beers.

  18. Actually, the big killer of breweries in America was Prohibition, which was in the ’20’s. Only a handful survived that, and that’s because they were savvy enough to sell near-beer and hopped flavored malt extract (to use as sweetener, of course!)

    Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas survived by selling near-beer. Except that sometimes they’d forget to not add yeast, then the resultant alcoholic beer would accidentally get sold to personal friends of the brewery owner.

    1. It’s actually, upon examining the facts, mostly untrue that Prohibition created the dynastic “macro” breweries. Contrary to the craft beer mythology, it wasn’t a “handful” of breweries in the US that re-opened at Repeal. It was over 600 (SIX-HUNDRED!) -700 within the first year or so- so, about 1/2 of those in the 1910’s. Consolidation of the industry had begun in the late 1800’s, though it can be said that Prohibition, by “shaking out” a lot of the already weakened companies, only accelerated an already occurring situation. Still, it wasn’t much different than other industries that were once “local”.

      Anheuser Busch, the largest US brewery both before and after Prohibition had about 2-5% of the market in the first years after Repeal- the top 10 US brewers in 1940 still only accounted for about 20% of all US beer (with only 6 of the 10 in the “Million Barrel” segment)- compared to today’s 80+% for the two top companies.

  19. Joseph Coors was the guy who helped create the Heritage Foundation and also provided $$ to those wonderful death-squad contras that killed so many Nicaraguans during the 80’s.

    Mmmm fresh bubbly goodness, no preservatives…

  20. Cool – I had never really thought about that backstory either!

    And while we’re on the topic of Makers changing the course of booze history, don’t forget to thank good ol’ Jimmy Carter for legalizing home brewing in ’79. A great humanitarian…

  21. That’s definitely the most in depth thought I’ve ever seen given to Smokey and the Bandit. I was 10 when I first saw that and for me it all about that car! Now that I think back on it, it does make more sense, but I never really cared why they were going where they were going, it was just so damn cool how they were getting there. And alway outsmarting those dumb old cops. That movie and Hooper were the shit.

    Man, never realized that movie came out the same year as Star Wars. What a great year that was!

  22. Theres a pretty good small section talking about exactly the stuff in the article here at the Coors Brewery tour (Free to the public, not a bad experience) right in downtown Golden, CO. They’re definitely proud of their Colorado heritage pre-prohibition, making malts during, and the popularity afterwards.

    The craft beers Coors (now MillerCoors of course) does under the name AC Golden Brewing Company ( are quite good.

  23. In the ’60’s, Coors wasn’t available outside of Colorado AFAIK. My parents would fill the trunk of their Mustang up with cases (cold of course) and hightail back to the plains and sell the beer at a profit, paying for most of the gasoline used on vacation.

    I think that Coors wouldn’t ship beer warm, which was part of their quality control (believe it or not, they had quality control once).

    My boring parents, eastbound and down, interstate beer smugglers. Yup, that explains some stuff.

  24. In the mid 70’s, I was a TV reporter in eastern Arkansas. I was sent to Ft. Chafee, near Ft. Smith to cover the evacuation of South Vietnam at the end of the war. All the Vietnamese we took with us were sent there for processing. Anyway, Coors was sold over the bridge in OK. Coors was brought home mostly by skiers who shoved it everyone’s face. It wasn’t that it was so good, it was like dope, you couldn’t have any. We brought a few cases back. Everyone agreed it was watered down compared to AB products of that era. Now that it is available all the time, I don’t want it. I hear people still want dope, but I’m not sure.

  25. My parents were big Schlitz drinkers. They used to throw parties every weekend and invite friends and co-workers over. They all used to find it funny to offer me a drink of their beer, telling me it was a soda. Thing was, after 20 or so people giving a 10-year-old a swig of their hooch I’d actually be working a bit of a buzz. Childhood.

  26. Maggie,
    How could you not mention the greatest trivia from that article? How American beer owes a great debt to the German draft system. Yes, Adolph Coors emigrated to American to avoid being drafted into the army.

    And Anon #30 – the best and even some of the mediocre craft brewers can crank out a great, clean light pilsner anytime they want to sit on inventory in their bright tanks for a few months.

    As to the quality, as a teenager in Idaho we knew it was so-so beer. Better than Blatz, on par with Bud, but not as nice as Michelob.

    1. but not as nice as Michelob

      Heh. Takes me back. On some fancy-pants Saturday evenings, my dad and I would head out of the trailer park and over to Marechiaro’s, the swanky Italian joint down the canyon. (John Brunetto, the owner, would give my dad a couple bottles of Lancer’s every Christmas, so you know they were a classy outfit.) We’d get a large pepperoni and a large Works, bring ’em back to the doublewide, and the family would gather round the table. My parents would each drink a Michelob. Out of a pilsner glass. That habit lasted from 1972 until sometime in the early nineties, when they finally discovered Heineken. Until then, Michelob was the special-occasion brew. Yardwork and car-repair Saturdays were Budweiser occasions.

  27. I guess none of you oldsters (like me) are from places where you could get Canadian beer. We drank Molson’s when we had the money, and it was like water in the desert.

    1. “We drank Molson’s when we had the money, and it was like water in the desert.”

      Somehow that statement, of everything here, puts in perspective just how godawful American beer in the 70’s must have been.

  28. Billy Carter said it best: “Marijuana is like Coors beer. If you could buy the damn stuff at a Georgia filling station, you’d decide you wouldn’t want it.”

  29. Talking 70s beer, I think the next story should be about Billy Beer. For some reason, I kept an empty can of it for years, thinking it was some kind of ‘collectable.’

    This was the ‘malaise era’ for heartland breweries; Grain Belt, Hamms, Schlitz and the rest were all in corporate decline at that point. The others didn’t make it, but Grain Belt was reincarnated nicely, and sitting here on the west coast, with all these great beers around…I wouldn’t mind making a beer run for some Grain Belt;)

    1. All of this discussion takes me back to my college days in Austin. One of my roommates bought a six-pack of Billy Beer just as it was being pulled off the shelves. We didn’t finish it, because it wasn’t any better than the rest of the beers available at the time (Billy’s brother, President Jimmy Carter, had only recently legalized homebrewing, and the craft brewers were just getting familiar with their new freedoms).

      Jeff kept a few unopened cans, under the impression that “someday” it would be a collectors item. Don’t know if he still has them, or if anyone in the world would pay anything for unopened cans of 33 year old skunk beer these days, but if anyone is interested in this item of great historic interest, I can connect you with my old friend.

      I myself own an unopened can of DUFF Beer (Australian brand, not the Simpsons TV series brand) that is at least six years old. I keep it by the computer to amuse my friends (ummmm, beeeeer).

  30. Well known in Boston lore is that every time the Red Sox would make a west coast trip Ted Williams would load up with personal cases of Coors.

    I remember when they finally started selling Coors in Massachusetts & I had a freebie Coors painter’s hat (painter’s hats being all the rage at the time) and my dad’s friends chastising me for promoting “that non-union sh**t!”

    I also remember reading about how pissed the Coors distributors were back in the day. Long story short, to distribute Coors you had to have everything refrigerated. Trains/trucks to get it to the warehouse had to be cold. The warehouse had to be cold. The trucks delivering had to be refrigerated. After investing all that capital to satisfy their Coors overlords…

    They had a commercial with Mark Harmon standing next to a stack of warm Coors cases on the ambient floor of a supermarket.

  31. If Bandit & Snowman were looking for real beer, they would have went to Utica… “Brew me no brew with artificial bubbles; only Utica Club for me, U.C.!”

  32. We moved from Houston to New Orleans in 1974; I believe I remember my brother making occasional Coors runs back to East Texas for the first couple of years after that. This story brought that back – cool.

  33. Hah, I’m drinking a Coors Banquet right now. Sure, it’s crap, but $1.25 for a tallboy is a bargain. $12 for a six-pack is way too much for most beers. Yeah, including that special micro-brew you covet.

  34. Coloradans could drive cross-country to smuggle Yuengling back to Denver, but I think they might lose a little money on that deal.

  35. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, the family drank Carling Black Label, which was bottled a few miles away. My uncle drank Ballantine Ale. And my governess brewed and bottled her own in the cellar.

    1. First, thank you.

      What kind of beer did your governess brew?

      (Upstairs we have a batch of marzen-style perking away in a 5-gallon carboy. There is also a cyser (a honey wine that includes apple cider)in need of some attention – a CO2 failure, I like cysers sparkily.) :-)

  36. I was attending a liberal East Coast college in 1974 when the Coors mystique exploded, and someone brought some back for us. It wasn’t all that great and after someone publicized how very far right-wing the Coors family was, there was little local demand for it.

    At that time or not too many years after you could get decent imported German beer.

  37. In the 70’s, I once heard a huge batch of Coors went bad on the way out east, so there was a temporary corporate marketing push to “Don’t drink our beer”. Maybe an urban legend?

    It was a unique brand back in the 70’s and 80’s also, because of the cool “double push-in” style of opening. You released the can pressure by breaking open a small pre cut hole with your thumb-
    …then for drinking or pouring, you had to break a larger, pre-cut hole in the aluminum. Could be problematic for delicate little thumbs. More style points than the old key ring/pull tab style.

    Then along came the boring version we see on cans today.

  38. I remember when I was a teenager going to Colorado deer hunting with my dad back in ’73.. Upon our return to Ohio he and his friends stuffed as much Coors in the car that would fit.

    I thought I remembered that Coors was not sold east of the Mississippi at that time.

    Then living in Colorado for more than 25 years after growing up I always thought Coors tasted like nasty weak beer and rarely drank it. If you want some good beer try some of many fine Colorado microbrews such as Fat Tire and Avalanche. Yummy!

  39. Back in the mid 70’s, I was living in northern Illinois, but I took frequent vacations out west and if I brought back all of the Coors that people wanted me to, I would have had to rent a trailer.

    Coors did taste very good back then, IF you got it in Colorado and drank it there. The problem is that many retailers didn’t store it properly (cold) and it went bad. Same thing with all of us mini-Bandits who took two or three days to get back east while the Coors was sitting in the trunk of the car with the sun beating down on the trunk lid, and the exhaust pipes heating up the trunk floor.

    My economics professor in school explained their business model at the time. Coors insisted that their beer be brewed using Colorado spring water from the winter snowmelt. It was naturally pure and clean. To expand east of the Mississippi meant that either the transportation and storage would have to be controlled to ensure quality, or they would have to open up another brewery in the east, and trucking Colorado water there was impractical. So they decided to just stay in Colorado, and not expand.

  40. “We drank Molson’s when we had the money, and it was like water in the desert.”

    hell yeah. Molson’s and Labbat’s were top-shelf, at the time.

    as college kids in Rochester, NY in the 80’s, we’d make the trip to Toronto every few months to stock up on Molson XXX and Brador – both had a higher alcohol content than we could get in the states… and, we weren’t 21, so we couldn’t buy in the states anyway.

    1. Heh, I started drinking beer in the 70’s and was weened on molsons and labatts. On ski trips to Montana, taste tests of american beer were carefully repeated for accuracy and our snobbery was felt to be justified.

      I recently went on a tour with some folks from Oregon and was astonished to meet american beer snobs! Based on the quality of the brews they brought along, it was justified.

  41. Props, this is one of the best BB articles and the most comment rich I have read in a while, and one of the most pleasent and non-haterade filled..

  42. once upon a time, Coors was apparently the best American breweries had to offer.

    That’s exactly the sort of misapprehension you get from assuming that consensus and demand are meaningful indicators of quality or utility. Coors’ east coast popularity was a fad created by marketing and fed by scarcity – I will refrain from commenting on similar foolishness in science, politics, and the arts.

    Dick Yuengling’s brewery has been operating since colonial times, with a brief closure during Prohibition. It’s literally America’s oldest brewery, and it produces a fine, malty dark porter that I’ve been drinking since I was 14 years old (mid 1970s). Yuengling Porter is unlike modern “microbrews” (many of which are produced by corporate breweries twice the size of Dick’s family-owned operation) because it has a rich, hearty flavor that does not depend on high levels of hops or alcohol to distort the drinker’s sense of taste – it’s a beer for people who like the taste of beer, not for people who want to get ripped quick or people who want their beer to taste like sake or perfume.

    Yuengling also makes other, more generic lagers and ales that compare favorably with Coors or Buttwiper. If you don’t like dark stuff, try the lager. It’s not Bass Ale, but it’s not priced like Bass either.

  43. Actually, when Coors was finally brought east in the 80’s, I got rip-roaring drunk on it, my first big drunk on beer. I don’t recall it tasting any better than Miller or Bud to my virgin palate, but it was nominally higher in alcohol content. Of course for all I know by the 80’s Coors may have changed their brewing process.

  44. I’m flying a suitcase full of Surly Darkness and assorted other midwest crafts out to Washington DC this weekend. Ever since I’ve booked the trip, I’ve had the theme from Smokey and the Bandit stuck in my head.

  45. I thought I didn’t like any beer until I tried Guinness. I’d only tried American mass produced lager, and concluded that I just could not force beer down. Stout was a revelation. It might as well not be the same beverage.

    Unlike most people, I started with stout and worked my way lighter — to porter, then to brown ale, red ale, Belgians. I’m just now learning to appreciate some IPAs. Still dislike basically all lagers. And if Coors (or Bud or Miller) is my only option, I’ll stick to water.

    Luckily I turned 21 just a bit before Pop the Cap got the limit lifted from 5% in my state, NC. So I’ve gotten to enjoy some great stuff from local microbreweries. Beautiful dark beer from Duck Rabbit, great beer in various styles from Big Boss.

    Evidently if I’d been of age in the 70s, I’d just have been a teetotaler. (I don’t think decent wine became widely available until later, either.)

  46. When i was a kid (60’s early 70’s) my Dad would take a couple cases with us when we vacationed East of the Mississippi & get with the motel manager where ever we stayed to turn a six pack into gas/food money!

  47. The 70’s also saw the death of most “American Ales” in general. Don’t ask me how, but I remember a few ale labels from back then: Kreuger, Holihan, Narragansett, Elephant, Haffenreffer, Ballantine, Yeungling, Genesee, etc. Heck, Ballantine had a pretty darn good IPA!

    Here on the east coast, we had a pretty good supply of imports from Europe, notably Guinness and Bass but also others like Watney’s Red Barrel. A few were available like Samuel Smith’s but were often compromised by light/temperature exposure due to the use of clear bottles and a lengthy import process. And the german imports were pretty awful, I remember naively thinking that a really good lager was supposed to taste like a skunk.

    A final call out to Olympia which had a similar status to Coors back in the day.

    1. “70’s … Ballantine had a pretty darn good IPA!”

      I remember their IPA from that time. It was better than the Budweiser level of beers but wasn’t particularly good.

      To me it tasted like it had been flavored with rusty nails.

    2. It was a completely different style to your local stuff, but Watney’s red barrel was despised by beer fans in the UK, as it was the leading “keg beer” brand, known to be weak, fizzy and expensive. In a way, it prompted the formation of CAMRA, producers of the fine glassware in the picture.

  48. Could be my own New Englander upbringing, but my father always told me (and a beer fan he was and remains) that the real reason for Adolph Coors keeping his beer west of the mighty Mississippi — to keep it out of the hands of East Coast liberals (Adolph Coors in addition to being anti-union held a few positions that would be considered far right today).

  49. I don’t live in CO anymore, but I did grow up there. Perhaps they’ve given this up.

    But they still do release a “Christmas version” of Coors which basically sells out the moment any liquor store gets its hands on it. Oldtimers come in and just buy it by the case after case. In fact, we had to put a limit on how many cases one could buy. I always wondered why. This bit of knowledge helps to explain.

  50. I remember back in the 1970s bringing several cases of Coors back from Colorado for friends here in NY. I never cared for the stuff but everybody was excited when I returned to town with the Coors. My favorite beer at the time was Molsons Export Ale and it was a bargain at about $2 a six pack (heineken was $3)

    Hre I am trying to enjoy one of those Coors:

    and here’s my ride…a ’65 Chevy Panel Delivery
    with a 292 sx with a 3 speed overdrive tranny
    from an Impala. TA Radials all sround…this
    baby could cruise at 90 MPH all day with plenty
    of pedal left….I loved that truck!

  51. Also, People, at one time there was an agreement between Coors and Falstaff Brewery that Coors would not be sold in Nebraska and the Falstaff would not be sold in Colorado. Once Coors was allowed to be sold in Nebraska, Falstaff eventually folded.
    Faire thee Well, and I, am,
    In HIm,

  52. I enjoy Coors. I also enjoy classified growth Bordeaux, grower produced Champagne, great Burgundy, craft beer (especially sour beers) and see no reason why enjoying any of the above categories necessitates the exclusion of American style pilsner. The not so dirty secret in the fine wine and craft beer industry is that we all drink them, great wine-makers, incredible brewers, discerning palates alike. Get it from a micro brewery and call it “session beer” if you like but their is something undeniably charming and refreshing about American style pilsner. While artisanal beers seem to get a lot of publicity for having obscene alcohol content or garish IBUs is it so strange that in the pursuit of bigger and better that maybe we lose touch with some intangible element at the core of our enjoyment of beer? Coors happens to be my choice in this style. This draws comments from some friends the first time they see it in my fridge. I fear that PBR might be more socially acceptable but they inevitably have some and not for lack of choices. I’ve spent many years introducing people to a variety of esoteric fermented beverages (what I call missionary work) and delight in the irony that I use that same skill set to reassure people it’s alright to drink lighter styled lagers.

  53. Coors would spoil in a week if unrefrigerated? Well that’s just plain wrong. My homebrew, the ingredients of which are water, malted barley, hops and yeast, does not spoil even after a year in a bottle at room temps. Beer is essentially sterile when it’s put in the bottle and capped. There’s nothing living in there (hopefully) that could spoil it. And even if there were, it would be spoiled well before it got to the shelf of the grocery store.

    Light lagers can lose their freshness (that fleeting hop aroma and flavor) if allowed to sit for very long and this can happen even sooner if not refrigerated.

  54. I live in what was once a “semi-dry” county, which meant that you could not buy liquor in a glass. During the last presidential election I am happy to say that I voted for what my brother called, “Blacks and whiskey”. I am more happy to say that both were approved. Still, there are crazy liquor and blue light laws in my county and state. Beer above 3.2% alcohol by volume cannot be bought cold, or in any place other than a store that exclusively sell liquor. Liquor stores may only be open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. They may only sell beer, liquor, or wine. As I mentioned before, beer above 3.2% alcohol can’t be bought cold, most liquor stores will, however, offer you a free bag of ice with beer purchase. Liquor stores, and bars, are closed on Sunday, most holidays, and election days. However, I can purchase 3.2 beer at gas stations and super markets any day of the week, but not after 2 a.m. in the morning. If I want to buy a beer between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., I’m shit out of luck. Liquor-by-the-drink can be served in bars, however, I’m told the tax on the license to sell it, and on the drink itself, is around 30%. There is a separate license if an establishment wants to sell beer, cold, in a glass, that is stronger than 3.2% alcohol by volume. I’m told that some of the laws date back to prohibition, some back to World War II.

  55. I’m surprised no one has mentioned how the whole Coors “Brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water” mystique in the ’70s was wrapped up in the whole Rocky Mountain High/John Denver/Colorado Ski Country/natural living fad sweeping the country at the same time.

    That, and the fact that one John Hickenlooper went from unemployed Colorado geologist to Denver microbrewpub entrepreneur to our current Governor-elect.

  56. I’m on my second batch of homebrew and have been reading up on beer making. I don’t see what could be going bad in the warm Coors. As long as your process is sterile, the only living thing in the beer is the yeast. The yeast should be done fermenting by the time it ships and may even have been removed before bottling given that Coors is a commercial brewery. Then you’ve got hop acids and alcohol in the beer making sure that nothing gross can grow in it.

    Does anyone remember tasting a “bad” batch of Coors from the 60s and 70s? Was there a flavor change that developed when it was warm?

  57. i’m pretty sure this was just a clever marketing strategy. I cannot imagine beer “spoiling” if it is sealed. This is from the Molson Coors International website timeline…

    -“1959: Coors introduces aluminum cans, the sterile filling process and refrigerated ‘controlled temperature marketing’ known as refrigerated marketing.”

  58. Ah, beer. To bring it on back home, here’s a clever group of couriers reenacting the movie for your viewing pleasure…

  59. Besides scarcity (in the East) the other reason that Coors was so popular was that it essentially was an early version of ‘light’ beer. IE – the taste was watery compared to other beers (like the skunky-out-of-the-can Bud). By the late 70’s Miller and others introduced beer that had actually been watered down (AKA Miller Lite) and in response Coors came out with Coors Lite – which is pretty silly since Coors is already very light to begin with. Remember that back then coffee was pretty bad too. The taste of beer and coffee was pretty rank so people would want it weakened so the bad taste was softened. Once the microbrews started, and the imports became more available, then people’s tastes changed (like Starbucks for coffee).

  60. The argument over whether American light lagers are really good beers or not needs to be put in a bit of historical context. Although not terribly hard to make (contra one of the Anons above), lagering beer does require colder temperatures to ferment and store in, and particularly in the pre-refrigeration era, this made the beer more costly to produce and ship. The prestige that this accorded the beer is analogous to the popularity of white flour and rice over the whole-grain varieties.

  61. Okay, I tuckered out about 1/4 of the way down all these comments, and then skipped down to weigh in myelf. I worked at the Coors Brewery in Golden, CO. in the late 80s, but more on that in a minute.
    I grew up in Northern California and couldn’t understand why folks from Oregon would go crazy for Coors Beer and always request my dad bring a case up with him when we went to visit, or would buy cases of the stuff when they came down to visit. It all tasted like Bud, Miller, or Stroh’s to me.
    It was simply because you couldn’t buy it in Oregon at the time…why? Because it’s non-pastuerized. Cold-filtered, in other words. Funny, because all keg beer is cold filtered, and always has been (something I learned while working at Coors), yet you could purchase that pretty much anywhere. That’s all it was. It’s not the taste, trust me.
    Something else I learned while working at Coors in 1988…they knew the craft beer craze was coming. The experts all predicted that there would be 3 large breweries left by the early 90s (as was pointed out in the article) and they wanted to be #3 (as they are and now they’re part of…Miller? I think). At the time, Bud (Anhauser-Busch) was #1, still is, and Miller was #2. They said that in the same 12-month period that Coors produced 18.5 million barrels of beer, Bud produced 88.5 million barrels of beer. They also said that taste tests had proved that most people can’t distinguish between Bud, Miller & Coors…the difference is… Advertising. Bud is king.

  62. Oh, and another thing I forgot to mention…Coors (and most Lagers) are not divided into 3.2% alcohol and 6% alcohol. They’re 3.2% & 3.6%. Not that much of a difference. Anything over 4% is considered an ale and over 5.5% is like a barleywine or something like that.
    Also, the whole “ship it cold” thing isn’t to prevent spoilage, as has been pointed out, it’s in a sealed can, and won’t really spoil, especially after a week. However, heat can and does affect TASTE. One of the reasons they don’t heat pastuerize it. Also affecting taste is light. Thus dark bottles. There is some difference of opinion as to whether brown or green glass is best. Clear is NOT an option for Coors, although Miller High Life and Corona don’t seem to share that concern.
    All in all, I find all these beers (Coors, Bud, Miller, Molson, Michelob, etc.) insipid, tasteless, and watery. You want a real beer, come to Oregon. Try a Terminator Stout from McMennamins Brewpubs, located all over Portland and Bend, to mention a few. These beers are only available at the pubs, they don’t bottle. Or, if you can’t find your way to a pub, pick up a Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout or Black Butte Porter. Mmmmm-mmmmm-good!

    1. Oh, and another thing I forgot to mention…Coors (and most Lagers) are not divided into 3.2% alcohol and 6% alcohol. They’re 3.2% & 3.6%. Not that much of a difference. Anything over 4% is considered an ale and over 5.5% is like a barleywine or something like that.

      I don’t know about Coors, having thankfully grown up far from the stuff, but I am puzzled where you get this stuff about ales and lagers being differentiated by percentage of alcohol?

      Ales are fermented with top-fermenting yeast (which likes warmer temperatures), lagers with bottom-fermenting yeast (which likes cooler temperatures, though this necessitates some fiddly process stuff like diacetyl rests). There are other yeasts you can use (like Brettanomyces yeasts) and tricks you can play with the yeast (like doing lager at a higher temperature than usual… California Common or “Steam Beer” is the result) but in general, those are the two kinds of beer there are. Everything’s either an ale or a lager… and historically, most beers were ales.

      As for barley wine, it’s a style (like IPA or steam or porter or stout). Barley wines happen to be characterized by a high gravity (incidentally, usually quite a lot higher gravity (ie. higher final alcohol) beers than 5.5%… I mention gravity though, because Barley wines also have a lot more unfermented sugars, either because the high-gravity yeast hits its limit or because the dextrins obtained from the malt cannot be fermented by the standard ale yeasts, or even the high-gravity yeasts. It’s not unusual to see a barley wine at double the figure you mention, ie. 10% or 11%. But all that said, barley wines are (in every case I know) a kind of ale, because they’re fermented with ale yeasts, and supposed to have a malty, rich quality that you get with ale yeasts.

      And as someone living in Korea, where the beer options are slowly getting better but mostly resemble the scenario described for 70s America, I have to say I envy anyone in Oregon. That’s what drove me to homebrewing in the first place.

      Great post, thanks Maggie!

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