You're probably confused right now and demanding to know why we’re talking about Coors on a craft beer show, a company that is a giant macro brewer and a who many accuse of trying to kill craft beer. But Coors Banquet beer has a distinct place in beer history: at one point Banquet beer was allegedly the best beer you could get in the United States.
The 1970s was a pivotal decade for beer. After Prohibition ended, the United States was left without most of the craft brewers that it had enjoyed before, and many traditions and styles brought by immigrants had disappeared. Larger breweries were swallowing up and shutting down the little guys, so much so that at one point, the United States only had 44 breweries left. Though a few like Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Brewing were trying to hold on, industry experts believed that eventually we would be left with only five; Bill Coors himself predicted we would be left with only three breweries by 1990.
Now firmly in control of the market, those larger breweries began massive advertising campaigns for lighter beers, as they saw more profit in using cheaper adjuncts like rice and corn. The campaigns worked and consumer culture found itself preferring light lagers; imported beers could hardly be found. And thus, the brief obsession with Coors Banquet beer began and it became the inspiration for beer smuggling cinema classic Smokey and the Bandit.
Coors Banquet beer was brewed with water from the springs around Golden, Colorado and contained no preservatives, stabilizers, and was unpasteurized, which was an oddity for Coors since they were a pioneer in beer sterilization. Leaving out all of those chemicals greatly enhanced the flavor, but if left unrefrigerated it would spoil within a week, thus Jerry Reed’s line “we’ve got a long way to go and a short time get there” in the Smokey and the Bandit theme song.
Banquet became the favored beer in the United States and was called the Chatueau Brion of American beers by Time Magazine in 1974, but it was illegal to sell it East of the Mississippi and was only available in 11 states.
However that didn't stop anyone from drinking it if they had the right connections; President Eisenhower used the power of the Oval Office and had regular shipments delivered by the Air Force and both he and Vice President Gerald Ford would routinely pack Air Force One full of the stuff. And Actor Paul Newman refused to be seen drinking any other brand on screen.
Until he was shut down by smokeys, trucker Fredrick Amon (who was probably an inspiration for Smokey and the Bandit) used to drive a refrigerated truck every week from Denver to Charlotte, North Carolina where he would sell it for as much as $1 a can when a six pack in Denver would go for $1.50. And while Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham was working on the movie Gator in Georgia with Burt Reynolds, his driver brought him cases he’d smuggled from California. The beers kept disappearing from his hotel room and he discovered that the hotel maid who was stealing them was obsessed with it, thus leading to the idea that became Smokey and the Bandit.
The Dark Ages for craft beer finally saw light at the end of the 1970s, when in 1978 President Jimmy Carter made home brewing legal again, leading to the renaissance we now find ourselves enjoying; the industry has exploded from 44 breweries in the ‘70s to over 4,000 as of September 2015. But as Texas and other states like Alabama have proven with their absurd laws, we still have a long ways to go and it may be a long time before we get there.