When Adolph Coors emigrated from Germany in 1873, he never could have imagined the beer dynasty he would launch. By the mid-20th century, Coors beer dominated the American marketplace west of the Mississippi River. Coors didn't pursue distribution east of Texas, though, contributing to the lager's massive - and sometimes illegal - following.
Coors' exclusivity prompted smugglers to seek out the beer, even inspiring the plot of the 1977 classic film Smokey and the Bandit. Eventually distributed nationwide, the Coors story is a big part of beer history in the United States - a fun chapter played out on the big screen by Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.
From 1933, the end of Prohibition, until 1976, Coors beer was only available in 11 US states - all of which were west of the Mississippi River. In spite of this, it remained the fifth most popular beer in the country. After adding states 12 and 13 in 1976 - Washington and Montana - Coors expanded its market, but didn't reach all 50 states until the early 1990s.
The final state, Indiana, didn't welcome Coors Banquet until 1991.
Adolph Coors set up his beer shop in Golden, CO, with partner Jacob Schueler during the early 1870's and later assumed sole control of the brewery in 1880. The first beer to come out of Golden was an aptly named Golden Lager that found appeal with local miners. According to author Russ Banham:
Golden was the "Gateway to Mining," word of the beer’s taste and quality spread quickly from... camp to... camp... distribution was aided by Golden’s location on the Colorado Central Railroad, just north across Clear Creek from the brewery. Off the railcar, wagonloads of beer were pulled by mules to thirsty miners in the foothills.
The beer was common at banquets and other dining tables, something Coors wanted to revisit after Prohibition. To both bring back and honor miners, Coors dubbed their Golden Lager "The Banquet Beer" in 1937. Limited to a handful of Western states in the US and easily identified by its Stubby Bottle, Coors Banquet was born.
Part of the reason Coors was only found within a limited geographic area involved the way it was made. Coors was cold filtered, not pasteurized, and needed to remain refrigerated once packaged. This made transportation and storage difficult.
Refrigerated trucks were limited in how long they could keep Coors cold, and store owners were required to remove a case of Coors from its shelves if it sat there for more than 30 days.
As the story goes, Gerald Ford was a big fan of Coors Banquet. When the vice president visited Colorado in 1974, he supposedly loaded up with cases of Coors to transport back to Washington, DC. He wasn't the only one. Years earlier, President Dwight D. Eisenhower allegedly did something comparable, having shipments of Coors brought in via the Air Force. Henry Kissinger followed suit, hauling Coors back from trips to California.