Smokey and the Bandit, Coors Banquet Beer, and the fascinating story of beer in the 1970s

Posted on December 2, 2010 in History by Josh

From flickr user macwagen

Who knew that the movie Smokey and the Bandit was about beer?  I didn’t, and neither did Boing Boing author Maggie Koerth-Baker, who, for some reason, was curious enough about the movie to find out.

Here it is

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.

She goes on to excerpt the article from Time, which mentions that Presidents Ford and Eisenhower, along with Paul Newman, loved the stuff.  It turns out that there were real bandits, and since the unpasteurized Banquet Beer was only available in the west, near the Coors brewery in Colorado, those on the east coast who wanted it, and particularly those who wanted it in a dry county in Georgia, had to get it off a refrigerated truck.   Coors Banquet Beer, coming long before the craft beer movement, was the first of its kind.

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