Coors' Banquet Brand Celebrates 135th Anniversary

Beer that started it all for Golden, Colo.-based Coors Brewing Co. survived several name changes and the Prohibition era to reach its 135th Anniversary.

DENVER (AP) -- Nicknamed by 19th century Rocky Mountain miners, favored by President Gerald Ford and promoted in TV ads by baritone-voiced, Western-cool actor Sam Elliott, Coors' Banquet beer is celebrating its 135th anniversary.

But the beer that started it all for Golden, Colo.-based Coors Brewing Co. wasn't always called Coors Banquet.

It's been through several name changes -- Original Coors, for one -- and went out of production during Prohibition. Yet the recipe of high-country barley and Rocky Mountain water is essentially unchanged from what Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler first called "Golden Lager" when it debuted in 1873, said Lee Dolan, vice president of the Coors family of brands at MillerCoors.

MillerCoors is the joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Richard Honack, who teaches marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said Coors Banquet is a new brand for today's customers, most of whom wouldn't remember the name that Coors first added in 1936 but hasn't been widely used for years.

"What they're going to have on their hands is a huge customer education process of why is it called Coors Banquet," Honack said. "It begs the question of why do it. The main reason may be to create new buzz in the marketplace."

Reviving the "Banquet" name gives Coors something new as craft beers generate the most excitement in the marketplace.

The company says old-time miners served the beer at banquets during their precious time off, referring to it as the banquet beer.

It was known simply as "Coors" at the time of "Smokey and the Bandit," the 1977 Burt Reynolds film whose heroes try to smuggle a truckload of Coors east of the Mississippi River. Coors wasn't distributed nationally until 1991.

"Original Coors" was used in the 1990s, then "Coors Original" beginning in 2002. It wasn't until last year, when the company decided to bring back the Banquet name, use packaging that borrowed from history and launch a new ad campaign featuring Elliott's gravelly voice to evoke a timeless western spirit, that the brand started taking off, Dolan said.

"The strength of this brand is really based on the heritage," Dolan said.

MillerCoors doesn't release exact numbers, but Dolan said Coors Banquet has had single-digit percentage sales growth from last year. Sales had dipped in the first half of last year before the ad campaign, which sparked a "sharp upward" trend the rest of the year, Dolan said.

"This year, we're trending in the double digits," showing that regular, full-calorie premium domestic beers aren't dying, Dolan said.

"Consumers respond to brands, not segments. If it strikes an emotional chord, that's going to grow," Dolan said.

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