Want a movie that’ll make Colorado beer lovers swell with pride and nostalgia? Cue up the timeless classic “Smokey and the Bandit.”

I’m not a huge fan of Coors, but I appreciate the history. I mean, how many beers can say they inspired the greatest beer-inspired car chase film ever?

At the time the movie was made 42 years ago — and up until the later ’80s — Coors was tough to come by east of the Mississippi. Distribution was limited primarily because the beers, made without pasteurization or preservatives, required refrigerated transport. If it was the mid ‘70s and you were in Georgia and craving Colorado suds, you either had to hoof it west or pay a pair of happy-go-lucky bootleggers to bring it to you.

Coors’ roots in the Centennial State began in 1873, when Prussian immigrants Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler founded their brewery in Golden. Coors bought out his partner in 1880 and over the following decades he and his family continued to run — and expand — the business, which unlike most American breweries emerged from Prohibition relatively intact.

By the time Snowman and Bandit embarked on their cine-mythic road trip in 1977, the brand was something of a cultural treasure and legend, and not just where it was considered contraband. For those beyond Colorado, it was cowboy-in-a-can, Rocky Mountain spirit without leaving your recliner.

For residents, though, it was something more: Coors began brewing beers in Colorado before Colorado was a state. The image on the Coors Light can is Wilson Peak, near Telluride.

Despite all the corporate mergers and acquisitions, Coors is Colorado.

Or, it was. Still is, kinda.

The international mega-brewing conglomerate that owns MillerCoors last week announced sweeping plans to overhaul its identity and consolidate domestic operations with a North American headquarters in Chicago. As part of the plan, the Denver office will be closed, between 400 and 500 jobs will be cut, and as of January , the Molson Coors Brewing Co. officially will become the Molson Coors Beverage Co.

“As the world around us rapidly changes and the nature of competition intensifies, our business performance is lagging. We’re over-indexed in declining segments, our core brands have seen years of volume losses, and we haven’t had the resources needed to fully invest behind our innovations,” said Molson Coors President and CEO Gavin Hattersley as reported in the MillerCoors blog.

Overall, the popularity of beer among younger drinkers has been slipping, and with the upstart craft beer market taking a bigger bite of sales, recent years have brought new challenges for Big Beer. Hattersley said the restructuring will enable the company “to move much more quickly with an integrated portfolio strategy” at a time when the “business is at an inflection point.”

“We can continue down the path we’ve been on for several years now, or we can make the significant and difficult changes necessary to get back on the right track,” he said in a statement.

While the Denver office is going away, the Golden brewery is staying — and growing.

Efforts to “modernize” the operation will be boosted by a several-hundred-million-dollar investment, under plans put in place before last week’s announcement.

Even so, that such a seminal Colorado brand shall heretofore hold a primary address in the Windy City …? Just feels kind of awk, don’t you think?

As one of my colleagues put it: It’d be like Chicago deep-dish pizza moving its HQ to Denver.

Maybe it tastes the same, but we’ll know the difference.

Reporter

Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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