Although we all lived through the two-hour tragedy that was Denver’s very brief coronavirus Prohibition on March 23, the entire nation had to suffer through a much longer draught drought in 1919, when Prohibition became the law of the land for fourteen years. Coors Brewing managed to survive Prohibition (which actually began in 1916 in Colorado) by producing malted milk, ceramics, non-alcoholic beer and other products, but its lager beers began to change to fit the times once Coors began brewing again in the 1930s.
On May 1, Coors’s Golden-based small-batch incubator, known as AC Golden Brewing, will re-release a beer with a recipe that dates back to the days before Prohibition. Batch 19, which debuted in Chicago in 2011, will now be available in canned six-packs and twelve-packs — and only in Colorado.
“With what is going on right now, the story of Prohibition is alive and well with us,” says AC Golden spokeswoman Meagan Nelson with a laugh, referring to those precarious minutes on March 23 when Denver thought it might be without booze. “It looked that way for a minute, anyway.”
With bars and restaurants all closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, it also worked out to have another canned beer available in liquor stores, she adds.
Batch 19’s story is one of stops and starts. First brewed more than one hundred years ago, it was a favorite of Coors employees in the early 1900s. But like every other beer, it was shelved during Prohibition. Fast-forward to 2004, when some of the brewery’s archives had to be moved after a small flood in the basement and the recipe was rediscovered in an old logbook. Coors decided to see if its aura could be recaptured and began tinkering.
In 2010, Coors released the results, naming the beer for the year that Prohibition was ratified nationwide. Brewed with floral, Old World hops like Hersbrucker and Strisselspalt, the German-style lager was much more flavor-forward than some of Coors's other products and weighed in at 5.5. percent ABV — at least a full point higher than modern-day industrial light lagers like Coors Light, Miller and Budweiser.
At the time, Coors’s marketing plan was to debut Batch 19 in Chicago and five other cities around the country with highly publicized pre-Prohibition-style parties and then roll it out nationwide. It debuted in Colorado in 2011 at Stoney’s Bar & Grill, where Pete Coors was part of the glitzy tapping party.
By 2015, Batch 19 was being bottled, but the brewery’s “priorities shifted” that year, says Jeff Cornell, the general manager of AC Golden, which also produces Colorado Native and Winterfest, and Batch 19 was once again shelved — at least for a few years, anyway. In January 2019, David Coors, who was then the president of AC Golden, decided to bring it back as a smaller-batch beer for Prohibition’s 100th anniversary.
This time around, however, Batch 19 was only on draft, and only in Colorado and parts of Wisconsin, where Coors’s parent company, Molson Coors, operates Miller. “It felt like the right thing to do,” Cornell says. “A lot of accounts really liked it, and people remembered it.” In fact, Coors says, Batch 19 is the number-one beer that people who tour the Coors brewery ask about.
So the company decided to renew the beer’s lease on life yet again — this time in cans, but once again only in Colorado and Wisconsin. “We are a brewery incubator...so it fits into our wheelhouse pretty nicely,” Cornell explains. “We think it will be complementary with Colorado Native.”
This time around, however, there will be no glitzy parties. Not only is everything on lockdown, or partial lockdown, for the foreseeable future, but AC Golden wants to keep marketing costs down and simply rely on social media and word of mouth, Nelson says. The beer, which has been branded as both a bock and a pilsner, will also get a new tagline: "Pre-Prohibition lager," which is an official American style of beer.
"This is a crazy time to launch a brand," Nelson says, since people can't gather anywhere. And in fact, Coors considered waiting to re-release Batch 19 until later in the year. But the company's wholesalers and liquor stores said they wanted it now. "There is a real awareness of it, and, we think, a lot of overall excitement...and we are hoping for a little of that to come through."
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