It’s Snowdown week here in Durango and the annual weeklong theme party is hopefully going full steam. This year, we’re celebrating a decade that was the turning point when it comes to beer. I’m really thankful that I came of legal age when I did. Beer in the ’80s had to have been a terrible scene. The beer was so terrible that Coors was the most desired beer. Beer was so terrible that marketers pretty much gave up on women potentially drinking their product. Beer was so terrible that they invented wine coolers. Beer was so terrible that beer companies just gave up on innovation and creativity. Thank God beer was so terrible that the craft brewing movement stepped in to save the world.
As bad as it was, there are some bright spots to the world of beer in the ’80s, especially here in Colorado. You could buy 3.2 beer if you were 18. Colorado was the only place you were guaranteed to get an ice cold Coors on tap. I’m sure there was a level of pride for anyone in Colorado knowing they were getting to drink the best beer in the country (even if it was Coors). And the 1980s saw the total number of breweries increase for the first time since 1873, the start of mass production and the Temperance Movement.
Today, when you go into a gas station or grocery store, you’ll see shelves of 3.2 percent beer. When I see someone walking out of a gas station with a case of beer I often shake my head and think what suckers they are, but 3.2 beer wasn’t always so pointless. For most of the ’80s, 18-year-olds could buy 3.2 beer. My dad, who graduated from Farmington High School in 1974, tells stories of driving up to the state line, buying a bunch of 3.2 beer, and heading to Navajo Lake for beer busts. This little loophole didn’t get closed until 1987, so anyone turning 18 before 1987, likely had time to practice their drinking skills before they turned 21. There were even “bars” that only served 3.2 percent beer and served them to anyone over 18. Yes, 18-year-olds would have been walking around downtown Durango with a legal buzz. Horrifying, yes, but at least they would have had a few years of practice before joining everyone at the grown-up bars.
The Coors boom
In 1977, a little film called “Smokey and the Bandit” was a wild success. It’s the story of a team of bootleggers (headed by Burt Reynolds, who played Bo “Bandit” Darville) taking a truckload of Coors from Texas (the furthest Coors was distributed) to Georgia for a stock car race. Coors was wildly popular and highly sought after mostly because of its limited distribution. Though this movie was made in the ’70s, Coors didn’t reach the East Coast until the mid-’80s. If you were looking for a brew that would rinse your mustache and make you stand out, you’d be drinking Coors. This weekend, if you really want to relive the decade, I’d suggest Coors Banquet, which is the only Coors beer that is exclusively brewed at Coors brewery in Golden.
The birth of craft brew
In 1979, there were just 90 breweries in the United States. In 1980, there were 92, and by the end of the decade, there were more than 200. The ’90s saw even more growth. In 1999, there were more than 1,500. Now we have more than 4,000, the most breweries in U.S. history. The ’80s were officially the start of the craft beer movement. One of our local brew pubs, Carver Brewing Co., was one of the first brew pubs in Colorado. Definitely stop by and give them a high-five for being Durango’s first craft brewery and a true ’80s baby.
Maybe we can parody the ridiculous fashion, the (mostly) terrible music and the absolutely terrible beer, but that terrible beer was the start of something awesome.
Robert Alan Wendeborn puts the bubbles in the beer at Ska Brewing Co. His first book of poetry, The Blank Target, was published this past spring by The Lettered Streets Press and is available at Maria’s Bookshop. [email protected]