The little-known story about Coors Light’s 1941 roots

In 1941, Ted Williams hit .406, the United States joined World War II and Coors Banquet was the singular product brewed by Coors Brewing Co.

But in Golden, Colo., Bill Coors was working on a project that he thought could transform Coors Brewing, a new beer he eventually called Coors Light.

Yes, Coors Light.

Turns out, the global icon that catapulted the brewery to fame when it was introduced in 1978 has roots that extend back the 1940s.

“It was probably the No. 1 example of Coors being before its time,” says Coors archivist Heidi Harris. Coors Light boasted that it had 13% fewer calories than other beers and was advertised at the time as “America’s lightest beer.”

But the first version of what would become Coors Light was anything but light, Harris says. In fact, company president (and Bill’s father) Adolph Coors II discouraged him from making a beer that would compete with Coors Banquet, whose tagline was “America’s fine light beer.”

“Bill went out and brewed a beer that was ridiculously high proof. It was a dark beer that just kind of knocked your socks off and Adolph Jr. got through a few sips and said, ‘This is a pretty good beer,’” she says.

A few sips later and “he was sweating profusely and his socks were kind of knocked off. He turns to Bill and he says, ‘Good job. But rein it in a bit.’”

Bill went back to the drawing board to create a beer – a low-ABV light lager – that would appeal to American drinkers at a time just eight years after Prohibition ended when breweries were still trying to regain their footing.

1941 ads
Ads from 1941 tout Coors Light.

So Coors Light was born. Not only did it stake its claim as the lightest beer in the land, an ad from the time declared it “the greatest achievement in all brewing history.”

But the 1941 version of Coors Light, billed as being “brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water,” came and went quickly, lasting just a year in the market. The war impacted the beer, which was also called Coors New Light in ads. Materials were in shorter supply and breweries were required to send 15% of their output overseas to boost the morale of troops, Harris says.

And when Adolph Coors II decided it was in the brewery’s best interest to focus on Banquet, the writing was on the wall for Coors Light. Until 1978.

In ’78, as Molson Coors Chairman Pete Coors tells it, he scribbled a list of Coors’ beers and competitors’ brands on a napkin. With only one beer – Banquet – Coors was primed for innovation, especially as Miller Lite and Bud Light starting wooing drinkers with lower-calorie offerings.

Enter Coors Light – different than Coors New Light – which quickly became a favorite of American beer drinkers and is now known across the globe.

Now little remains of the original Coors Light. The recipe and tasting profile have been lost to time. All that’s left is a weathered bottle on display at the Coors archives in Golden.